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Saturday, 29 March 2014

Getting Married? Read this first!

Soooo,it is your big wedding day. You've been planning it in your head forever. You want everything to be perfect. You've picked the date, been shopping for your wedding attire, chosen a venue and picked the perfect location for your stellar photographer to capture those moments you said "I do." Now, you decide to contact the minister. 

Choosing your minister/officiant should be the very first thing you do before anything else. You want to ensure that the officiant is available and the church or location is available. 
While I respect that a lot of thought goes into choosing the details of a wedding, I will share with you the other side of weddings from the perspective of your minister/clergy.

                               Alcohol/drugs before the wedding.  

Want a mimosa as you're getting your hair done, or joint with the boys to calm the nerves? Don't, even if you're not planning on getting buzzed. As clergy we are multi tasking here: we're doing a religious ceremony with legal implications. Because it is a legal issue, clergy are not allowed to perform weddings where the bride, groom, or legal witnesses have consumed alcohol or smoked pot (or any way intoxicated). There have been weddings STOPPED from happening for several hours, or, worse, on another day because someone had a bit too much to drink the night before or the day of. Before you have that Mimosa, recognize that it could bring the wedding to a screeching halt. When you say "I DO" you have to be sober. And trust me, we can tell if you've had some Bud or smoked a bud. Visine and Listerine, or other things that end in 'INE' will not fool us.

Does anyone here know any reason this couple should not be married? Next to the alcohol component, this is the next big way to bring your wedding to a screeching halt. When we ask that question, if someone says YES, even as a joke, the wedding STOPS, until a full legal investigation happens to ensure that there are no legal impediments to the wedding. Sometimes the investigation can take a few hours, day or weeks, so postponing may not be a matter of a few hours. Clergy will usually state that before the wedding begins, but be sure to tell your friends and family that saying 'yes' is no joke. We are legally obligated to ensure there are no legal impediments, such as divorces that are not finalized.

Previous Marriages. We may ask to see your divorce certificate to ensure that there are no legal snags. In Protestant traditions, (not Anglican which is English Reform), there are no differences in the wedding ceremony for those who have been previously married. It's a legal issue.

Consulting us after you've booked your photographer, caterer and deejay is a bad idea. We may be booked on holiday, the church could be booked for another function (another wedding on the same day? How dare they!) and we may not be able to preside at your wedding on the day you've chosen. In fact, depending on the time of year, no minister may be available if there are denominational conferences that weekend. There may also be national or international conferences that several clergy could be out of town for a few weeks. Consult with us a list of dates FIRST then book the venue. Often, weddings are booked long in advance. If a church wedding, or a wedding with clergy is important to you, talk to us FIRST. Also, if we don't know you, we want to get to know you before hand.

Married in the Church but don't mention God. And no prayers. This happens a lot even if the wedding is out doors in a park.  I wrestle with this one because I ask the question "If you don't want God mentioned then why are you coming to a house of prayer to get married?" And I might even ask you that and no judgy from me. I have done services where I have replaced "God" with "Love" but let me tell ya, in my mind, I mean God. Churches will likely not turn away those who seek marriage without mention of God. I also ask myself why people want clergy to do a wedding if you don't want God mentioned. That's like going to a Michael Jackson concert (God rest is soul) and not singing Billy Jean or Thriller.

Give us advance notice. I once had a wedding request on the 14th of the month for a wedding on the 28th of the same month. While some weddings take place quickly because of an ill family member or other unexpected things, give us some time if you can. Usually we have to run this by our governing body within the local church, not to mention getting legal paperwork together. Also, we want to get to know you before putting our X on the legal documents. Trust me, some ministers do live with regret for doing marriages that have turned out horribly.

Marriage Prep. Marriage prep isn't just an opportunity for you and your partner to have a safe space to examine the big questions (finances, children, what marriage means to you, how you expect your life to change going from common law to marriage, for example). It is time for the clergy to get to know you and what is important to you to make your day more meaningful. Perhaps there is a deceased parent you want acknowledged, or, perhaps you want a themed wedding. Your clergy may have neat ways of incorporating the memory of your deceased Grannie in to the ceremony, or, your clergy may even get in on the fun of the theme. I know a few clergy that would love to be part of a steam punk wedding complete with costume. Clergy are often good humoured, fun loving people who balance the sacred with the mundane.

Read the Church wedding policy (if they have one).
THIS. Just sayin
Sometimes, churches have some guidelines around flowers or appropriate dress (I know one church that states wedding dresses must have, at minimum, spaghetti straps because of a major wardrobe malfunction that left the bride Other churches may have guidelines on expectations of the new couple's church participation. Other churches may state that only relatives of members can get married in that church. And trust me, there are reasons why some of those policies have come to be even if they sound ridiculous.

Where you goin? Honestly, we don't just want you to come to our church and then leave us. We really do want you to come to church. It's about relationship, not about condemning you or trying to tell you how to live your life. Our church communities want to celebrate your new life together, and the collective wisdom of the community can come in very handy in new marriages (and new families). 

Behind the scenes. You know those mice in Cinderalla? The church has lots of magical mice who make sure your day is like a fairy tale.  If you're getting married in a church, chances are, there are several people who have worked hard to make the day come together-behind the scenes. There are many people who clean the entire sanctuary. If you don't like sweeping and mopping your house, try doing that to a whole church! They make sure the washrooms are clean, the outdoors is photo ready, and that things look nice. The organist has also practiced for a few hours before hand. Someone has to come open the church about an hour and a half before the wedding, and stays behind for another hour to make sure there are no problems. That's about 4 hours of someone's day. The organist and custodian fees are usually very minimal and topping up the minimum suggested amount would be a nice way to honour the church mice who have worked behind the scenes to make your pumpkin turn in to a carriage.

