Thursday, May 14, 2009

How to pick a minister for your wedding

A few weeks ago, a church I know got a call from a groom-to-be asking if the church was available in a couple of weeks for a wedding. It wasn't. I've gotten those calls myself, from brides mostly, saying, "My wedding is a week from Saturday and we don't have a minister; could someone from your church do it?" Well, no.

One of the things that astonishes me about weddings is that people would spend so much more time and money picking a florist than picking the person who is the one legal requirement for the whole shebang. And that many times, people pick the minister who comes with the building rather than spend any time finding out if they will feel comfortable having their service performed by this person.

With that in mind, and because the blogosphere lives on forever, I'd like to add my 2 cents to the question of how to pick a minister for your wedding, and the care and feeding thereof.

1) Make your selection with as much advance planning as you do everything else. Do not assume that the church and/or minister will be available to perform your wedding on the date you have chosen. But before you call the church to ask about the minister's availability,

2) Go to a service where the minister is preaching and/or leading. I can't emphasize this strongly enough. You'll get a sense of their style of preaching and worship, theology, tone of voice, warmth, and general demeanor. Ministers are not interchangeable. A friend of mine stepped in as a wedding officiant at the last minute when the couple discovered that the minister they had invited planned to harangue the congregation with hellfire. I suspect you don't want that. If you live far from the church, send a trusted emissary to check things out.

3) Ask if there are premarital counseling or other requirements. If you like the minister and the church and have called far enough in advance, be prepared to schedule time to meet with the minister for several sessions in the weeks and months prior to the service. Different denominations have different requirements. Some require membership, financial support, etc. Know what will be asked of you. And, if you really want to be married in that church by that person, live up to these expectations.

4) About pre-marital counseling... A lot of couples I know worry about "what the minister's going to think" about them living together (as many do). Believe me, most ministers have heard it before. But again, this will be a good indicator of how comfortable you are going to feel with the minister in question. Most of the ministers I know simply try to help couples look at some questions that would be good to ask themselves and each other before the wedding: about expectations, money, child-rearing, communication and conflict resolution. Be up front and ask about what your premarital counseling will include. If you live far from the church, you may be doing premarital counseling with a different minister or counselor.

5) About the fees... Many churches have set fees for weddings. Please don't dicker. Did you negotiate the price with the caterer? And what did they say? We're generally talking a couple hundred bucks here. Don't be cheap. This is the person who actually ensures that you get married.

6) About the rehearsal dinner and reception... Honestly? You probably don't want to invite them and they probably don't want to go. Really. Saying something like, "We would of course be delighted to have you at the reception, but don't want you to feel obliged to attend" would be lovely to hear. Give your minister the opportunity to opt out.

7) Please accept with grace that your wedding may not be the minister's top priority. I'm sorry to break this to you, but the truth is many ministers hate doing weddings, especially for people they don't know. Despite what you may have read in wedding magazines, most churches do not have a special minister who performs weddings; church ministers are generally overworked and underpaid and do weddings on top of their full-time jobs. If they are also giving you time for pre-marital counseling and rehearsals and what-not, they are not getting paid a lot for their time. Your minister will be much happier if you make things as simple for them as you can. Be on time to appointments and rehearsals. Don't make a lot of last-minute changes. And understand that though it may seem like the minister is only working 20 minutes for the service itself, there's a lot more to leading a wedding service than meets the eye.

And finally, 8) Please know that ministers take your wedding seriously as a religious and spiritual experience and hope you do, too. Churches do weddings because they have significant religious meaning; be respectful of the seriousness with which the church takes its role. The minister will probably have rules about what can be done or not done in a wedding and they need to be honored. If you hate the religious part of the wedding, then for God's sake, don't get married in a church! As far as most ministers are concerned, this is actually not your day; this is a religious observance before God and your community of family and friends. A good minister can help you find the meaning in your wedding beyond the cake and flowers. May you be blessed in it.


it's margaret said...

couple a hundred in the fees? hmmm... --I charge 10% (think tithe) of the cost of the reception.... I don't ask for proof, it is on the honor system. But it usually ends up more than a couple a hundred!

There was one couple who used the church parish hall for their reception, and I knew they were struggling in every way-- I gave them the money back for the baby that was becoming obvious... !

Laura Toepfer said...

Wow! I haven't done a wedding in a while, but the most I've ever gotten is $400.

it's margaret said...

nope --last one was about $1,200

I don't much like doing weddings --until marriage equality and all, but my congregation said they did not want me to withhold blessings, so, there we are!

Anonymous said...

Would you mind saying what you get for funerals?.

Fr. Mark said...

The other thing I always specify is that everybody in the wedding party has to show up sober to the wedding and the rehearsal. I must say I like the tithe of the reception fee. We don't charge a fee for members but they usually make a nice contribution to my discretionary fund. My church canons do not allow for a fee for a sacrament.

Ben's Random Rhetoric said...

It isn't a part of your call to ministry to officiate at the wedding of members? In other words, it isn't a part of what you're already getting paid to do?

LKT said...

Absolutely, it's part of our call to provide pastoral services, such as weddings and funerals, to members of the faith community, and to those outside of it as well. But that's not who this post is for.

This post is meant for people who are unfamiliar with how churches operate in general and may choose a church based on the fact that it has a sweet building and simply expect that the minister comes with the building, like a liturgical accessory. I'm concerned that people may consider ministers as interchangeable when in fact there is a wide variation in styles and theologies that may or may not best serve the couple in question.