Saturday, November 17, 2007

Marriage is a Vital Social Institution

This past Saturday I had my first opportunity to officiate at a wedding. That it was the marriage of two people who have become dear friends was, I now realize, a great gift for me. That it was a celebration of marriage equality was a great chance both for ministry, activism, and for community and family bridge building. It may not be the most diverse wedding I'll ever officiate, but it was an opportunity to minister across the –isms, and that was incredibly powerful as/because it worked: two lesbians, one black, one white, with a twenty year age difference, some class gaps within/between families, and one family running on military one hour early time and part of the other family (with the opening musical soloist) running 15 minutes late (worth waiting for...).

My own theology of marriage is formed by growing up in a farming community and by participating in churches where community is an action verb. A marriage must be supported by the community: by family, friends, colleagues and neighbors, or the two partners in that marriage face an uphill battle to make their relationship work. This was a participatory wedding. I called for family, for friends, and for community to stand and to pledge their welcome, love, acceptance and support of this couple. I am not very romantic about weddings. This wedding ceremony wasn't romantic, although it was incredibly moving, but rather it was pragmatic--a ritual designed to ensure the strongest layering of personal commitment, family, community, and traditional support for the relationship in marriage that began that day.

The relationship, of course, didn't begin on Saturday, and each step of the wedding preparation took us to a closer look not only at the relationship that my two friends have been building with one another, but also at their relationships with family and friends. I said that I thought the day should reflect why they wanted to marry each other, and one of the most powerful, and untraditional, moments in the service was when I asked each of them that question and they answered it, looking out at the gathered friends and family who witnessed the depth of the joy, love and bond that these two women have together. For some members of their families, in particular, this was an education about marriage equality. For everyone there, it was a powerful reminder about the need for mutual respect, the human capacity for determination and joy, the ability of two people to inspire and boost each other, and the strength of love.

For me, it was an affirmation of my call to ministry. There were a lot of opportunities for ministry even on a joyous day: the pre-wedding time of deep breathing and meditation to calm nerves while we waited for late arrivals, granting the opening for all present to feel and express their own emotions as my voice broke after the first five words, the reading and preaching about commitment and love, the conversations at the reception with married, mostly straight, couples about their own love and vows, the affirmations of marriage equality, human dignity and the universality of love with those who hadn't quite gotten that idea prior to this wedding. I told my friend that we had perhaps set a gold standard for wedding ceremonies. I cannot imagine that I can ever participate in a less intentional way or officiate in a perfunctory manner at a wedding after this.

So, I pray blessings on those who chose to get married, that they explore and understand why they want to get married, and that they ask for and get the support, acceptance and love from family and friends that they need to make a healthy relationship work.

One of the people at the wedding was attorney who has handled a fair number of divorces, and she said the wedding gave her hope for the institution of marriage because of the intentionality of the service. Of course, the next day, two friends at church reported that they were getting divorced, and I know how hard that must be for them to have made vows that are now breaking. So, I also pray blessings for those who are not happily married, whose marriages are unraveling or have dissolved, for healing and support.

And just for completeness, I pray for those who are happily, or unhappily, not married whether in a loving intimate relationship or in a state of uncoupled single-hood; for those who seek changes in relationship status; and finally for all of us that we might find and know the blessing of relationship with the Other, a relationship beyond ourselves.

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