Over the weekend a video was making the rounds that showed a brief clip of a wedding ceremony. As it began, everything seemed normal: gathered guests, eager yet nervous bride and groom, and gentle minister guiding them through their vows.
And then all of a sudden things change. The minister, for some reason quite irritated with the wedding photographer and videographer, turns around and tells them to move. To leave. To get out of the way of the ceremony he feels they are disrupting. The visual professionals seem to want to argue back, but the officiant will have none of this, telling them that “this is about God.”
As the altercation takes place, the guests sit watching. The bride and groom grow increasingly uncomfortable, and we the viewers are tempted to get rather angry with this minister. Some would say that this outburst ruined the wedding ceremony. Two questions are likely to emerge in our minds while watching this: “How dare he!?” and “What gives him the right!?” Though I have some questions about whether I as a minister could ever do the same, I do (and I’ll tip my hand here) have certain theological and ministerial sympathies with his reaction,
While the minister may simply be badly in need of some anger management (and in any case needs to learn some tact), I’m not so quick to reject his response out of hand. First, we don’t know the back story. The videographer and photographer may have engaged in a host of disruptive and distracting actions before he turned around. He may have politely asked them numerous times to stay away from the area in which they insisted they must stand. Some of the message boards I was reading even indicated that in the Episcopal church, a couple must sign a contract that specifically states photographers must stay away from the front/center of the ceremony. If these things are the case, our angry friend doesn’t seem so crazy after all.
But beyond even this, I think what happened during the ceremony–and our reaction to it–speaks to the fact that our cultural understanding of marriage is rather different from the view long-held by the Church. We think that a wedding is all about the bride and groom. The family. The aesthetics. The party afterwards. Many times the idea that marriage is a sacred covenant hardly enters into the equation. And so if a wedding photographer dictates the terms of the ceremony, standing where and doing what they want, it doesn’t matter. The officiating minister is just one more in a string of hired hands to perform a role and contribute to the certain “feel” of a wedding in a traditional church.
As a Christian minister, I reject this approach and would argue that for followers of Christ, preferential aesthetics need to fade from view in favor of the importance of the ceremony as a solemn and profound covenant before God and gathered witnesses. As much a time of sober honesty and commitment, in other words, as it is about joyous love. To ignore these realities in favor of a pretty ceremony devoid of meaning is to drain the rite of its importance. Having a wedding in a church by a minister ought to mean something…and our friend in the video is simply guaranteeing this.
If someone wants to be married in the Christian context (minister/church/etc.), they ought to be prepared, I think, for the Church to have some say in the matter. If not, they are free to be married by other officials. But under the auspices of Christianity, they ought to be ready for the Faith to say something about what is taking place, why it is important, and where the focus ought to lie.
While the minister’s tone and demeanor may be all wrong, his resolve and actions should be understood somewhat differently. We talk a lot about “destroying the institution of marriage” in our culture today, and I’m not angling to get into all of that right now. But consider: doesn’t the commodification and commercialization of weddings (the same things rejected so forcefully by this minister) insidiously pollute the institution from the very moment of its inception in our lives? I don’t hate wedding photographers. I appreciate what they do. But, ultimately, they are not even close to the most important thing in a wedding…and that’s worth remembering.