Caught Off Guard

During my hospital chaplain days, I got a call from Sandy, the director of nursing. “Karl,” she said, “there’s a couple in L & D (labor and delivery) getting ready to have a baby. They desperately want to get married before their baby is delivered. Will you come down and do a wedding?”

So many thoughts flashed through my mind that I had to shake my head to clear my brain. I
wondered, how could getting married be an afterthought? How could it now be important to get
married, when it hadn’t been important for the last nine months? How long were they playing
house before the woman became pregnant? Would they have even wanted to get married if she
wasn’t pregnant? Whatever the circumstance, I leaned strongly towards rushing down and
performing the ceremony for the BABY’S sake.

My lower angels, on the other hand, indulged the idea of reading them the riot act for their
irresponsibility as parents. Maybe I could get them to pledge they’d do better from this point forward. I’m pretty sure my personality would not have allowed me to do that, but I sure thought about it!

Then, I thought of a crucial question that would trump all the others. I asked Sandy, “Do they have a license?” After all, to be an official marriage (and I would not want to officiate any wedding that was off-the-records) there are rules and regulations.
Sandy’s line went silent for a minute. When she returned, she answered, “Yes, they do! I’ll see you there. First, I’m going to see if I can get the kitchen to bake a small wedding cake.”

I sat there, taking deep breaths. I reached to my bookshelf and pulled down my pastor’s manual and started thumbing through the vows of the wedding section. The phone rang. It was Sandy, again. “Never mind,” she said. “They have a DRIVER’S License.”

Today’s wedding culture is rapidly changing. Pastors tells me it’s been years since they did a wedding at their churches. Members choose wedding venues that allow alcohol. Ministers say
they feel like an afterthought, a non-essential element of the service. Couples have friends,
family, and themselves to perform most parts of the service. No wonder there is a movement
afoot where clergy tell couples to go to the courthouse and get a civil marriage recorded. Then, if they want, they can come back to the church for a blessing ceremony.

One thing I learned from that expecting couple is that ministers need to think through some of the difficult scenarios BEFORE they happen. Have you thought how you would respond to
wedding requests outside your faith boundaries, your comfort zones, and your church’s culture? Planning ahead can make a big difference! In fact, if your church creates some wedding guidelines, including limits for the pastor, it can save everyone a lot of grief. If you take the Wedding Savers pledge, where you will only officiate weddings where the couple has had serious premarital counseling, those weddings you do officiate might have a better chance of lasting.

Thinking through difficult situations before you must make a judgement call might also be true for FUNERALS. It’s hard to say no to any funeral, for that’s when people are hurting the most, and we want to minister in the name of the Lord. Nevertheless, at some point, you might need to say “no,” or at least say, “You can’t do that at the service.”

One pastor told me about the motorcycle death of the grandson of two of his members. The
family planned the service to be held at the local funeral home. They called the pastor to warn that the motorcycle GANG would be coming and would turn it into a beer bust—with who
knows what other behavior. The family and pastor agreed to change the venue to the church. A
church member wore his police uniform and came as security. The funeral director called the
gang and told them of the change-of-venue and restrictions on what they could bring and do. He also mentioned the police officer. The gang didn’t show up. Of a less dramatic nature, some pastors have learned from experience to require that prior permission be granted by the pastor (or music minister) to prevent inappropriate songs from becoming the talking point about a service.

As sad as it is, weddings and funerals are two venues that can prove we live in a fallen world. Are you ready for what COULD happen? Think ahead!

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