Westminster-St.Paul's Presbyterian Church

 

 

So you want to be married in church...

Our congratulations!

The first thing this church wishes to say to you in response to your wedding enquiry is thank you for envisioning us as a part of such an important day.  You are taking a step in life which signals maturity and which requires courage.  You are entering into one of the potentially richest blessings God’s creation can provide – a life of mutual companionship and service.  We at Westminster-St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church are happy for you and wish you great joy.

Our perspective

Secondly we want to offer you our understanding of what you are doing when you choose to be married in the church, as opposed to some other contexts in which a marriage can be legally solemnized.  Hopefully this will give you a new and helpful perspective in which to consider the married life you are about to begin.  It may also help to explain why there are some requests, occasionally put by a couple to a minister, with which the church cannot comply.  The church performs marriage ceremonies as part of its ministry of worship to God and its ministry of pastoral care to people, whom God loves.  It is different involving the church and its minister in your wedding than it is involving a photographer or a florist; the church sees itself as doing ministry, not selling a service.

 

Steadfast Love

Steadfast love means that there must be a permanence to your marriage – a determination to love, which is based more on decision than on feeling.  Steadfast love entails sacrifice of self for the good of your partner in the relationship, and patience in the marriage when it is bringing you more headache than reward.  God in Christ sacrificed himself on the cross for the good of the world.  That is the ultimate exhibit of what it means to love another steadfastly.

 

Faithfulness

God’s insistence on his people’s loyalty, their commitment to him as their only God, is what the Bible calls God’s “jealousy.”  When you marry in a church, you vow that you will be exclusive to the person you marry.  Infidelity carries a huge cost, both emotional and financial, should it lead to divorce, but from the church’s point of view, infidelity is also offensive to God, because it is such an anti-reflection of God’s own character.

Marriage is given by God, to help us in knowing God.  From what is said above, it should be clear why Westminster-St. Paul’s considers the traditional vows of the marriage ceremony, which highlight permanence and exclusivity, as non-negotiable. 

Marriage helps us to bless the earth by extending love beyond ourselves

How does marriage help us to bless the earth?  God’s interest in marriage is not just for the good of the couple involved, it is for the good of society as a whole.  The church long ago identified it as a good thing when children – always a possible outcome when a man and a woman are joined as “one flesh” – were raised in the context of marriage.  No other context can provide the same stability.  And stable children provide for a stable future for a society at large.  Similarly the church long ago identified sexual behavior without boundary, as a volatile and destructive force for societies, as well as a soul-destroying practice for individuals.  The older forms of the marriage service may sound prudish when they say “marriage was instituted for the procreation of children and the avoidance of fornication” but what is meant is that marriage, as an institution, blesses societies that honour it, as well as the individuals involved in it. 

Who else is involved in your marriage?

Part of the church’s unique perspective on marriage is that it involves more than two people.  When you marry at Westminster St. Paul’s you, the marrying couple, are talking not only to yourselves.  God is there, your families are there, your congregation of invited guests is there, and in some more or less tangible sense, the church is there.  All these people should hear something and should have something to say in your wedding. 

Your families

It is not just two individuals who are united in a wedding, but two families.  Families can be messy; however, in the church’s view it is important to honour parents (see the Bible, Exodus 20.12).  You are encouraged to give some thought as to how you might do this in your wedding ceremony.  It is also important for parents to realize that after the marriage they will no longer have first claim on their children.  The Bible says that marriage involves leaving one’s father and mother in order to cling to the spouse one has chosen (Genesis chapter 2, verse 24) .   Parents who do not recognize that the spouse’s claim to their child now trumps their own may end by “putting asunder” what God has joined.  For those with grown families who are embarking on a second marriage in their riper years, the same kind of negotiation process may have to be undergone with respect to children.  For these reasons and because our marriages will tend to reflect, for better or worse, the patterns of relationship we have first learned, or not learned, in the context of our parents’ marriage, it is desirable to have a meeting which includes your families before the wedding to talk these issues through.  This would be part of your marriage preparation at Westminster-St. Paul’s.

