Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wedding Tips - Part 2

(See here for part 1.)

Clergy know that in many cases we're just one more prop in the elaborate affair that is your wedding.  The problem is, we went to theological school for three to five years to learn our profession, and for us a wedding service is a religious ritual.  And it's demeaning to know you're being picked not because of your professionalism but because you have a nice building or because you have the right "look" for the wedding day or will look good in the pictures.  We know you're shopping around based on location and whether or not you like us, but try to hide that a little, please.  Basically, we want to be treated like professionals, and nowhere do we get treated less professionally, sometimes, than weddings.  And don't tell us something like, "Well, we want to be married by a priest, but we can't because it's our second marriage, so we had to come to you, but we'll get this blessed by a priest afterward."  Great--you've just told me that (a) I'm your second choice, (b) you don't really take either me or my religion seriously, so you'll have to get a secondary ritual done.  And, yes, I've heard this one--more than once. 

I know I'm taking something of a negative tone in these posts, and please take it with a bit of humor.  Most of the time we're delighted to help you achieve the wedding of your dreams.  But we're people too, and we get disgruntled and crotchety, and in writing this down I'm letting you see the dark side of the clergy--that we do grumble about some of the things that happen, we do exchange wedding horror stories, and we do have our pet peeves--mine are the aisle runners and the photographers.  Here's some others that I've either experienced or heard about:

1.  Wedding Planners - I haven't worked with these much, but I know from colleagues who have that there can sometimes be a clash of wills here.  We're used to running things our way, and wedding planners are used to running things their way.  It can throw us off our game to have an insistent wedding planner in the mix.

2.  Ring Pillows - Put fake rings on them, folks.  Stopping to untie tough knots that kept little ones from losing the rings can be pretty annoying.  So can chasing a wayward ring bearer down the aisle (okay, I've never heard of that happening--but I bet it has!).

3.  Ring Bearers and Flower Girls - Having little children in the service can be charming and adorable.  It can also be your worst nightmare.  Pick older children, and only have children if you're okay with something going wrong, because most of the time, no matter how adorable and obedient you think these children are, something will, indeed, go wrong.  Have the children walk down the aisle, and then go from the front to sit with a trusted adult.  Be prepared to go on with the show without them if they refuse to go down the aisle.  And, this is important, have that adult they're sitting with be someone who is prepared to walk them out of the wedding area to somewhere else, missing the ceremony if necessary.  You can even hire someone to be this person.  It would be a great idea. 

4.  The Bridezilla - We've seen the stereotype enough to know what I'm talking about.  Yes, it is your wedding day.  But we are not all here to serve you.  People are there because they're professionals performing a job, in which case they don't need you to be acting like you think you're a princess, or they're there because they care about you, in which case they're volunteers and friends and family, and you need to treat them with care and respect. 

5.  Groomzillas - Same goes for you, guys.

6. Drunkenness - All of us who have performed weddings have seen or heard of stories where somebody was drunk at the wedding and ruined the show.  Keep your bridesmaids and groomsmen and bridesmen and groomsmaids sober at the rehearsal, the night before the wedding, and at the wedding.  I won't perform a wedding if the couple themselves has been drinking on their wedding day, and I'll kick drunken attendants out of the show.  There's nothing worse, folks, than being drunk or hung over on your wedding day.  Why do you want to be miserable on the big day?  And if you do need to get drunk before your wedding, you should be thinking twice about getting married to begin with.

7.  Tardiness & Goofing Around - I know you think you're all cool and funny when you show up late for the rehearsal and then goof off the whole time.  This is only my time you're wasting, after all.  But ministers have families and partners and social lives, and we like to be able to do something else with our Fridays and Saturdays.  So be there on time, and focus in and pay attention, and let us get through the rehearsal.  If the rehearsal takes more than an hour, it's because you weren't doing your job, and you were late and/or goofing off.  I know how to run a rehearsal, and it can definitely take less than an hour. Wedding couples, think twice about who you're having be these attendants.  If you can get by with fewer, do so--a large wedding party makes for a lot more hassle.  I wish you would pick them based on their capability of doing the job they're being asked to do, rather than your affection for them, but I know that won't be the case.  But let them know that this show will go on without them, if they can't be there.  Showing up five minutes after the wedding was supposed to begin is not acceptable behavior from one who is supposedly in this service because they care so much about you.