Wrong Church Right Clergy. Often times people want the sweet little church in the dale to be the place to say "I do" but your childhood clergy who has known you since you were in diapers is not the minister. Or, maybe, you want the cool clergy with a pink mohawk on the motorcycle to preside in the gothic church they aren't minister of. That's fine and dandy, however asking clergy to do a wedding in another church is rather...uncomfortable. If you're getting married in a church for how great it will look in photos, we get that. But we also 'get' that this is not about the building, it's about the wedding. Asking another clergy person to do the wedding at the church you want will take approval from both churches. Not only that, but clergy know their own 'church mice' who make things happen. We know who to count on and when. It's like putting a ship's crew on another ship. It still sails, but HOW it sails is something that takes getting used to. So if you are asking for a switcharoo of church and minister, know that it may not be possible for a whole host of reasons.

Same Sex Marriage. Some denominations fully endorse same sex marriages. There are also some denominations where that decision is endorsed by the religion but each church has their own understanding on same sex marriage.  In some denominations, the minister may be 'pro' and the congregation maybe 'nay'. In that case, the minister, no matter their personal feelings, cannot go against the congregation's policy and perform the wedding. In other cases, the congregation may tell the minister they can do same sex marriages but not inside their church. Other churches may agree to a blessing and not a wedding. And others still, the congregation may be 'pro' and the minister against. The minister cannot be mandated to perform the wedding if they are against and the congregation is for. In that case, the minister would probably direct you to someone who can and will do the wedding in their stead. The church wedding policy will usually state their stance, or, may display a coloured rainbow flag outside the church to show their position.

Recognise how long it takes the church to organize a wedding.  We don't just slap your wedding together. We sort through various wedding ceremonies that we think will best represent you (remember how we talked for a few hours?). We spent time thinking about the wording, the prayers, how the wedding party will process in, who should sit where, where the flowers should go, and even small things like what to do if the flower girl tosses her cookies on the back of your perfect dress (Yes, it has happened). Unless we have a fantabulous church administrator, WE have to type up your bulletin,  getting the order of service together, editing it, checking for those small details like name spelling and then printing and folding the bulletins.  Also, we have a tonne of legal paperwork to fill out that requires a lot of attention to detail. We also have to write prayers, be at the church an hour before the wedding. Weddings take on average, about 20 hours to plan and do from this side of the pulpit. 

Offer remuneration based on our worth. What you pay for a wedding usually covers the organist, custodian and the clergy. Given that we have already spent at least 20 hours on your wedding if you pay us 200.00 that is 10.00/hour between 3 people.  Sixty percent of clergy live below the average income line in Canada. Chances are, you've paid your deejay at least $500. We have gone to university for a minimum of 8 years.  Would you pay us minimum wage? You're probably spending at least 20.00 for a plate of food for each guest. I *know* people think that we are supposed to be humble and we usually are. When we are handed a Thank You card with your sincerest thanks and that is all, we feel unvalued, unappreciated, and quite frankly, used. We're not in this for the money (what money?!) but we also are professionals who have specialized training as long as doctors and lawyers.  And, chances are, if you're getting married on a Saturday, we're working on our day off. 

What do you think someone with two university degrees (or more) who works 50+ hours a week who is working on their day of is worth?  Be generous with what you give your minister. Do you really want to pay your deejay more money than you pay your clergy? Your deejay will set up and then play music for a few hours, tear down and go home. That's about 10 hours if you really want to stretch this example. If you've paid them $500.00 that's $50.00 an hour. (I've been a deejay so I speak from experience). You're not paying me to care. You're paying me what I'm worth.

I have friends who charge a minimum of $500.00 just for their services. I don't think that is unreasonable. If you're spending $20,000 on a wedding, $500.00 is a fraction of the budget. And let's face it, without the clergy, the wedding wouldn't happen.

Photos. The fact of the matter is this: a church wedding is a religious ceremony whether you want God mentioned or not. There are promises made and this is known as a covenant. There are appropriate and inappropriate times for photos in weddings. Talk to your clergy about when those moments may or may not be. Some clergy care and others don't. It's always a good idea to have your photographer call the minister in advance and ask those questions, or better yet do a walk through with the minister at the location. There may also be areas of the church that are off limits to the photographer (like behind the Altar).

Drama. Sometimes, tension and anxiety can run high at weddings, especially if there are tense family dynamics or opposition to the wedding. Sometimes, parties involved may need to spend a few moments calming down. The minister can help do that (we're trained in that sort of thing). Other times, the clergy may be called upon for other reasons. Whatever happens, our job is to help keep the environment celebratory and regal.

Married at the Court House. Marriage in churches is a rather 'new' thing. And by new I mean several centuries. An emerging trend is to revert to the 'old' way, which was have a legal marriage first, followed by a religious ceremony at the church. There are ministers who prefer this method for theological and practical reasons. There are others who dislike it. Either way, if you prefer to get legally married at the courthouse, chances are, clergy will often be more than willing to do a blessing at the church. Just ask!

Inter-denominational or Inter-religious wedding. Yep. We can do that, too. But give us some time. Have your people call our people. Or our people call your people. And we'll do lunch. 

And last but not least, we do this because we like people. We really do care about what your hopes and wishes are and do our best to make sure that happens for you. When we are doing the wedding, we are usually, on the inside, praying blessings upon you that you might not even know about. We're also celebrating that two people have found each other in such a crazy world and we're usually bursting with happiness for you. It's not just about the legal duties we perform, it's also about giving you a good start to a life long relationship.