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Duane Kelderman on Weddings and Worship

A Christian wedding is a reflection of the people getting married. But the wedding is not meant to be just about one couple. A Christian wedding at its best is also a form of worship in which God calls and the gathered people respond.

Duane Kelderman is interim pastor at Second Christian Reformed Church in Grand Haven, Michigan. He served for 10 years as vice president for administration at Calvin Theological Seminary. In this edited conversation, he shares highlights from a recent class he taught at the Seminary about weddings.

What is the same and different between weddings and worship services?

Both weddings and worship services (in distinction from "all of life as worship") bring glory to God and take place before the face of God. Some weddings include Holy Communion or are a part of worship services. In fact, my wife's parents were married in a worship service. But even in those cases, I would distinguish a wedding from a worship service. A wedding solemnizes a marriage. There is a clear legal, societal dimension to a wedding that is distinct from a gathered community’s worship. Still, a wedding should be worshipful in bringing glory to God, the creator, sustainer and redeemer of marriage, and by invoking the promises and spiritual resources of the covenant-keeping God we worship each week.

Did your seminary students agree with that distinction?

It was a hot topic. Some maintained a wedding should feel like a worship service—and liturgical worship at that! Others felt that weddings are purely the personal expression of those getting married and should not "suffer" from churchy constraints. Both "sides" of this discussion have legitimate concerns and contributions.

Visually, what liturgical furniture or other visuals should remain seen during a wedding?

I don't use the word "should" so much, especially when it comes to weddings, since decisions involve constraints of a particular worship space. Ideally, it would be enriching and beautiful to have the sacramental furniture present during the wedding. Banners, flowers and candles can enhance the wedding’s beauty and meaning. Most important is engaging the bride and groom in thinking about these things.

How can weddings involve the gathered guests?

Assuming the gathered community represents family, friends and church communities that have helped nurture the bride and/or groom, the wedding ceremony is a time of celebration and gratitude for and of the entire community. The service should acknowledge their great contribution and generously thank God and the gathered people. Especially where the gathered people have had a remarkable formational role, it could be very meaningful to include their voice, perhaps in a prayer or scripture reading.

What do you think about couples who want to write their own wedding vows?

My wife, Jeannette, and I were part of the hippie generation and wrote our own vows. Just one problem: we lost them. No idea what we promised. There are advantages to using a form written in a hymnal or prayer and worship book!

What about including communion in weddings?

Communion in weddings for the right reasons—to highlight our union with Christ, to bring praise and worship to "the one in whom all things [including marriage] hold together"—is wonderful. I discourage communion in weddings when it feels like the bride and groom want it as a cool adornment, but don't understand its significance. There's plenty of the latter.

One tricky thing with celebrating communion in a wedding is figuring out how to make the communion celebration hospitable for any non-believers present. Sometimes just the bride and groom, not the whole gathered community, partake of communion. But that introduces concerns too. Why only the bride and groom, when the sacrament is so clearly a participation in the body of Christ by the body of Christ?

Who should be in charge of weddings?

I've done a lot of weddings. I guess I was in charge, especially of running the rehearsal. Lack of leadership at a rehearsal is a disaster for everyone. But pastors should respect the important roles of others, such as church wedding coordinators or Aunt Rita, who has been the "chief worrier" about countless details. Pastors should view these people as assets for a successful wedding, not threats or obstructions.

What were hot button wedding topics in the class you taught at Calvin Seminary?

The hottest topic was whether pastors should conduct the weddings of two non-believers or a believer and non-believer. Seminarians’ opinions are considerably more divergent, and more passionately held, than in the past. For many, Paul's injunction "do not be unequally yoked" clearly settles it. For others, love is the only applicable biblical principle. They say pastors should not deny anyone requesting a wedding because of their religious orientation (or lack thereof). I think both extremes in the class gained some appreciation for concerns of those with whom they disagreed. In a post-Christian society, this will be a regular pastoral challenge.