Where is the most sacred space for weddings?

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I enjoyed reading Father Fred Nijem’s meditation on church weddings in his column here last Saturday. He captured the devotion required for a couple to stay happily married, properly advocating that God occupy the center of the marriage and expressing his desire that every couple be married in the church, repeating their vows before the altar, surrounded by the people of God and cradled in the Body of Christ.

Forty years of officiating at weddings has also taught me that any place can be a sacred place to wed — or the wrong place to get married. A wedding in a judge’s chambers or at a for-profit wedding chapel can be as sacred as a ceremony in a shopping center church or historic cathedral. Every wedding can be a holy occasion or make mockery of the ceremony.

Every pastor has officiated in a variety of wedding settings: beaches, mountains, back yards, public squares, golf courses, B&Bs and resorts. Some pastors have performed weddings perched in treetops, plunging from airplanes or submerged in scuba gear. Thankfully, my wedding duties have been with feet firmly planted on terra firma. And most of my weddings — outside church walls — have been beautiful occasions, holy events.

But I love church weddings best. I always will. The ideal wedding is one where two spiritually sensitive persons get married in the church where they were baptized, confirmed and have the habit of weekly worship.

The vast majority of church weddings I’ve had the privilege to officiate have included deeply spiritual couples and their families who invited Jesus as the unseen guest at their ceremony. Those weddings, with accompanying rehearsal dinner and reception, were occasions of appropriate celebration and holy joy. I cherish the memory of those rituals and celebrate those Christian couples and their families who put God first in their lives.

There have been a few church weddings I have not loved so much, mainly because the church was chosen as a venue: a historic building with good camera angles and lots of seating. In some of those ceremonies the betrothed couple, their wedding party and many of the guests were clueless about the meaning of the church as a community of faith. They might as well have wed at the local brotherhood union hall.

We pastors love to decry destination weddings. But if the church building is chosen because it has a long center aisle or dramatic space for a gigantic wedding party then the church becomes a “destination wedding,” chosen for the wrong reason.

Some of the most awkward ceremonies I’ve suffered through have been those rare church weddings peopled with an inappropriately garbed, woozy wedding party guffawing down the aisle, oblivious to the sacred space they occupy and already having imbibed in refreshments they are eager to consume in larger quantities at the reception. Such a wedding makes this pastor wish that Jesus had turned the wine into water.

I’ve officiated in settings sometimes dazzling, other times dreary; Jesus has been at every ceremony. But could I choose the circumstance, I’d rather have a wedding in a crummy asphalt parking lot with a humbly faithful couple than one in the grandest cathedral with those who seek only the glamor and the party.