I’m in Washington D.C. for a wedding I officiated last night and after the reception, I went on a leisurely walk around the city. While taking in the sights and the lights, I couldn’t help but reflect on what it’s like to officiate a wedding. I’ve thought about some of these thing a few times but because last night was fairly flawless, it seemed safe to post.
1. It Actually Is Harder than It Looks and There’s Some Pressure.
There are a lot moving parts in a wedding and most couples I marry are getting married for the first time. But just about everyone in the audience knows what it should look like. Also, there really are a lot of distractions during the wedding. Cameraman jumping over altar railings to get the perfect shot, kids crying, uncles who don’t know how to whisper, “Looks like Johnny put on some pounds!” and trying to stay on the same page with the musicians or the sound guy or the wedding coordinator.
More so, the minister is doing just about all the talking and while most of us like to talk, the reality is that we like to talk intelligently and most who are somewhat self-aware, have a fear of babbling. And we’ve all been to weddings where the officiant rambles on and on. Having known I was heading into ministry since my college years, I’ve often listened to wedding guests critique and complain about ceremonies during the reception. “He just couldn’t shut up.” “Hello, we didn’t come to hear you.” “Her voice was really nasally and she stuttered during that ring part.” I really don’t want to be that guy.
Further, it is such an honor to stand at that altar with a couple but there is also the realization that your face will be in particular wedding pictures forever (I for some reason have a habit of constantly licking my lips or flexing my jaw when couples are reciting their vows, exchanging their rings, lighting unity candle or simply standing there. Knowing there is a tool for “cropping” gives me comfort).
There was a time in my ministry when I would have preferred to officiate a funeral than a wedding. Funerals don’t have to be perfect, weddings have been planned and dreamed about for years. Then you have the dreams of the parents, sisters, grandmothers, aunts close friends who are like sisters, mothers/grandmas and add it all together you have about a millennia of expectation, so no pressure. Then I started getting the hang of it (I credit my sister’s wedding for the epiphany) and used the mediation time to tell the story of the couple, give them a personalized charge and remind them that God is the source of love and when marriages are rooted in Him, there is unconditional love, sacrifice, forgiveness and joy. Knowing what you’re supposed to do really takes the edge off.
2. Each Minister has their own favorite moments of every ceremony.
The highlight of the wedding is to witness the couple exchanging their vows. But there are other moments that you might miss because of the intend focal point.
For me, I love that moment of watching the groom watching the bride coming down the aisle. Many will steal a look at the groom but keep watching the bride, I’m watching them both. The bride is looking at him, she’s looking at her guests, she’s looking at the floor – the groom never stops looking at her. Never.
I also love watching the mother of the bride’s reaction when the bride’s father answers the question, “And so who gives this bride away.” Everyone’s looking at the father and the bride share this moment. Keep an eye on the mom.
Lastly, I always try to glance over at the bridal party and see their reactions throughout the ceremony. Sometimes they’re standing nervously, sometimes they’re frozen, sometimes they look soldiers guarding the altar but many times, they have the “best seats in the house” and often you benefit from their joyful reaction in seeing their closest friends get married.
3. We say that it’s an honor and it really is – Here’s why.
What were the circumstances of being asked to officiate? For those whom you are close to, this works nicely. But for others, context is really helpful. Finding an officiant can be particularly tricky for young couples transitioning out of college and trying to figure out their next steps. You also learn that some people in your congregation never connected to a pastor or they did but he/she moved on.
When you’re asked by someone no longer in your local congregation, you get a whole other set of thoughts and questions. People come and go out of your church and out of your life and while some people leave in anger and frustration, there is a significant number that leave in peace. Maybe they’ve moved, maybe you’ve moved, maybe they needed to find a different community or left not finding community and faith at your church., there are countless reasons. The thing is often, you don’t exactly know where you stand with them. And so when someone calls you up and asks you to be part of the most important day of his/her life, well, now you know.
4. Pre-marriage counseling helps pastors in their own marriages.
Similar to how the wedding ceremony reminds the married guests (and unmarried I suppose) on the beauty and meaning of marriage, the counseling often helps the minister and their spouse.
No one wants to be a hypocrite and there have been numerous times after a counseling session that I’ve returned home and began a conversation with my wife that said, “Hey, this came up in the counseling and it got me thinking …” To which my wife has sometimes replied, “Oh yeah, I think I may have mentioned something similar to that last week.” “Oh right :)”
5. It’s so personal.
Related to the first, when a couple asks you to perform their wedding ceremony and chooses to get pre-marriage counseling, obviously it gets personal. Now I should say that I have had a handful of couples give me the same treatment that they would a car salesman, “Listen Pastor, we just need the keys to drive off the altar, that’s it” but the majority take advantage of the
As a minister, you often get an “insider’s understanding” of people’s lives. Sometimes you’re there at a hospital during the worst moment of a family’s life, sometimes you’re there in the waiting room of the maternity wing celebrating the arrival of a child. Sometimes you sit with people discussing their jobs, their children, their parents, love, faith, future and countless other matters of life.
When it comes to getting married, you hear quite a bit. After all, two lives are going to become one. And this moves you to prayer because marriage is not just about finding someone great and getting some great advice. Marriage is work, sacrifice, and all things rooted in love. And while it’s not an act of God to have a great marriage, rooting your marriage in God’s love is profoundly good and wise.
And while everything that is shared in counseling is always confidential, even as a young pastor who is married also, you start seeing patterns and hearing unique perspectives that shape your own which all add up to better counsel for the next couple and the next one.
The interesting thing is that you don’t begin thinking that it will. You actually think you can do this without getting close. And there’s a responsibility that comes with getting close because now you have to address any issues, problems and concerns that come up and that takes energy, wisdom, thought and time. Hence the dependence on prayer.
As you do this, you now have a shared history. And this is what it makes each couple that gives you access to their lives so special and hopefully, it contributes to a more personal ceremony.
It’s fair to say that most pastors take your wedding seriously and despite looking cool and relaxed, many really are focused on trying to make this ceremony as sacred, personable and special as possible.
Beyond the ceremony, we think about the marriage. Marriage is difficult and we think about you … we thing about what we told you, what we haven’t told you, if we have over-romanticized, over-simplified, over-complicated our marital advice. It’s the biggest day of a couple’s life and it’s brilliant when it goes well and you had the blessing of being a part of it.
God’s grace and strength to those unravelling the mystery of “two becoming one.”