By Chris Duckworth
Marriage is a legal union regulated by the government upon which people of faith have historically asked God’s blessings.
The United States is unusual in its practice of allowing clergy to preside at legal wedding ceremonies. In much of the world, including the historically Christian nations of Europe and Latin America, couples first go to a judge to be legally married. Then, if the couple desires the church’s blessing on their marriage, they come to the church at a later date for their church wedding. In fact, in his writings on the wedding service, Martin Luther describes a couple getting married on the step to the church’s front door. Only after making their legal vows to one another does the couple step into the church to seek the blessings of God and the Christian community on their marriage.
In the United States, couples are welcome to have the entire wedding ceremony — which includes both the legal marriage and the declaration of God’s blessings — performed at the church. Alternatively, couples are welcome to be married by a judge and then come to the church to ask God’s blessings upon their marriage. I’ve presided at both kinds of weddings, and each is perfectly legitimate.
The church wedding service
The church wedding service is a Christian worship service celebrating God’s love for and commitment to the couple and the world, and the love and commitment God has given them for each other. While many options are available to make the service rich with meaningful symbols and experiences, a few essentials mark a wedding as a Christian wedding:
- Gathering in the name of God the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, Holy Spirit;
- One or more readings from the Bible;
- A sermon proclaiming God’s love and grace;
- Vows the couple makes;
- Blessing of the couple; and
- A benediction — words of blessing at the end of the service.
The wedding service can be a full, robust church service, too — complete with liturgical music, hymns, prayers of intercession, Holy Communion and so forth. This is what Jessicah and I did at our wedding, which lasted about 90 minutes and was a festive time of prayer and worship.
Many other elements may be part of the wedding service in a variety of ways: how the couple enters and leaves the church (Jessicah and I walked in together); the use of other symbols or rituals of marriage (such as the giving of rings, the lighting of a unity candle); the selection and use of music; the reading of non-Biblical texts (such as poetry); the type of clothing or flowers that are used; the role of parents, children and other family members; the “first kiss;” and so forth. I work with couples to develop a meaningful service that gives praise to God and gives expression to the couple’s love for and commitment to one another.