“I’d rather do ten funerals than one wedding”

“I’d rather do ten funerals than one wedding”

Kimberly Bracken Long, Associate Professor of Worship at CTS, recently released her new book From This Day Forward: Rethinking the Christian Wedding (WJKP, 2016). She will teach an online class for the Center for Lifelong Learning in the fall of 2017 based on the book! In From This Day Forward: Rethinking the Christian Wedding, Long addresses the surprising history of marriage; explores what the Bible says about marriage, what it doesn’t say, and what it might say; and shows how seeing marriage within the framework of eschatological hope enriches our relationships, offers healing in the broken places, and provides guidance to the church in celebrating and supporting marriages. Here are a few short excerpts from her book:

“When I began in ordained ministry, I quickly discovered how woefully unprepared I was to talk to anyone about getting married, or being married, or whether to keep being married. After gamely subjecting couples to the requisite premarital counseling, I would wonder what in the world I was doing and who decided that this should be part of my job. Although I could not have articulated it at the time, I realize now that I had plenty of therapeutic resources at my disposal, but few theological ones, for talking about the meaning of marriage…. When I began teaching seminary students about weddings, I realized now little material I had to draw on. I could find histories of marriage and sociological studies; there were works of Roman Catholic and Orthodox sacramental theology. Here and there I found a helpful article or essay, as well as collections of historic marriage liturgies. It occurred to me that many ministers are credentialed to preside at weddings, but few of us receive much theological, liturgical, or practical training to do so. I decided to see what I could discover.”[1]

“’I’d rather do ten funerals than one wedding.’ The statement is so common among ministers that it has become cliché, though it might seem counter-intuitive. Why would anyone prefer a season of mourning over one of joy? The answer is always the same: at a funeral, you proclaim what is at the heart of the faith, the ultimate depth and wonder of the gospel. At a wedding…well, not so much. These days, weddings – even church weddings – can seem to be about everything but the heart of the faith.”

“While researching Christian weddings, I traveled across the country, interviewing pastors from a wide range of communities and contexts. Their stories sounded very much the same. Ministers are tired of feeling like functionaries, cogs in a wedding machine that is so big it barely acknowledges their presence.…pastors wonder over and over why they are spending their Friday nights and Saturday afternoons presiding over rehearsals and weddings for people who have little or no connection to the church and are not interested in one – all for an honorarium that is less than the limousine driver is being paid. The concerns of these ministers are not mercenary – but it becomes clear that participating in weddings has very little to do with Christian ministry, and they begin wondering just what it is they are doing, and why.”

“Many pastors raise questions regarding the relationship between t heir ecclesial and legal roles. Is there a conflict between being a servant of the church and an agent of the state? Should they sign marriage licenses at all? In some cases, couples want their weddings to be blessed by God and witnessed by a community of faith; in other cases, they simply need a minister from central casting to meet them at the botanical garden or on the beach. “[2]

“…Some argue that the government should get out of the marriage business and leave things to the church. Others argue that the church should get out of the marriage business and let all couples be married by the state. My hunch is that neither of these is likely to happen in the foreseeable future. Individual congregations and their pastors will continue to make decisions about how they will (or will not) be involved in the contracting and blessing of marriages. If the church stays in the marriage and wedding business, however, we need to offer couples both a new approach to wedding planning and a deeper understanding of marriage, informed by Christian faith – whether or not it is a faith they share.” [3]

Dr. Kimberly Bracken Long is Associate Professor of Worship at Columbia Theological Seminary. She is interested in the formation of ministers for liturgical leadership in the church, with a particular emphasis on the sacramental and eschatological dimensions of worship.

For additional information and to register for Long’s Center for Lifelong Learning online class Marriage and the 21st Century Church, click here. The class runs October 16 through November 17, 2017.

[1] pp. 13-14.

[2] pp. 18-20.

[3] pp. 34-35.

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