Thursday, October 04, 2007

Question of the Day

Pastors, have you ever refused to marry an engaged couple? If yes, why? How did the situation play out?

[Not an issue that I'm facing in the parish right now, BTW. Just a discussion topic at school.]


Allan R. Bevere said...


I have turned down couples on two occasions. The first was when they admitted to me that their relationship started when they were still married to other people. I told them that the church was not in the business of legitimating adultery. Actually, they took the news quite well.

The second concerned a man who admitted that he had physically abused his first wife. I didn't turn them down unconditionally, but stipulated that I would not even consider officiating unless he had extensive counseling, which meant they would not be able to be married on the date they had chosen.

Both of them were quite angry at me and decided to go elsewhere.

By the way, his fiance called me a couple of weeks later to tell me that they got into an argument and he hit her. She said she was calling off the wedding that was scheduled at another church, but I don't know if that ever happened.

Mark Winter said...

I turned down a young couple when I found out she was pregnant and the man admitted he didn't want to get married. It was a shotgun arrangement.

I calmly told them I couldn't officiate at a wedding where one partner wasn't committed to the other. The young woman didn't seem to want to get married, either, but she didn't come right out and say it.

They just kinda shrugged their shoulders through the whole thing.

The Thief said...

I had an experience where a couple came to me "wanting" to get married. I had officiated at his brother's wedding (his brother was not only my parishioner, but also my friend). The mother of the groom-to-be was one of my youth leaders.

I was concerned about the relationship and about them just wanting to get married because of family pressure and so forth. I told him that we would need to do at least four sessions of premarital counseling (which was my usual).

I had both his brother and his mother bring concerns to me (funny thing, the potential groom thought that his family wanted him to get married).

He didn't want to do the counseling... finally when we talked, I told him I didn't think I could in good faith do the ceremony. He was cool about it.

Then I got moved by the Bishop, but the couple did not get married.

Pastor Chris Roberts said...

I too have turned down a couple.
In fact, I learned a lesson I recommend.
I now have a set of Pastoral "Guidelines. These include, among others, that the expectation is that a couple will have 5 sessions of "pre-marital pastoral care" by me or counseling by a therapist and that those sessions MUST end 2 months prior to the wedding date. This allows them time to find a new pastor if things don't work out or get the needed counseling from a therapist prior to the wedding.

Pastor Chris Roberts said...

btw, my first question I ask the couple is: Why do you want to get married in a church? When they give me a blank stare, it tells me something. I will then ask, "Why not go to the justice of teh peace?" Then we discuss what it means to have a Christian ceremony" and a worship experience during the ceremony.

Dan Trabue said...

My pastor has determined not to do any more marriage ceremonies where they are intent on "giving the bride away," finding such to be a throwback to women-as-chattel days and offensive.

I don't know if anyone's not proceeded with a marriage because of that.

doodlebugmom said...

I am not a pastor, but one did refuse to marry my husband and I.

My(then)fiance and I took couseling classes with my pastor. Our wedding was scheduled for an autumn Saturday. My pastor called on Thursday, his father had passed away,he was unable to do the ceremony. We called the pastor of my finace's church (also a UM pastor in the same conference), he refused. His excuse was he didn't counsel us.
(of course I was beyond ticked)

The assistant pastor agreed to marry us. He was nervous, it was his first. I said that was ok, it was our first too!

In a few weeks, we will celebrate out 22 anniversary. =)

RevAnne said...

I refused to "marry" a couple who snuck off to get married months before the scheduled wedding. They did not tell me this up front(glad we didn't have to deal with it at the rehearsal, but I suspect that's what they were setting me up for) but confessed to me when I ran into them out of town. I offered any number of options to celebrate the marriage, but insisted that they at least tell their families that they were already married. When they refused, and demanded to go on with the wedding as if they had not already been married, I refused to do it, as it was clear to me that they meant to deceive their families and friends. I later found out that her family learned she was already married at the rehearsal. I'm glad I wasn't there.
Some festive little ironies:
He was no child; he was in his mid-30s at the time, and certainly knew better.
They've been married 5 years, have 2 children, and seem very happy together.
I never thought that they should not be married, but I also did not intend to be a part of lying to the people who loved and supported them.

greg hazelrig said...

I have not. But as I grow older and become a more mature pastor, I think there will be.

Wabi-Sabi said...

Through the process of premarital counseling my wife essentially refused to do a couple's wedding.

Similar to what Chris mentioned, when asked "Why do you want to get married in our church? " the response was based on that's what their families would want, you're "supposed" to get married in a church, etc.

After a counseling session or two, my wife helped them realize they weren't really interested in a church wedding and all that it entailed, vows to God, etc. and they agreed to have an outdoor ceremony with a Justice of the Peace type of civil officiant. They were much happier as a result.

On another occasion Carol refused to do the wedding of a soon to be graduate at our local university who said she wanted to be married in our church because the carpet went well with her dress. Seriously that was the bride's reason. The beauty of our sanctuary and the color of the carpet.

Andy B. said...

Twice I have said no when a couple calls out of the blue and wants to get married in a matter of days. A timing issue, I say, not enough time to get all of the required couseling in.
A few times I suspect that couples have decided against me officiating their wedding when I inform them of my expectation that they attend worship every week during the time we are in counselling leading up to the wedding date.

John B said...

I too have said no to a couple and our congregation ended up with the glass in it's sign broken out because of it. Might be a good indication I made the right choice! It's a very long story. Another pastor did marry them but after 6 months it was over

John Wilks said...

Like Andy, I have turned down couples who have no ties to our congregation and want the ceremony in a matter of mere weeks or days.

I've also had couples bail out on me when I started explaining what the Christian concept of marriage is all about and why I wanted them to have a few conversations with me about marriage and attend church a few times before hand. (I sometimes avoid the term "pre-marital counseling" because some couples think it implies that their relationship is problematic- but I cover the issues.)

tom ream said...

I turned down a couple who where both 17 at the time. After having an initial meeting with them, I honestly did not believe that they were mature enough or ready for marriage. When I ask why they wanted to get married their answer was convenience.

The would-be-grooms family attend my church and his mother was very upset with me. The funny thing is, that shortly after the wedding the mother was hospitalized. When I showed up to provide the necessary pastoral care everything from that point forward was fine.

I still think I made the correct choice, but the couple did find someone to marry them. They are still married 6 years later and I'm glad to have been proven wrong so far.

tom ream said...

With the comments about the short notice for a wedding,the only exception that I would be willing to make is for someone being sent overseas for military service. I haven't encountered this and would probably have to do so serious discernment, but that would be one instance that I would consider forgoing my normal number of counselling sessions and other requirements.