â€˜Oh, and then there was a wedding...'
By Kathi Chavez
|Lyn and Dwain Greenfield|
|COURTESY LYN GREENFIELD|
Last September, the Rev. T. Bryson Smith ended his three-part sermon series on "Your Worst Life Now" with a real-life example of God's offering new opportunities.
"He preached about second chances and life renewed," said Fieldstone United Methodist Church member Hannah Parks. "After the sermon, he said, â€˜You know what I think we can do to wrap this up, to make this sink in? We need a wedding, and I happen to know a couple who'd like to get married.'"
And Hannah and her fiance, Mike Parks, stepped forward for the congregation's long-awaited fulfillment of a courtship that started and flourished in the Christiansburg, Va., church.
Conducting weddings during a regularly-scheduled worship service is a return to the roots of Christian marriage, said the Rev. Taylor Burton-Edwards, worship resources director for the General Board of Discipleship.
"The development of the â€˜marriage-industrial complex' in the 20th century shifted the celebration of marriages away from gathered congregational communities and toward entirely separate and increasingly elaborate and expensive ceremonies glorifying the individuals involved," Burton-Edwards said.
"Perhaps more and more of us will opt to offer our vows within the regular Sunday service of the congregations that nourish and challenge us to live as disciples of Jesus in all our relationships, including our marriages," he added.
The experiences of three couples demonstrate the sort of disciple formation Burton-Edwards describes.
The last thing the Parks couple wanted was to glorify themselves. After struggling with difficult divorces and single parenthood, they wanted to give back to the congregation who had supported them.
"We look at each other every day as a blessing from God, and our church family is our family," Hannah Parks said. "We wanted our wedding to be about love and our families and friends and the greatness of God who brought us all together."
Fieldstone's congregation was also blessed, Smith said.
"We celebrated what God is doing and what God has done in them, that God drew them together and God is drawing us together. The congregation got to see that lived out in real time," Smith said.
Two years ago, Lyn and Dwain Greenfield decided the ordinary wedding froufrou was unimportant after Dwain was diagnosed with Bell's Palsy. With the help of the Rev. Ann Donat, the two active members of Trinity United Methodist Church in Douds, Iowa, decided to marry during Sunday worship.
"Everyone truly felt they were a true participant," Donat says. "The fact that it was a surprise wedding reminded all that one never knows how God may choose to work when we come together for worship."
Larry and Connie Bowen were the surprised ones at their wedding in March at Meadows Chapel United Methodist Church in Prairieville, La. Wanting a United Methodist church for their wedding, they picked the first one in the phonebook. When the pastor suggested the wedding be included as part of the worship service, they agreed although they didn't know anyone in the church.
Knowing the couple couldn't afford an elaborate wedding, the congregation of 30 to 40 members went into Matthew 25 mode and made the two strangers a wedding to remember. They organized a reception and used decorations from a previous wedding. One woman made a wedding cake.
"The people at the church were so great," Connie Bowen said. "I didn't know any of them, but I never, never in my life felt so much love in one room, not even in my own family. They were so kind and generous. I told Larry that the bonus is that we have found us a church home."
Kathi Chavez is a freelance writer in Franklin, Tenn.