Sunday, July 02, 2006

Weddings! Or, Here Come the Brides/Grooms!

I’ve been thinking about weddings recently, specifically same-sex weddings. I’ve done a lot of them here in River City, Canada, since we’re right across the river from a large US city. For a while there, my average was two a month. Not bad for a congregation of less than fifty! And of course, my sister’s wedding next weekend, at which I will co-officiate. So…

Weddings. I love doing them. But I had never even assisted at one until I arrived here in River City. When I was an intern, my supervising pastor tried to get me in on a wedding, but the two or three couples she married in those two years really didn’t want an intern involved. And then when I was serving the two rural churches, I had several funerals and a baptism, but no weddings. So when I arrived here in River City, I was excited to have weddings to perform—same-sex weddings, too!

The weddings have been as varied as the couples I married. They have ranged from an extravaganza at the local art gallery that was featured on the front page of the local paper to just the couple and their witnesses in the chapel at church. Some of the couples have been together less than five years; one had been together 40 years. They have taken place in the couples’ homes, in their gardens, in the church, in the chapel, in friends’ and family’s homes, and, as I mentioned, most dramatically at the art gallery. Sometimes there were crowds—one couple almost rented a bus to bring their friends and family—and sometimes it was just the couple and two friends as witnesses. Sometimes there was lots of music and excitement; sometimes it was quiet and simple, just the prayers, vows, rings, marriage licence, and blessing. Sometimes the choices the couples made for clothing or music or rings amazed me (and not always in a positive sense!), sometimes their vows moved me to tears with their intensity and depth of feeling.

All this is probably a lot like most pastors’ experiences.

But the one thing I can say that I don’t know if most pastors can say—from the moment they walk in my door, I know these couples want to be married because they want it, not because it is expected of them. Many of them are from the US, where their marriage cannot even be recognized. They know (because I make sure to tell them) that if they split up, they must get a Canadian divorce—which requires a year of residence in Canada for one of them. It doesn’t matter. They know they love each other, they want to make that civil commitment to each other, and Canada allows them to do so. For some, the bi-national couples (one Canadian- one US), it is often an aid to immigration for the US partner. But since Canada recognizes domestic partnership, it isn’t required.

These couples aren’t marrying for any other reason than the commitment it represents and the blessing they desire from the church and the government.

I cry almost every time—usually at the part where I wrap my stole around their joined hands and tell them, “I hereby declare you married. You may seal your union with a kiss.” (in fact, I’m tearing up right now!) The vows and the declaration are the two places where the couple usually cries too, if they’re going to cry at all. For these couples, to be told that their bond, their love, their commitment, is legal, and recognized by the church and the government both (even if it’s not their government), is rare and amazing. When your relationships are trivialized, ridiculed, made to serve other people’s needs, or perverted by total strangers, to have that relationship recognized as legitimate and worth protecting is powerful beyond words.

I haven’t had a chance to reflect on what it will be like to officiate at a heterosexual wedding, and I suspect it will feel different from any other heterosexual wedding I might perform, since it is my sister’s wedding. I do find it deeply ironic that my first heterosexual wedding will be in the one state that recognizes same-sex weddings.

I love officiating at weddings. It is meaningful for everyone involved, it is the choice of those at the centre of the ceremony (unlike funerals and baptisms), and it is unequivocally a time of celebration. I feel privileged to have been a part of this most intimate time in so many couples’ lives; they have welcomed me to the centre of their relationship, allowed me to see how they relate to each other, told me their secrets, and still thanked me for being with them on this day!

Weddings. I love them.

1 comment:

Sue said...

Thank you for this post. It's a really beautiful reflection on the sacredness and grace of marriage. What a gift to be able to perform your sister's wedding! Enjoy!