Virginia Pastor, Henry G. Brinton, Is Worried About Wedding Trends

09137.jpgMagazines and websites love to trot out the latest wedding trends, such as “vintage touches,” “eco-friendliness” and “good night stations.” But these are all about style, not substance.

As a pastor, the trends that interest me most involve the sharp decline of marriage in the USA and the rise in non-clergy-officiated weddings.
These are the changes that matter, rather than the modern substitution of cupcakes for a wedding cake. The dropping number of marriages and changing face of officiants will shape the lives of American couples — and their children — for decades to come. These shifts merit some thought as we wrap up this year’s wedding season, which runs May through October and typically covers 70% of all ceremonies.
Fifty years ago, about three-quarters of American adults 18 and older were married. Today, about half are. Nearly 40% of respondents to a Pew Research Center survey last year said marriage is becoming obsolete. If you think this is just demographic background noise with no real consequence, think again. This shift ultimately will harm kids because children in married family households are far less likely to live in poverty than those in single-parent households.
There are myriad reasons for the disintegration of American marriages, and I don’t have a one-size-fits-all fix, but I do know that just as with a building, little is more important than its foundation. So a marriage’s starting point — the wedding day — should be more than just cake and cocktails.
Who ties your knot
A recent survey by TheKnot.com and WeddingChannel.com revealed that almost one in three of their website users who married last year chose a family member or friend to officiate at their ceremony. Since many Americans are not currently part of a religious congregation, it’s not surprising that acquaintances are filling in the gaps. This certainly fits my experience over 25 years in the ministry.
When I started out in the mid-1980s, I performed seven or eight weddings a year. Now I’m doing five or six. And while I’m not upset about the additional free Saturdays, I do worry that something important is lost when couples either forgo the formal ceremony or have a family member or friend lead the service.
Why does this matter? Well, relationships are hard to hold together, and a wedding creates a sense of unity not just with the bride and groom but for those in attendance, too. Those who gather to watch a couple make their vows often are the ones who, years later, support a marriage in good times and in bad.
In addition, a measure of accountability comes from making these promises in a public ceremony. Think about it: If you make a private commitment to a person, you can break up by explaining your change of heart to that person alone. But if you make a public marriage promise and later choose to break that vow, you have to justify yourself to parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, childhood friends, college buddies and everyone else who has witnessed your wedding. Some of the glue that holds a marriage together comes from the extended community that not only offers support but also demands accountability.
The trend toward having family members or friends officiate certainly has value, as it personalizes the service. But I am concerned when weddings focus more on love than on promises, which is the natural course to take when officiating for relatives or friends. In the quest to personalize a service, non-clergy officiants are naturally going to focus more on the story of the couple than on the tradition of marriage.
Source: USA Today
Henry G. Brinton is pastor of Fairfax Presbyterian Church in Virginia, and author of Balancing Acts: Obligation, Liberation, and Contemporary Christian Conflicts.

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