My wedding calendar:
May: London, UK
June: County Tyrone, Northern Ireland
July: County Wicklow, Ireland
August: London, UK
September: Marrakesh, Morocco
And I could go on…
From chatting to other young graduates in the Christian scene, I don’t think I’m unique in getting wedding invitations for each month of the year (though perhaps I am a social creature!). It’s a wonderful thing in many ways, that young people still believe in such radical, counter-cultural principles such as love being a choice that one commits to for life. Love is truly the most liberating freedom loss of all time (even if many of us as millenials doubt it, and struggle to commit – either to God or to a person).
But in other ways, the way the west has individualised and internationalised life and society, means that the way we do weddings baffles me, and our habits of thinking of attending many weddings as a good “Christian” thing to do, also makes me ponder.
I have previously written that in Christian mission, the “good” is often the thing that gets in the way of the “best”, and I want in some ways to say that applies here too regarding weddings in two ways.
Firstly, if you’re like me and are always on the road to weddings, and each month are forsaking your home community to do so, there’ll be an impact. You’ll be potentially a quarter less effective or useful in your home church, and it’ll impact your finances. For me who is then away on annual leave, or preaching or visiting family some other weekend of the month, it means I’m not in Sunday church for half the month. (Not a worry to you? Here’s some other posts I’ve written.) But for want of sounding stingey and rather heavy-handed in my implications of community life, let me move onto something that has me thinking more.
Secondly, what is the purpose of attending a wedding?
- Because you have to? – yes, sometimes you’re a relative, and relatives culturally often feel they can’t say no.
- Because they’re an old friend? – often its being invited to someone who was an influence in your life, or whom you influenced in life in the past.
- Because they’re a current friend? – most often we don’t need to travel far to our current friends’ weddings, but sometimes we do still.
So which of these would I consider not going to?
Well, no hard and fast rules can be drawn up, nor should they be, but the vows at one wedding caught my attention:
“Do you as a congregation, before God, promise to uphold and support this wedded couple, in any way you can in the years ahead?”
“We do” came the chant back from everyone enthusiastically.
But did I?
For this couple (a generic, hypothetical couple), they were people of my past life – deep friends from years ago. A couple who were unlikely to ever live in my country, nor to contact me apart from social media. Perhaps if we crossed paths in a city again, we might say hello, but ultimately, I knew things weren’t going to be the same again.
So was I realisitically, before God, going to promise to support them in the years ahead?
a. By prayer? There’s only a certain number of couples, missionaries, individuals and friends I could ever say I pray regularly and meaningfully for. “God bless all marriages” doesn’t quite cut it for me.
b. By contact? Once I’ve prioritised my home church community, my family, and perhaps then my inner circle of friends (non-Christian friends as well, of course), it doesn’t leave a huge lot of time to invest in others in life. I’d want to think twice before promising to God that I’d support a marriage.
c. By not doing anything unhelpful? Well, one could take a very hands-off approach and say that (depending on wording of the vow) that I would be supporting them, as long as I’m not negatively influencing them! But I’m not sure we’d want to be so scrouge with our words as to only allow for this.
Ultimately, I would conclude that weddings that have these vows for the congregation, bring the wedding back to The Church, and ground it in a living community that is geographically located. In some ways, this is very helpful. A wedding is not just a gathering of “people like us” but is a full spectrum of the diversity of Christ’s body, united by Him.
Should I have been there?
Well, again, I don’t think there are hard and fast rules. Christianity is not about creating rules, but our heart response to The Groom (Jesus) as His bride (The Church). These were great friends from my past. But perhaps if I can’t honestly say I’ll support the couple that are getting married, it’s one reason I might consider to not attend, if I’ve a list of 12 weddings in a year!
So could the best Christian thing, be not attending a wedding of a friend?
I would suggest the answer could well be “Yes”! So that it means more for you when you do attend them, so that current church communities thrive without people always being away, and so that it means more to the couple who are having people who honestly support them.
In the big picture of our relationship with Jesus, how important is this discussion? Relatively unimportant! But I hope it helps us think again – it’s often the “good” that crowds out the “best” and hinders our Christian walk.