Your guests

The congregation of invited guests is there to witness what the two of you are saying to God and to one another, but they are also there to participate actively in that.  People of other faiths or of none may feel they cannot participate in prayers and song addressed to the Christian God.  What the church does ask is that they be respectful of the venue as a house of worship.  Guests will be asked to confine flash photography to the part of the service where you process in and out of the church.  If you are engaging a professional to take photos (without flash) or a video recording throughout the wedding, this person must be situated unobtrusively, preferably in the balcony at the back of the church.  Experience has sadly proven it necessary to say that should any of the guests or members of the wedding party appear at the church under the influence of alcohol or drugs they will be asked to remain outside.  Appearing in such a state does not show respect for the venue.  Moreover, in worship God meets with us – person to Person – we cannot meet with God properly when our personhood is de-centred by mind-altering substances.
 

Marriage is good; God invented it.

So what is the interest of the church in the matter of marriage?  Christians and Jews have always believed that marriage is a good thing because it was invented by God.  God, as our creator, is in the best position to know us – to know both our purpose and what will please us.  God is interested in giving us joy.  He is also interested in our fulfilling our purpose, which is to know him, and to be a blessing to the world in which he places us.  By creating humankind in two sexes, uniquely suited for one another, God wished both to bless his human creatures with joy, and to help them fulfill their purpose.

God uses marriage to give us joy. Thanks be to God!

There is joy in finding another who is suited to us, one who is “bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh,” and for whom we are prepared to “leave our parents” and “cleave” for life (see the Bible, Genesis chapter 2, verses 18-25 and Matthew 19, verses 3-6).  The church testifies that when we find such a person, it is the gift of God, and God is to be thanked.  Your marriage service at Westminster-St. Paul’s would reflect that. 

God uses marriage to help us fulfil our purpose

Marriage is also given to us by God as a help toward fulfilling our human purpose a) of knowing God, and b) of blessing the earth. 

Marriage helps us to know God by reflecting God’s character

How does marriage help us to know God?  God is revealed in the Scriptures as a God of “steadfast love,” (see the Bible, Psalm 25, verses 6-7, Psalm 100, verse 5, Psalm 103, verse 17 and many other places) and also as a “jealous God” (see the Bible, Deuteronomy chapter 4, verse 24, chapter 5 verse 9, chapter 6 verse 15, Zechariah chapter 8 verse 2 and many other places).  When you marry in a church you undertake to enter a kind of relationship which will interpret, both to the two of you, and to anyone else who may be watching, the kind of character God has, and the nature of his relationship with us.

God

God should hear your thanksgiving for the joy you have found, and the prayers of the church for your support as a married couple.  The music in the wedding service as well as the spoken words will convey this.  The minister and church organist will be happy to help in the selection of appropriate music.  Secular love songs are not appropriate.  God’s speech will come to you in both the scripture readings and the minister’s sermon.  The church believes God speaks in Scripture the things that need saying with a clarity and authority not found in other texts.  If there is a piece of poetry or a reading from another text which speaks to you, you may wish to include it at the reception; however, it is the policy of this church that God’s word stands alone during its services.

When “God” is referred to in these pages it is also the Christian God Who is understood.  Marriages sometimes combine people of different faith backgrounds.  If that is the case with you, the harmony of your household around issues of religion, the expectations of your families, and your plan for raising any children resulting from the marriage, are things we should discuss during our meetings.  The Presbyterian Church is respectful toward other religions.  Part of that respect is the understanding that other faiths do spin around different axes – we do not believe that they are all somehow the same, or somehow Christian “under the skin.”  Although there are many practical ways in which religious peoples can co-operate, worship-sharing during the actual conduct of a wedding service tends not to work well.  The name of “God” then tends to become evacuated of any specific content, in order to accommodate the various content each religious leader brings.  For this reason, the minister of Westminster-St. Paul’s will not share your wedding service with a leader of another faith community (eg. a rabbi, an imam, a first nations shaman etc.).  Roman Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox priests, Lutheran, Pentecostal, Mennonite and Baptist pastors, United and Christian Reformed ministers and Salvation Army captains etc. are all ministers of the same Christian religion, and there would be no problem, from our point of view, about sharing a service with any of them.

