Read an Excerpt
Just in Time - Wedding Services
By J. Wayne Pratt
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2008 The United Methodist Publishing House
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Pastor's Basic Toolkit
Every pastor needs to maintain a basic toolkit of selected resources that will aid in the preparation and conduct of wedding services. Documented information on local legal requirements, church and pastoral policies, fees, forms to be completed, and general wedding guidelines will greatly assist in expediting efforts and will serve to alleviate stress, miscommunication, and issues concerned with legal and procedural matters. Likewise, a ready reference of service-oriented liturgical resources is a valuable necessity.
Local Legal Requirements
Specific marriage license requirements differ from state to state, and even from county to county. Generally speaking, however, a valid license may usually be obtained from the county clerk's office or a county records department. Some local jurisdictions have established a separate marriage license bureau to process applications and disseminate documentation. In other jurisdictions a town clerk or similar officer may be empowered to issue such licenses.
One of the first deliberate actions a pastor should take is to search out the local legal authority that processes marriage licenses and become familiar with local and state laws that regulate their issuance. While securing the marriage license is the responsibility of the couple, there are times when a couple may ask for a pastor's assistance in locating the proper authorities, or seek information on waiting time requirements, fees, residency requirements, or minimum age stipulations. Primary questions in the application process and issuance of marriage licenses most often deal with age of consent, residence and citizenship requirements, the dissolution of any previous marriages, the necessity of blood test results or other health information, necessary identification, and fees required.
Following the wedding ceremony, the pastor is required to sign the wedding certificate for the couple. A legal form often attached to the wedding certificate and certifying the marriage must also be signed and returned to the proper authorities. Many jurisdictions note that failure to return this signed document may result in a fine; therefore, prompt processing is necessary.
Names, addresses, and phone numbers of marriage license contacts in the community and surrounding area will prove invaluable over the course of one's ministry.
Church Wedding Policy Statements
In order to avoid undue confusion, hard feelings between pastor and church administrators, and miscommunication with the prospective bridal couple, churches need to have set in place well-defined policy statements for the conduct of weddings. Such statements should, at the very least, address issues such as use of the church, membership requirements, fees associated with such use by members and nonmembers, use of outside clergy and musicians, decorations, and general expectations regarding personal conduct, post-service cleanup, and other similar issues.
The Church Policy Statement should be shared with and explained to the couple during the initial meeting at which wedding arrangements are discussed.
Pastor's Policy Statements
Every pastor should also formulate a basic statement of policies concerning the conduct of weddings. The policy statement serves to answer many of the basic questions that may arise when a couple asks you to perform their marriage ceremony. The policy statement needs to be supportive of any church policies that are in place. The Pastor's Policy Statement should be shared with the wedding couple during the initial contact. See a sample policy statement in appendix B.
The number of interfaith marriages is certainly on the rise. Social and cultural barriers that once hindered or even prevented many couples from marrying are now being bridged. At times, a pastor may be requested to perform a wedding in which the bride and groom are of different faith traditions. The pastor must carefully consider and be sensitive to a host of issues that may arise in such circumstances. Likewise, the pastor, in concert with the couple, needs to carefully consider appropriate readings, the wording of vows, and other materials that will be included in the ceremony. Cultural and ethnic traditions and customs also need to be discussed in advance of the ceremony, as their inclusion can aid in creating a much more meaningful ceremony. The inclusion of appropriate cultural and ethnic components affords a greater sense of validity to the couple, their families, and the guests present.
Second or Subsequent Marriages
While marriage is intended "until we are parted by death," divorce rates are increasing at dramatic rates. Divorce can be defined as the unfortunate rupture or breaking of a promise or covenant. It is a painful but sometimes unavoidable tragedy that deeply affects many families. Because Christians trust in God's mercy and the human capacity to be healed and made whole, divorce does not generally bar anyone from entering into a new marriage covenant.
Premarital counseling will greatly assist the pastor in determining that individuals are sufficiently aware of the factors that contributed to the failure of the previous marriage. Likewise, appropriate counseling will assist in ensuring that no unresolved conflicts or "baggage" are brought into the new marriage. One factor to consider is that appropriate time has passed since the divorce, allowing the couple to freely consider their new life together.
The death of spouses, at various ages, and the desire of widows and widowers to remarry create unique opportunities for wedding services. Some people who remarry after the death of a spouse may be concerned that any mention of death will have a negative impact on their celebration, especially if children are to be part of the wedding service. As with any wedding, the pastor must be sensitive to the issues at hand.
While the previous marriages of one or both partners may, at times, present challenges to the pastor, weddings of this kind are also an opportunity to create a very meaningful and creative ritual in the lives of the couple. Portions of the ceremony should address such unusual circumstances by incorporating children from the previous marriage(s) into the liturgy. Examples of such inclusion are illustrated in chapter 2.
Wedding Information Forms
One of the basic administrative tools a pastor can use is a Wedding Information Form. This document will serve to assemble and centralize a host of information regarding the wedding couple, service arrangements, and other vital information, which may be needed for future reference. Information requested on the form should be collected during one of the initial counseling sessions held with the couple. See appendix A for a sample Wedding Information Form.
