Top 5 elements of a good wedding ceremony

June 7th, 2016

Maybe it’s because my own 32nd anniversary is coming up on Thursday.

Maybe it’s because I have a spate of weddings over the next few months.

Maybe it’s because that spate includes that of my own son and his fiancée.

But I’ve been thinking about what makes a good wedding ceremony recently.

What separates the holy from the hokey? The transcendent from the trite? What makes it worthy of worship rather than suitable for the WE network?

There are many answers (including, well, it helps if the wedding party DOESN’T show up drunk) but here are five: 

  1. A couple that has spent more time and energy preparing for the marriage than they have planning the wedding. Enough said. 
  2. An opportunity for the community to participate. When the pastor asks the father of the bride, “Who gives this woman to be married?” it’s a sacred question. But in these days of complicated family dynamics, I have often found it better — and ultimately more meaningful — to turn to the congregation and ask, “Who gives their blessing to this couple.” The resounding “We do!” grants a collective, communal affirmation every couple needs. 
  3. A marriage charge that is specific, customized, and not based on 1 Corinthians 13. I have a brief marriage charge in every wedding at which I preside. And I am always astounded at the number of people who approach me afterward and say they have never heard something like that. Apparently, a good many clergy read through a ritual and offer no scripturally-based marriage counsel. A wedding is a marvelous time for people to overhear the gospel if you combine subtlety and truth. 
  4. Vows that are grounded in God and not in the couple. One of my seminary professors told us not to allow couples to write their own vows. So I don’t. Instead, I let the couple know they are reciting vows in union with couples who have gone before them for hundreds of years. 
  5. A mixture of mirth and majesty. With an anxious couple, overwhelmed parents, and empowered wedding planners, things can get heated and heavy. That’s why a wedding ceremony that has moments of wit and a feeling of casual grace goes a long way to helping people enjoy a wedding rather than merely endure it.

Talbot Davis is pastor of Good Shepherd United Methodist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina and the author of SolveHead Scratchers: When the Words of Jesus Don't Make SenseThe Storm Before the Calm and The Shadow of a Doubt, all from Abingdon Press.

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