The church

By deciding on a church wedding you are also inviting “the church” into your wedding.  The Presbyterian Church in Canada is a non-established church, which means it has no responsibility to perform marriages on behalf of the State.  Ministers in the Presbyterian Church therefore, choose whom they will marry, and sessions (the governing board of the congregation) make decisions about the use of the church building for wedding purposes. 

Normally the minister and the church venue go together; in some cases the minister may entertain a couple’s proposal to be married elsewhere, but this would be at the minister’s discretion and would form the exception rather than the rule.  “The whole earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it” (see the Bible, Psalm 24) but Christian marriage is a matter of witnessing to certain truths and values before the public, and the truths and values being witnessed to are easier to see in some settings than in others. 

When the couple approaching the minister and session for marriage are members of the congregation or active adherents, the decision to marry them is easy.  When they are not, and the minister and session agree to the wedding nonetheless, their hope is that the couple will begin a relationship with the church during and after the request for marriage.  The church does not see its role as a performer of weddings, so much as a participant in and sponsor of the larger business of marriage – God’s invention. 

Being married is difficult.  The church has valuable support to give to married people, but it is hard to support people who are married in the church and then never seen again.  By choosing to be married at Westminster-St. Paul’s, you may be contacted from time to time by the church.


To recap then:

v The church got involved in marrying people because of its own convictions about the good of marriage as a blessing provided by God.

v The purpose of marriage given by God is to give joy to people and to help them in achieving their God-appointed purpose of knowing God and blessing the earth.

v Marriage helps people to know God when they live out the vows that they take – vows to love steadfastly and to be exclusively faithful to their marriage partner.

v Marriage blesses the earth in that it provides God’s intended context for sexual expression and for the nurture of children.

v Christian marriage teaches couples to see their couple-hood in the context of a wider community.  This community provides necessary support and accountability for the couple and gives an outlet for their service to God and to the community as a couple.

v This wider community context includes at least four “others” besides the couple: 1. God, 2. the families, 3. the guests, 4. the church.

 

Schedule of Fees 

  • Minister: $175
  • Organist: $100
  • Custodian $60


Use of Sanctuary $100 for non-members, no charge for members or active adherents.

 

Total: $435 for non-members
             $335 for members

  1. Having considered the above, if it is still your wish to be married at Westminster-St. Paul’s this is some of the preparation that will be involved: 
    • An  initial meeting with the minister following a regular service of worship.  This will familiarize you with the minister’s style of worship leadership, the lay-out of the church sanctuary and allow the minister to make your acquaintance. 
    • You will be asked to read this paper and to complete a marriage preparation tool (approximate cost $65) before your next meeting with the minister.
       
  2. Provided the session has approved use of the building for the date in question, a second meeting with the minister and possibly with one or two of the elders, will take place to discuss the results of your marriage preparation exercise and any comments you may have on this paper. 

    The purpose of the elders being present is because they represent part of that community of Christian wisdom and support, in which we hope to interest you.  Also, as you will be dealing with an unmarried minister, you may benefit from the experience of elders who have themselves been married, as we discuss the more practical issues.
     
  3.  A third meeting should include parents, (or if they are far a field, evidence that you have talked with them, and then with each other about the marriage legacy they have left you).
     
  4. The final meeting, the wedding rehearsal.  The day before the wedding, the wedding party, possibly the organist, and the minister will meet for prayer and in order to walk through the service.