A holy mystery

It’s been wedding season for me for a year now.

Until recently, conducting weddings hasn’t been a big part of my ministry. I serve an older congregation, marriage rates have been declining for years, couples seem to prefer meadows or barns over churches, and ministers are perceived as relics by the “nones,” who are on the rise. But in the past year, I’ve officiated at six weddings, with another one coming up this weekend, compared with one or two in previous years. All the couples are affiliated with our congregation. Five of the seven included at least one remarriage. Two of the seven were couples in their sixties. One was a same-sex couple. And only one wedding was in a meadow. Is this the beginning of a new trend, or merely a statistical anomaly?

I suppose I’ll know better a year from now. But this year has spurred my reflections on marriage and its trends. And I think I see some trends I like—a lot.

For what I see is that those who ask for a religious ceremony these days are intentional in their choice, not just fulfilling societal expectations. They eagerly enter premarriage counseling, they disclose their concerns and anxieties up front, they work hard to make their relationship stronger, and they expect their faith to be a foundation of their marriage. They thoughtfully choose scripture and value the prayers in the service. When I say, as part of the service, “Let marriage be held in honor by all,” it feels truer than it did in the past. These couples respect marriage as a gift from God which will help them be their best selves, their most moral and ethical selves, their most loving and giving selves.

It’s not a selfish form of self-fulfillment. It’s a more mature approach to life and love. In preparing for the marriage, as they share with me their hopes and dreams, the calling which brought them together, they show me their love for one another. And when that happens, I find myself falling in love with them as couples.

Sometimes I marvel at this vocation called ministry. I don’t think there’s another profession so invited into the lives of others, so trusted with such intimate knowledge. I hold these confidences, both the anxieties and the delights, close to my heart. They belong to the marriage. And when I stand in the front of the church with the couple, when I become the voice prompting their voices to pledge their vows to one another, I am keenly aware that my presence in their relationship will soon be relegated to a signature on their marriage license, and their fading memories. They will be married.

So I give them the Bible’s ancient blessing:

The Lord bless you and keep you.

The Lord be kind and gracious to you.

The Lord look upon you with favor, and give you peace. Amen.

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