8.  Something Goes Wrong - Always, always, something will go wrong.  Someday I'll tell you about my wedding day, if you haven't heard the story before.  It doesn't always go that wrong, but something will happen.  If you're being wound up about it being your perfect princess day where everything is perfect-perfect, this will destroy your day.  Don't let that happen.  Prepare yourself for the fact that something will go wrong, and when it does, laugh it off and roll with it.  It'll be the great story you tell later, whether it's a ripped dress or a toppled cake.  As clergy, we believe that a wedding isn't about the cake or the dress, but about the promises and vows.  The more you can remember that and believe that, the better your day will feel when the flowers turn up wilted or the pianist gets lost on the way there.

These are just pet peeves, of course, and they're annoying.  But what's truly saddening at weddings is situations that come out between family members.  And nowhere will the worst of your family dynamics come out more, unless it's at funerals.  It's heartbreaking to see the negative relationship between siblings get played out by a sibling deliberately sabotaging a wedding, or a parent showing the broken relationship with their child through deliberate snubbing or even lack of attention to the wedding ceremony.  There's nothing much I can do in working through the rehearsal and wedding to help you mend these relationships, and sometimes relationships are so broken they can't be mended, and for good reasons.  But do what you can before the wedding, and don't expect all those negative dynamics to go away just because it's your special day--if anything, they'll get more intense.  Weddings can bring out the worst in us all.

And now you've seen the ways in which weddings can bring out the worst in clergy--at least in this one, and make me peevish and ornery.  But on the day of your rehearsal, I'll be there to protect your interests--to do what you've asked me to, even in the face of wedding planners, mothers and fathers, and photographers, siblings and florists, all of whom think it should go the way they do it or dreamed of it.  I'm there to make it your day, not theirs.  And on the day of the wedding, I'm there to help you put all of the annoying details aside and focus in on who you are as a couple and what this ceremony you're going through is about.  Because it's not about flowers and music and rings and dresses and hair and nails and food.  It's about a lasting commitment between two people and their pledges and promises for what kind of future they want to create between them.  And I'm here for that.

To that end, one last piece of advice.  On your wedding day, I don't want you running around and dealing with the last-minute details and the things that are going wrong.  I want you to be able to be in the moment, thinking about what this is all about.  So find someone to handle those things that will go wrong, because they will--someone not in the wedding party, not a family member, but someone who is organized and who knows all your details and wishes.  If you have a wedding coordinator, that's actually great, even though I might clash with them, but if you don't, find someone to stand in in this role.  I want you to enjoy the wedding.

8 comments:

Earthbound Spirit said...

Jeez, Cynthia - have you been at some of the weddings I've done? A kind (now retired) minister once told me, "this is what we do, we ministers when we get together - we tell our horror stories/hysterical stories about weddings and funerals, because we've all got 'em."

Cynthia Landrum said...

Yep. I hope I'm not breaking the code too much to let everybody know we do this!!!

rainsinger said...

Well, the only one you left out of my pet peeves is the failing to pay the clergy person a fair fee. Yes this is a deeply spiritual and beloved religious ceremony. It is also our bread and butter. I have had brides and couples "price shop" officiants. The worst story is when I charged $350 for a wedding and rehearsal,drove an hour to the site one way, twice, as a last minute fill in when their officiant(a beloved colleague became ill) while the wedding party was nine bridesmaids, nine grooms men, all in gowns I knew were more expensive the $1500 a piece (I had just priced things for my own son's wedding and knew the dress) and then...the mother of the bride who was the one paying for the huge catered event with open bar,band and waiter service, "forgot her checkbook".
Please remember, without us, you are not married. I don't send in the license now until the check clears!

Cynthia Landrum said...

@Rainsinger - I like this not signing until the check clears, but aren't we legally obligated to send it in by a certain date or else be fined? So far I've always said it MUST be paid by the rehearsal, and have gotten it, but I think I might be willing to say I won't perform the ceremony if I don't have the check in hand.

Another colleague had a good suggestion about dealing with late rehearsal arrivals by saying you leave after an hour whether it's done or not. I think I'm going to start charging a fee for the second hour of rehearsal that begins at minute 61, of at least an additional $100!

Anonymous said...

Several years ago and entirely by chance, I shared an overnight Amtrak ride with the minister from my grandmother's hometown church. Since neither one of us could sleep, we discussed everything from politics to religion. In the course of our conversation, she mentioned that she HATED performing weddings. A contemporary "circuit rider" serving three rural congregations, she bemoaned the fact that many couples tended to book their reception hall even before asking her if she was available to perform their ceremony on a specific date!

