Confessions of a Wedding Officiant

That title may be misleading. I really only have one confession, as a pastor who does indeed officiate many weddings: sometimes I think I prefer funerals.

Lest you think I’m terribly morbid, let me be clear. I don’t prefer death. My heart breaks with and for grieving families, and there is nothing more excruciating than burying someone who died too young. I’d take joy over bereavement any day.

It’s just that people don’t spend years obsessing over the perfect funeral. Few folks turn to Pinterest to plan memorial receptions. (I would have said no one does this, but a cursory search turns up pins such as “Seven ideas that put the “fun” in funeral”.) There is a funeral industry to contend with, to be sure. But it’s nothing compared to the wedding industry.

What I really prefer isn’t the funeral itself. It’s the firm focus on what really matters: life and love, family and legacy, hope and meaning. Funerals can be so hard, but they can be so beautiful.

Sometimes I fret that all the trappings of the Wedding Industrial Complex are more of a distraction from the point than a deepening of it. I love a pretty bouquet as much as the next girl, and I think marking milestones with champagne toasts and celebratory dancing is right and good. Still, when I meet with couples for premarital counseling, I think I might come across as a bit of a killjoy.

I tell couples that my primary concern is preparing them for their marriage. I make them fill out a long and comprehensive questionnaire that covers everything from sex to finances to in-laws, and no matter how long they have been together, they always discover something new and notable about one another.

I encourage them to read a good marriage book (which, by the way, is an excellent wedding gift, and I don’t just say that because I’ve written one). I beg them to make the decision now that they will seek marriage counseling if and when they need it.

I encourage couples to covenant themselves to one another with traditional vows—“vintage” vows, as I call them in an obvious attempt to make them sound less fusty. As I’ve written before, the vows are everything, and there’s something powerful about echoing the words that have bound couples for generations. (In one of my all-time-favorite Rachel Held Evans posts, she pondered if there is anything more spectacular than promising to love someone for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.)

I remind couples that their friends and family will pledge to support their marriage with love and prayer, and this care is more precious than any other gift they will receive on their wedding day.

And, I take a deep breath and gently encourage them to resist the temptation to let the wedding industry trick them into coveting extravagance. I encourage them to consider embracing simplicity—not the appearance of simplicity, but to actually keep their wedding day relatively simple.

Yes, weddings should be lovely. Yes, they should be special. But at the end of the day, the wedding is merely the gateway to the marriage—the shared life and love, the shared family and legacy, the shared hope and meaning.

Marriages can be so hard, but they can be so beautiful.

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5 Comments

  1. Pauline

    Amen to that!

  2. Libby

    Yes! This is true, and conveyed with such love. Thank you!

  3. Kathleen

    Yes, this is what more couples need to remember, “the wedding is merely the gateway to the marriage”. Our wedding day was beautiful, simple and so meaningful and over the course of the last 18 years we have shared even more special days together !

  4. Deirdre Keating

    Love this! I once read about the idea that we should throw extravagant parties for a couple’s 10-year anniversary, not for the wedding. After 10 years, you kinda need a party! And yes, I love the idea that the initial launch not be so extravagant. When planning ours, a friend told me that the vows have truly been said long before the wedding, so that day is more about uniting two families. I’m not sure I agree 100% with that, but at the time it helped me understand our family’s expectations better.

  5. trina c

    YES. When hubby and I were engaged, all anyone asked me about was wedding plans. Dress, flowers, cake, blah blah blah. It was really aggravating because no one, including family and church leaders, was talking to us about MARRIAGE. I finally cornered my brother on the phone, who had been married almost 7 years at that point. He said he didn’t feel it was appropriate to give me advice because he’s younger than me. I told him to stop that silliness and give me the goods, which he did for the next 2 hours. A couple of things from that conversation made a huge impact on my relationship with my husband, and still do 15 years later.

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