Basic Music Guidelines
Music can be a major element at a wedding, which often does not receive sufficient attention. Just as other elements (location, dress, flowers, liturgy, and décor) are crucial in setting the tone for the event, music offers a unique way to convey the feelings, emotions, and personalities of the couple and the theme of the service. Music is an important means to help guests relax and become comfortable as they wait for the service to begin. Music has the ability to set the mood, evoke emotion, and provide a measure of cohesiveness and continuity.
It cannot be stressed enough that all music must be discussed with the instrumentalist and pastor as an integral part of the overall design of the service. Many wedding couples today seek to include trendy, popular music as a part of the service. The wedding, however, must be viewed, first and foremost, as a worship service with music selections appropriate to the occasion. Church organists and music ministers are capable of offering suggestions for the selection of appropriate music to be used for preludes, processionals, recessionals, and postludes. Traditional and classic selections are numerous. Likewise, several contemporary offerings may be deemed appropriate. The following presents a basic listing of service music that may be appropriate for the wedding service.
Prelude Selections "Adagio" (from Sonata in E-Flat), by Mozart "Air" (from Water Music), by Handel "Air on a G String" (from Orchestral Suite, no. 3), J. S. Bach "Allegro" (from Brandenburg Concerto no. 4 in G), by J. S. Bach Nocturne in E-Flat, Opus 9, no. 2, by Chopin "Waltz" (from Act 1 of Sleeping Beauty), by Tchaikovsky Processional Selections "Traditional Wedding March" (from Lohengrin), by Wagner Trumpet Tune, by Purcell "Trumpet Voluntary" (from Prince of Denmark's March), by Clarke Canon in D, by Pachelbel "Romance" (from String Quartet), by Mozart
Interlude Selections "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," by J. S. Bach "Air on a G String" (from Orchestral Suite, no. 3), J. S. Bach "Ave Maria," by either Schubert or Gounod "Ode to Joy," by Beethoven
Unity Candle Selections
"Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," by J. S. Bach
"There Is Love (Wedding Song)," by Noel Paul Stookey
"Ave Maria," by Schubert
"Amazing Grace," by John Newton
"Flesh of My Flesh," by Leon Patillo
Canon in D, by Pachelbel
"You Light Up My Life," by Joe Brooks
Traditional "Wedding March" (from A Midsummer Night's Dream), by Mendelssohn "Ode to Joy," by Beethoven
"Spring" or "Autumn" (from Four Seasons), by Vivaldi
Sonata in G, by Tartini
"Toccata" (from Organ Symphony no. 5), by Widor
First Movement (from the Brandenberg Concerto no. 1 in F), by J. S. Bach
Again, coordinating music between the wedding couple and musicians is of utmost importance and should be accomplished early in the wedding planning process. Professional musicians will certainly be able to expand on the above list and offer the couple a greater variety of selections to choose from. Input from the wedding couple also helps to personalize the service so it will be remembered as a joyous, fitting event in the life of the couple and those who gather for such a momentous occasion.
Chapter TwoWedding Service Components
While most religious denominations provide basic guidelines regarding the structure and content of the typical wedding service, there is a growing trend to personalize much of the liturgy to fit the unique setting, the couple's desires and faith experience (or lack of experience), and the context and culture of the worshiping community. While denominational guides are certainly the pastor's first line of reference and need to be consulted and shared with the couple, alternative vows, prayers, readings, and other resources can also be considered. Following is a basic selection of resources that may be employed in the formulation of the wedding liturgy. It is presented as a supplement to denominational resources. Included here are numerous alternative options for each element of the wedding service as well as information on many newer, more innovative liturgical components.
In addition to those listed here, a wealth of resources can be found on the Internet by typing keywords such as wedding, marriage service, or wedding liturgies into your browser search window. You will find a vast array of prayers, poems, romantic readings, and alternative rituals. Be judicious in using these resources. Review them carefully for appropriateness and compatibility with your denominational needs. Also be aware that Web materials often lack source or copyright documentation.
The resources included in this book are certainly not exhaustive in scope, but every attempt has been made to provide the seed for additional creative enterprise on the part of the pastor. Use the presented materials as a basis for further refinement and adaptation in personalizing the occasion for each couple. The presentation of resources follows the typical order of service for a religious wedding.
Often the question arises as to the proper order for families to be seated and the wedding party to process to the altar area. The following is a summary of the typical order.
1. The guests are seated. Generally, looking from the back, the bride's family and friends are seated on the left and the groom's family and friends are seated on the right. This need not, however, be strictly observed. 2. The groom, best man, and officiate enter and take their places. 3. An usher escorts the grandmother(s) of the bride to their seats. 4. An usher escorts the grandmother(s) of the groom to their seats. 5. An usher escorts the mother and father of the groom to their seats. 6. An usher escorts the mother of the bride to her seat. 7. Processional music begins. 8. The bride's mother (and father, if seated) stands. 9. All the guests stand. 10. Ushers walk down the aisle (or escort the bridesmaids), stand next to the groom and best man, and face the congregation. The usher standing farthest from the groom enters first. 11. The bridesmaids walk down the aisle. The bridesmaid standing farthest from the bride enters first.
Excerpted from Just in Time - Wedding Services by J. Wayne Pratt Copyright © 2008 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.