On faith: The wedding industrial complex
Reverend Lawrence Lee, United Church of Two Harbors
The average cost of a wedding in the United States is $25,200. Just let that number sink in for a bit.
The modern wedding industrial complex got its start post WWII with high profile Hollywood weddings and the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten. Because of film news reels — and later, television — we got to see these lavish affairs in a way we’d never seen them before and we were mesmerized. We wanted that for ourselves and for our sons and daughters.
Weddings used to be simple affairs that would occur as part of a regular Sunday service of worship or in a separate ceremony on the steps of the church or in the home. There’s nothing in the ceremony that requires excess. The rite, by itself, is quite simple.
In Minnesota, here’s what you need to be lawfully wed – five people. You need the couple, the officiant, and two witnesses. That’s it.
Don’t you need a dozen assorted groomsmen and bridesmaids in rental tuxes and gowns? Nope.
Don’t you need a large dinner afterwards for all your guests? Nope.
How about cake? Nope. Though cake is delicious.
Don’t you need rings? Nope. Not required by the church or state. They are symbols of the vows but do not replace the vows themselves.
And, to add to the list, you don’t need candles, a fancy dress or flowers.
Now, I’m not being a wedding grinch. Sure, you can have all those things. I’m just saying they aren’t necessary and should be regarded for what they are - details.
Back in the 90s I was preparing a couple for marriage when they called it off. It wasn’t that they didn’t want to be married, but the stress of the wedding day was too overwhelming. A year later the couple came back and told me, “Here’s what we want. We want about two dozen people in a small chapel, nicely dressed, and we’ll go out and have dinner afterwards at a nice restaurant. And flowers. Flowers are important to us.” I told them that sounded lovely and I’d be happy to officiate their wedding. They figured out what was important to them and it made the whole thing do-able.
Last summer I did a wedding at Glensheen Mansion. For one reason or another, the groom’s ring wasn’t there for the day of the wedding. We quickly fashioned a ring out of a bit of wire and no one was any the wiser. And, you know what? That couple is just as married as any other couple. Further, I’m betting that the story about the ring is what gets told around the Thanksgiving table with grandchildren on their knees in the year 2058, not what was served at the five course meal that followed.
In the eyes of the church, a wedding is first and foremost a service of worship. In the sacrificial love of the couple, where they lay down their lives for one another, we see Christ’s love for us. Our human love is an extension of God’s love. Further, the vows the couple makes on their wedding day, where they promise to love each other forever, would be audacious if not bound up in the infinite love of God.
Simply put, love is what makes a marriage. Prioritize love in your wedding above all things. Even cake.
The Rev. Lawrence Lee has been the pastor of the United Church of Two Harbors since August 2003. He estimates that he has officiated well over 100 weddings in his 21 years of ministry. He can be found on Facebook at revlawrencelee.