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Culture Shock: What Christian Weddings Typically Entail
Christians believe that marriage is a gift from God, and that their wedding is a public declaration of their love and lifelong commitment to each other, and to their religion. This is why it’s important for the ceremony to take place in a church, in front of God.
Millions of Christian weddings are celebrated every year, and they can differ based on specific denominations or personal preferences, but if you’re attending a Christian wedding, these are the traditions that are usually constant.
When all the guests are seated in the church, the groom, his best man, groomsmen and the minister enter from a side door, and wait at the front of the church for both families and the rest of the wedding party to arrive. The couple’s grandparents are seated first – bride’s family on the left of the church, and groom’s family on the right. The parents of the groom are the next to be placed and lastly the bride’s mother. The wedding party enter in this order: the bridesmaids, the maid of honour, the ring bearer and the flower girls. Everyone then stands as the bride arrives at the church, with her escort, usually her dad.
Traditionally the bride walks down the aisle to the wedding march, but modern brides are choosing a song that is meaningful to her and her fiancé. Her father gives her a kiss, and shakes hands or hugs the groom, giving him his daughter’s hand.
Call to Worship
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here in the sight of God.” These recognisable words are synonymous with a Christian wedding, and they form part of the minister’s welcome message. It’s usually explained to the congregation why they are there, and then they’re thanked for sharing in this momentous day. This is followed by an opening prayer.
Giving Away the Bride
The minister asks who is giving the bride away, and the mother, father or both will say they do. In recent times this has become an optional part of the ceremony, and the phrasing has changed to reflect the independence of modern brides.
The congregation is seated, and the minister speaks about the meaning of a Christian marriage, reminding the couple and their guests, about love, relationships, commitment and faith. The minister’s sermon sets the tone for the wedding, and it can be religious, serious, romantic or humorous. Often they will share a story about the couple, and how they met and fell in love, and then they elaborate about the duties and roles in a marriage.
It’s quite common to now have a family member, or close friend, read a verse from the bible, or recite a poem or reading that’s special to the couple. Whether you choose the simple, sage words of Winnie the Pooh or the quirky insights of Dr Seuss, this is a way to show your personality, and to pick the perfect passage that resonates with you.
This is the legal side of a wedding, where the religious marriage celebrant is required to recite the monitum from the Marriage Act, to explain the legal nature of marriage.
Declaration of Intent
The minister is required to ask if there is anyone present, who knows of any reason why the couple cannot get married. There’s a moment of silence, and when no one responds, the bride and groom usually let out a nervous giggle and the minister proceeds.
The bride and groom are asked to declare their intention to enter into marriage, in the presence of God, and they answer that they do. The parents are then asked to pledge their support and they also say they do.
The couple turn and face each other to say their vows. These can follow the familiar “repeat after me” format of the standard vows, or they can prepare and say their own heartfelt and unique version. Vows are the promises and commitments that the couple to each other, and they share their hopes for the future.
Exchange of Rings
The rings are symbols of their marriage and when they’re put on each other’s fingers, they will say a vow like, “I give you this ring as a token of my love and faithfulness”.
This event is optional but is becoming increasingly popular. The bride and groom each have a small candle, and together they light one large candle, to symbolise that two have become one. There are many variations of this ceremony, such as using sand, painting a picture or even planting a tree.
The minister will end the service with a blessing and a piece of advice for the couple, followed by the Lord’s Prayer.
This is the bit that everyone will recognise, when the minister says: “By the power vested in me, I now pronounce you husband and wife”. It’s this moment that the newlyweds really look forward to, when they can have their first kiss as a married couple. If they choose to have communion, it’s now that they’ll share in this act.
Signing the Registry
To make the wedding legal, the bride, groom and two witnesses – usually the maid of honour and the best man –all need to sign the marriage licence.
The very last thing that the minister has to do, is present the grinning newlyweds to the congregation, by introducing them as Mr and Mrs.
The new husband and wife are the first to leave, usually to applause and cheers, followed by the wedding party, family, congregation and then the minister.
The Bible doesn’t dictate the order of events for the wedding ceremony, and this allows couples to be creative. They can lengthen or shorten the service, or only use aspects that are significant to them. What is important is showing that you’ve made an eternal commitment to each other, in front of God. By acknowledging God’s role in the marriage, the newlyweds believe that his strength, guidance and unconditional love, will help them throughout their marriage.