Conversation and information about music and liturgy from a confessional Lutheran perspective.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Occasional Wedding Blues

Weddings are usually a joy, but church musicians and pastors all know what a pain they can be. Some people want to use the church building for a wedding - but don't really want a church wedding.

Generally, we don't have much of a problem with this at Bethany. Due to the conservative nature of the congregation, pastors who rarely perform non-member weddings, and a carefully designed process for planning weddings, most of our weddings go quite smoothly. I've got one later this month that I'm really looking forward to, when our Lord will join together a lovely couple who have planned a Christ-centered ceremony with great music. Indeed, we've done many really cool weddings at Bethany.

But the kind of problems that regularly occurred in previous parishes still come up every once in a while. Let's face it, no mater how well pastors catechize, one will always have transfers come in, and no matter how poorly they were taught in their previous parishes, whatever experiences they have had or been allowed to get away with in the past is "Lutheran" for them because, after all, it happened in their "Lutheran" church.

And so we have conversations where we have to do things like explain why "Ave Maria" is not an appropriate selection for a Lutheran service, only to hear about how said transfer has been Lutheran all her life and had "Ave Maria" at her wedding and at her sisters'! And you have to explain what psalms, hymns, and canticles are literally five times, only to hear about how they just want a "solo". And then after singing several solos that are hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs (canticles), they pick one. But in helping them with the bulletin, one has to explain again what a canticle is and that it is indeed in the program when they get panicked about seeing Scripture readings associated with the song and start to demand, "Where did you put the solo?!"

And of course they not only think they are know all about Lutheran doctrine and practice, they are the wedding experts, too! Even though the pastors and cantor have done hundreds of weddings that have been very worshipful, they just aren't convinced that 200+ people will participate in the service and so don't want to put anything in the program that would communicate such an expectation. Oh sure, people can say "Thanks be to God" or "Lord, have mercy" or the Lord's Prayer if they WANT to.....but they think putting such helps in the bulletin would be 'offensive', even though they are in the bulletin at church every Sunday. After all, "we've been Lutheran longer than you have!"

Yes, we in the church are called to serve. But some folks forget that we are to serve the whole Church - not just them. Instead, they think they should get things their way - just like at Burger King. They don't want to be bothered with reading a booklet prepared for their benefit, nor work through the parish worship planning worksheet for weddings. They evidently don't think we've ever encountered anything they haven't already thought of! They are the experts about what they want, thank you very much, and find the idea that they might learn from the Church to be demeaning. It's America, after all, right? And isn't everyone's vote equal? These churchly ideas are just your opinions, and I like my ideas better! As John Locke on ABC's LOST says: "Don't tell me what I can or can't do!!!"

(Note: I originally titled this post "It's My Party and I'll Cry if I Want to", after Leslie Gore's 1963 hit, but I upon reflection I think people were missing the point and/or the reference. But if you've made it this far into the post, I think you'll get the humor of that now!)

And of course the people that wait until the last possible weekend to meet with you then complain about having to work through any issues because they have to get the program to the printer yesterday even though the wedding is a month away. And no matter how nice you are, you still wind up getting the phone hung up on you or otherwise being treated rudely. Makes you wonder if you'll get paid. The "I want the church to do what I want" crowd doesn't have the best track record on that score.

Oh well, it's not the first time, and it won't be the last - even though we're more flexible at Bethany than many churches: we don't insist on following the order in the hymnal or the agenda, we allow lay readers, allow alternate readings, have no position on unity candles or gifting of flowers, allow long receiving lines at the end of the service and suffer in silence when couples insist that their 3-year-old nephew really can do the job of ring bearer! But still some treat me like I'm Regan (sp) from The Exorcist with my head spinning around in 360s just because I try to get them to follow the standards our congregation has set forth in our wedding policy manual.

I often joke that I'd rather play a funeral than a wedding. But it is true. I think I'll make that our next poll question!


Elephantschild said...

We made our guests sit through an entire full church service. We were nice to our organist, though, and we had no "soloist" other than the excellent mini organ concert before and after the wedding!

No Lohengrin was played; my Dh banished all thought of Pachebel's never-ending Canon in D as well. Even Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring was nixed as being too schmaltzy; I think it's probably the only time ever that my Dh has nixed Bach! (My favorite fugue was in the pre-service music, though.)

Phillip Magness said...

Thanks for the comment, Jenny. It's lonely out here on my little blog!

I'm actually fine with Pachelbel or Jesu, Joy, though I prefer Sheep May Safely Graze. But that's incidental to the texts and the liturgy itself.

Sometimes I can't believe the things people want sung at their weddings!

Orianna Laun said...

I played for a wedding where the couple wanted "A Whole New World" from Disney's Aladdin as the processional. Would you believe the pastor (a man who should know better) allowed it?

Phillip Magness said...

"A Whole New World?"!! That's even worse than "We've Only Just Begun" (which I played once as a recessional!).

And if I had to do that I wouldn't be able to stop thinking about the Clintons due to Rush using that song in his parodies of Hillary back in the 90s!

Orianna Laun said...

Someday I'd like to write a church wedding etiquette book. It'd have lots of helpful hints and things to do and things not to do and things to never even consider doing. There'd be a whole chapter on picking appropriate music.