Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Saying “I Do” on Sunday Morning

St. Paul’s has the honor of hosting two marriage ceremonies this weekend. It’s not unusual for us to host weddings, of course, but we don’t usually accommodate more than one, mainly because a wedding party generally needs pretty much all of Saturday for the preparations, photography, ceremony, and greetings following the service. However, this weekend, the second wedding will take place on Sunday morning. How can this be? We already have a full slate of services on Sunday morning, and there is certainly no room to add an extra service, especially one as unique and demanding as a wedding. The answer is: the wedding will take place in the course of the principal service of Eucharist at 10:30 am, in the presence of the entire congregation. This is an exciting experiment, and we are grateful to the bride and groom for being willing to participate with us in this.

Celebrating a marriage in the context of the Sunday morning service is a recovery of an ancient tradition. Before the Reformation it was the usual practice. The liturgical reforms of the 1960's and 1970's were all about recovering ancient practices, and the writers of our 1979 prayer book constructed all the services involving vows - baptism, confirmation, marriage, and ordination - with an expectation that the gathered community would be there to witness and support the promises made. Check out each service and you will find a moment when the congregation is asked to make a promise of support for the people making commitments to God or to each other.

Just as baptisms became a private ceremony over the centuries, so did weddings. In the 40 years since our current Prayer Book became the norm, we have pretty much restored baptism to its place within the community, and now we are starting to recover marriage. Marriage is a sacramental rite which properly belongs, like our other sacramental rites, within the context of our primary sacrament, the Eucharist. However, there is a strong cultural overlay which presents marriage as a ceremony that is all about the couple, and particularly the bride, and this colors many people's views of the service. It doesn't have to be done that way, and we hope to demonstrate that on Sunday with our experiment.

The cathedral, like many churches, has maintained a policy of "no weddings on Sundays”. This policy was formed out of assumptions that a wedding would always be a special, separate service, and that such a celebration would distract the congregation from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, which form our proper focus on Sundays. Each of our worship services takes a great deal of effort from a large team, including ushers, clergy, acolytes, vergers, sextons, sacristans, and musicians. Nobody wants to work an extra service on an already very busy day, especially if it is the stressful kind of service with people requiring special treatment, outside photographers, and a crowd of attendees who are not familiar with (or sometimes interested in) church etiquette. In this context it makes all kinds of sense to say "no weddings on Sundays". However, there is nothing in our canons prohibiting people from making sacramental vows in the context of the Sunday Eucharist, and the Prayer Book structure provides for it to be inserted into the middle portion of the service in the same way as a baptism is. This is how we expect next Sunday's service to go.

As it happens, another parish in the diocese recently celebrated a wedding during the principal Sunday morning service, and a young man who was sponsored for ordination by this congregation was married at the principal service on the feast of Pentecost this year in one of our sister cathedrals.

In response to announcements last Sunday, a number of people mentioned having attended weddings at the principal Sunday service in other churches and were pleased that we are going to try it at St. Paul's.

This will be an experiment. It doesn't mean that we will change the policy prohibiting weddings as a separate service on Sundays, and it doesn't mean that Sunday morning weddings will become the norm. On this occasion, all wedding-related ceremony will be confined to the portion of the service between the Creed and the Peace. The opening Collect and readings will be those appointed for Sunday, a priest friend of the couple will preach, and the Communion portion of the service will be exactly as usual for a Sunday morning. The couple will exit as part of the procession at the end of the service, and there will be an opportunity for greetings (and cake!) in the courtyard during coffee hour.

The couple to be married are deeply grateful for the Cathedral’s welcome to them as they have recently joined our congregation and they hope for this ceremony to mark a mutual commitment and cementing of the pastoral relationship. We hope to hear from members of the congregation about this experiment, so please post comments or email Cathedral staff with your thoughts after Sunday’s service.

The Very Rev Penny Bridges


Unknown said...

A few years ago my husband and I were married during Sunday morning service at our little Episcopal church in the mountains of SW Colorado. This was not our first marriage, we are older and wanted to include our church family without a big fuss. Our wedding vows were included as part of the service with a catered reception/coffee hour in the Parish hall. It was a very special occasion for us, our friends and our priest.
Joan & Rudy, originally from San Diego

Anonymous said...

When Russ and I were married in 2008 the bishop would not allow us to be married at St. Paul's Cathedral, our home parish. So we went elsewhere. But SPC Sub-dean Allisyn Thomas did come and conduct the Eucharist service as part of our wedding ceremony. As Allisyn said in her opening comments, "we wanted God to be a part of our wedding/marriage." So whether or not the wedding is on Sunday couples still should request a Communion wedding if they desire.
Bob Boyd

Anonymous said...

I think this is a great idea!

Frank Borik said...

I think that the marriage ceremony in the context of the service today was totally appropriate and very well conducted. Bobby and Vay showed great humility and only asked for 15 minutes of our time. In return, they opened their hearts and allowed us to participate in what is the most intimate of human events. I hope we can do more of these services, as the opportunity arises.