The number of church weddings is decreasing. For that matter, the number of weddings, period, is decreasing. Sociologists and social commentators have listed some of the reasons for this phenomenon. These include cohabitation bypassing marriage, young people living at home for a longer period of time, and young people categorizing themselves as “none” when asked about their religion.
Since I’m in the “church business” I would like to put in a plug for church weddings. It’s not just that the church sanctuary provides a nice photographic setting for your nuptials. It’s not just that it is traditional to be married in a church. There are other reasons — and they are important.
I can boil all of those reasons down to one word: God. Whether you are married in a cow pasture or in a church, God loves you. What does matter is that the couple realizes that this most important step in their lives must rest on an active faith in someone larger than themselves. Feelings wax and wane. For a human relationship to ride over the shoals, breakers and rapids of a lifetime, it must be carried in a vessel of covenant love that has carried humankind since the beginning of time.
Wedding vows exchanged in a church say, in a very public way, that we want the God of Israel, the Father of Jesus, to be an irrevocable party to our marriage. A church wedding matters because you face an uncertain future and you want, as the song says, “to put your hand in the hand of the man who calmed the waters.” A church wedding matters because you not only want your guests to throw rice at you for good luck, but you want them to pray for you and to lift you up to God’s mercy in this most important moment.
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A church wedding matters because key ingredients in your marriage must include forgiveness, patience and prayer. These ingredients cannot be purchased online. They are learned over a lifetime by walking with a community of faith, which models what God has first modeled for us.
Make no mistake, divorce and its fallout is a terrible thing. All the parties — spouses, children and in-laws — involved in a divorce are wounded for life. Church weddings do not prevent divorce. But placing marriage in a religious context does offer families the possibilities to deal with the crises that surely come.
Inviting God to be part of one’s family establishes a bulwark so that when the winds blow, the house will not collapse. It was true when Father Peyton said it 75 years ago and it is still true today: “The family who prays together stays together.”
Yes, there are important reasons to begin and continue your marriage in a faith setting. And it all comes down to one word: God.
The Rev. Fred Nijem is pastor at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Warner Robins.