Recently I was asked by another minister if it was okay if they conducted a marriage within my parish boundaries, to which I responded “yes.” Coming from a larger Presbytery where I had had a couple of hotels and a potential wedding venue, I am not used t0 being asked for permission. In the big city boundaries tended to be to ensure that funerals were covered and it didn’t seem to matter who did the weddings. So it was good to be asked if I minded, and a reminder that within a smaller community there was a possibility that news of another minister in the area would have travelled my direction.
The wedding is to take place in a local hotel, and the minister mentioned that they had been a little surprised by this as the couple were forming connections with their church community. When they had invited the minister to be part of their day, the minister had assumed church. For some ministers this might have been considered a problem as there is a tendency to see the church as the place a marriage should take place.
In this new place, weddings will probably take over most of my summer (although I have help) and all of them at the moment are in church. However the being in church has never seemed particularly important to me, because, you know, we as a Christian community understand God to be everywhere and that whenever we gather in worship the Holy Spirit is active. The Divine doesn’t need a special building!
Historically the Church of Scotland had a practice of not marrying within the church building and prior to the late 1950s/early 1960s many marriages took place in manses and hotels. The movement to a church wedding was something that, if I remember my history correctly, happened post the Queen’s marriage being televised. Perhaps that move towards a church wedding has also encouraged people to spend more money, and make the day more of a big event. Many people now want to be a princess for the day, with the beautiful clothes, lots of guests and the celebration. And I count myself in that.
However perhaps in these financially less secure days we should be encouraging those who want something smaller in hotels, vestries and manses again.
In my first charge I can remember on two occasions having to ensure that the dining room was clean and tidy as we welcomed two couples who asked to be married in the manse. Both were small affairs of under 10 people, and it was very special to offer them an intimate place to be married. They still publicly declared their love, and headed off to celebrate with those who mattered more to them in local restaurants.
As ministers and as churches we need to be willing to offer the relationships God calls humanity to in their varying forms. And for some that may be in all the trappings of celebration, while for others it may be in the quiet, still moments shared with those to whom they are closest.