My husband and I decided to have a small wedding for several reasons: we were over 40, we were closing on a house and wanted to save our money for a larger down payment, and we don't especially enjoy attending big parties, even if we do have the lead roles. Also, as an established "detail queen," I KNEW that if I ordered (for example) an expensive bouquet and the florist used roses that were not quite the right color, I would have been unhappy.

In weddings as in life, sometimes it's better not to strive for perfection: after some deliberation, I chose to have a fairly large natural floral arrangement displayed near the chalice. However, I bought a small nosegay bridal bouquet made of realistic-looking fabric roses on a crafters' website for less than $20. Ever since the wedding, my bridal bouquet has been displayed in our guest room. Had I spent a three-figure amount on a natural bouquet, it would have wilted long ago.

Regarding weddings and difficult family situations, I could write a long essay if not an actual book. In brief:

By having a small and unconventional wedding, I was (symbolically) finally declaring my independence from my family of origin's "mainstream" expectations. Well aware that certain family members would be at best condescending and at worst critical of our ceremony, we didn't invite them. Therefore, although my wedding day was peaceful and happy, what followed was traumatic. I expected my marriage to create some fallout within my family of origin, but did not anticipate months of nuclear winter. Even now, the Geiger counter is likely to go off in certain situations.

technomom said...

I read this post and the first part, and I'm not offended at all. Of course, my three (yes, that's 3) weddings are many years past, and I don't think I was guilty of any of these things in the two that were officiated by ministers, thank goodness! But I think I read both posts in the spirit they were written, too.

I've seen battling ring bearers and flower girls, flower girls laying down on the steps up to the pulpit to show everyone their pretty undies, flower girls doing their ballet recital pieces because hey, the crowd must be there for them! ring bearers trying to go up and get the microphone out of the pulpit (and pitching quite a fit when redirected) - you name it. Perhaps my family and the churches I attended in my youth were simply full of, shall we say, strong-willed children? But I sincerely doubt my experiences were so unusual. My own brother and my groom's sister were the youngest members of the wedding party the first time around, and they were about 11. I know it's so very, very cute to see the toddlers all dressed up, but I truly think it's asking for trouble to expect them to behave themselves for so long. They're babies!

It seems to me that it would make sense to pay the minister before the wedding, so there would be one less thing to worry about forgetting or dealing with when leaving the celebration after the wedding. That may just be my perspective, as someone who is very far away from the "parents pay for it" time of her life. (Then again, my daughter is 19, so I suppose I should consider that aspect again.) Is there some feeling that the minister won't, um, "perform" as well if she isn't satisfied with her payment? That's rather demeaning.

Might I suggest putting a link in each post to the other? It's standard practice for a series of posts, as I understand it.

Cynthia Landrum said...

@technomom - Thanks for the suggestion on the links. I'm still pretty amateur in some ways, and I appreciate the tip. Done.

As to payment, the way I approach it is by saying, "I don't want you to have to worry about this on your wedding day, or having me coming up to you asking for it on your wedding day, so it's due by our second meeting, and no later than the rehearsal. That way you don't have to worry about where you put your checkbook on your wedding day." So far, that's never been a problem with any couple. It's definitely a pet peeve of clergy who've gotten stuck without payment, but so far that's never happened to me. And there's not a question of being satisfied with the amount, since for non-members of the church it's a set fee or percentage of their wedding costs which we've discussed ahead of time.

Those are some great stories of misbehaving little ones!

Cynthia Landrum said...

@Anonymous,

Yes, some of us do hate doing weddings. I'm not one of them, actually. I enjoy weddings under certain circumstances, like when I have some sort of connection to the bride or groom, or when they're a really cool couple doing interesting things and behaving well. :) I don't enjoy doing a cookie-cutter service for people who can't get through a simple rehearsal without arriving late and drunk, on the other hand. So it all depends.

And, yes, it's par for the course that we're the last thing booked. That adds to the disgruntled attitude sometimes. I understand that you're willing to be flexible to get the right date on the perfect hall and then will take whatever clergy person can work with that date, but I don't have to like it! :) We'd love it if you said, "Well, it's most important to have an officiant who I respect, have a connection with, and theologically agree with, and we'll work the rest around that," but we understand that the percentage of weddings where this is the case is small, indeed! ;)

It sounds like you made some good decisions around your own wedding, but certainly sad that the fall-out has been so difficult. Sounds like a situation where there was no good answer, and likely to be problems no matter what you did.