Priest: Do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife and…
Future Groom: You betcha!
Priest: (sternly) Let’s do that one more time, shall we? Do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife and…
Future Groom: I do.
Priest: That’s much better. Try to remember that during the ceremony, okay?
A few will exchange marriage vows in the bottom of the ocean floor, others on top of a glacier. Still others who can’t resist the temptation to be avant garde or exotic will do it on an isolated Pacific island or travel to Kenya to be wed among the beasts in a safari.
Our bet is that there’s still that traditional crop of lovers who want to get married in a place of worship – a church or synagogue or minister’s house – because a wedding ceremony is a sacred and religious undertaking. Naturally, you’ll want a church. A lot of churches in North America and in other countries have preserved their historic architecture and glass work. Those high painted ceilings and crosses and burning candles serve as a memorable backdrop for lovers about to be wed. Giving your wedding a touch of history and colonial nostalgia is appropriate. Of course we have modern churches as well that are less “ornamental” and less medieval in look and feel. Whatever it is that you and your future spouse prefer in terms of a religious atmosphere, there are “starting points” for booking a church.
Imposing basilicas and grand cathedrals are great venues for a wedding but if you have a very intimate celebration – and by very intimate we mean you have a party of 20 at most – would reserving a basilica not give the impression that no one showed up and hence make the officiant feel that your wedding’s been snubbed? The proportion of size to space must be given careful consideration. If you still insist on reserving a huge place of worship, some cathedrals have private rooms or sections off the main altar that would be suitable places for a small wedding with 20 guests, which would give your ceremony a cozier atmosphere.
So think size before anything else. If you have 300-400 guests who will be invited to the religious ceremony, then a cathedral would make more sense.
Another guideline is cost. Since churches are non-profit organizations, they would normally not charge prohibitive costs to host a wedding ceremony, but they do charge a fee anyway to help support the administrative tasks of running a church. Like residences and companies, they have heating and air conditioning bills to pay. Today’s rates go from $250.00 to $1,000.00 depending on the requests you make regarding flowers, choir, special accoutrements and things of that nature. Ask the pastor what his fee covers.
Inter-faith marriages may be a challenge when booking a church but if details are discussed and negotiated well ahead of time (preferably 10-12 months before the ceremony), then there’s nothing to suggest a stalemate just because the spouses come from different denominations. Just bear in mind, however, that while rabbis and ministers will perform a ceremony just about anywhere, the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Episcopalian religions require that couples be married in a church.
Churches have their own rules. Make sure you find out what these rules are. They can include what songs and readings are allowed or disallowed, decorations, the addition or elimination of certain rituals, and the spreading of flower petals or the tossing of rice – these are questions you should raise with your priest so as not to cause any misunderstanding.
Here’s another consideration that’s overlooked by busy people about to get married. When you invite guests to a wedding, don’t discount the fact that many of them do not have a religion they live by. Chances are a few of them will be atheists. You may want to include a tiny sheet of paper in your wedding invitation which will explain the ceremony and what each part means and how long it’s going to take. Guests may opt to skip the ceremony and head straight for the reception hall, or they may be curious about religious practices and would be eager to participate in one. You can’t please everyone, so by informing them ahead of what to expect in a ceremony, you are giving them the choice of attending or not. An alternative would be to have the priest explain to them the different rituals before he begins officiating. The only reason we are saying this is that some guests start to feel uncomfortable when the ceremony takes longer than an hour.
Have you thought of parking? Think of your guests’ convenience and choose a church with parking facilities in church grounds or nearby.
Basic Ceremony Components
This is not an absolute and irrefutable list of church rituals. Rituals and practices vary from church to church. In booking a church, be aware that some rituals are still practiced and expect the priest or pastor to insist that these be included.
Eileen Livers wrote The Unofficial Guide to Planning Your Wedding (Simon & Schuster, 1999) and she mentioned certain rituals that are to be expected in any church wedding, regardless of denomination. If you wish to change or eliminate any of these basic elements, speak to your pastor or priest and obtain his approval first. It may be YOUR wedding, but it is HIS house of worship!
– this is the traditional march down the aisle (isn’t that dress just gorgeous?) This is the moment of glory for all participants – father and bride, bridesmaid, best man, flower girls, ring bearers, candle and cord sponsors).
Convocation or Greeting
– guests are greeted and welcomed.
– calling on God (or another deity) to bless the wedding. According to Ms. Livers, this is no longer done for less religious weddings, nor is the consecration prayer recited after the sermon.
– biblical passages, excerpts from literary works or poetry are recited.
– this is when the officiant gives his sermon, proclamation or homily.
Expression of intent
– this is when the spouses express their wish to be wed.
– spouses are asked to pledge their commitment to each other.
Blessing and exchange of rings
– after the officiant blesses the rings, husband and wife exchange rings.
– this is the “point of no return.”
– ah yes… (if people weep, this requires no explanation)
– the officiant delivers his final words and wishes the newlyweds years of happiness and joy.
– all parties exit the church
Booking a Church - If Religion is a Barrier…
We don’t see the logic of one’s religion getting in the way of celebrating love and commitment. People convert to the religion of their spouse for the sake of convenience, but this act, even if done in the name of love, is not that advisable unless the one who is converting is 100% convinced that the new religion is worth the change and has higher value and meaning.
If conversion is out of the question, you can still get married in a church. Today, there are non-denominational and inter-denominational churches that offer couples the chance to get married with their own personalized rituals. Note however that some churches do require that couples share similar beliefs, and this is where pre-marital counseling plays an important role.
According to Ms. Livers, non-creed organizations like the Unitarian Universalist Association, American Humanist Association, and Ethical Culture Society let couples design their own ceremony without necessarily following a rigid format. They may impose some of the basic elements mentioned earlier, but an increasing number of non-creed organizations are becoming more liberal.