Monday, July 05, 2010

The Wedding Season...

can be a lot of fun, but there's angst as well to be found for a clergyperson who is charged with helping couples prepare for their marriage ceremonies, a time when the meaning of marriage, the character and maturity of the couple, the family members attending, and the officiant's theology all come into play.

I often marry couples who were attracted to a UU minister-officiant because of varying religious backgrounds. Or maybe their parents suggested a UU officiant. Or maybe they just wanted to be married by someone who wouldn't imbue their ceremony with a lot of doctrine, as many mainline clergy are required to do.

I give couples a template entitled "A Typical UU Wedding Ceremony" which gives pretty traditional wording (no "obey", however) in a pretty traditional order, an introduction and welcome, a statement of intent, pledges of commitment, a ring exchange, and a pronouncement of marriage, followed by a prayer. I invite them to insert readings, songs, or poems, to change words here and there, to change the whole thing if they want, to substitute their own wording, to omit or change the prayer. It's important to me, I tell them, that the ceremony fit their own needs and desires.

And then, of course, when they change this or that, I have to run it through my own filter to see if it fits my needs and desires! Sometimes I quibble about a point or two, but mostly I just use the ceremony they've created from my pile of sticks. It works pretty well; most couples don't do much rearranging or substituting and just stick with the basic ceremony. That makes less work for me, for sure, but I don't mind if they want something entirely different, as long as it comes from them.

In the process, I have a chance to talk at length with the couple, asking them how they met (from each person individually, rather than as a combined story), how they view marriage, that sort of thing, so that I am not marrying people I don't know but rather performing a ceremony for people I've come to care about. My final question, during our last meeting, is "what do you as a couple hope to contribute to the world?"

Most young couples have only tentative answers to this question: model a successful marriage partnership, have well-brought-up children, etc. Some have already thought it through and want their careers to offer something greater to the world. Some have very disappointing or even narcissistic answers. Older couples are more thoughtful about their answers.

I always wonder about the couples I marry, for I rarely see them later in life. A few times, I've heard back from couples who hunt me up to tell me, on their anniversary, that they are still happy. Today I'm attending the anniversary party of a female couple that I married a year ago today. I've gotten baby announcements and right now I'm helping to plan the funeral for a woman who asked me to officiate her wedding before she had to go into chemo again, three years ago; the cancer finally has gotten her and she only has days to live.

So joy and angst combined at this time of the year. I pray for the young couple starting out who is so focused on the groom's self-centeredness and I pray for the older couple who can't set a date and I pray for the well-established young couple who will go to Turkey or Albania to offer their skills to the people, for the interracial couple whose mother/m.i.l has to make most of the arrangements because they are not yet back in the US, and for all the couples I've ever married, the ones who are happy and the ones who are on the verge of divorce, the ones whose commitment to each other made them grow up.

May they have many Happy Anniversaries to come.

1 comment:

LinguistFriend said...

Goodness, that is the sort of thinking that many of us looking at a wedding from outside should have gotten into before we got married ourselves. One might think that you have learned something from marriage and divorce. I remember coming to the conclusion, earlier in life, that it was appalling that raising children was most often done by people who by definition were novices or amateurs at it; would it be viable as a profession? Marriage also improves with practice, I suspect, or at least there is that potential if people have learned anything from the first time around. However, it would not be
so workable as a profession.