More than four years have passed since last we hosted a wedding in our church building. Its not that we haven’t had weddings; it is that most of our weddings take place in venues other than the church building. Ascension is not unusual. Fewer than 30% of weddings now take place in houses of worship. Why?
Church-going couples are often able to take their beloved clergy person and musicians with them to destinations, rather than being confined to the church building. These “destination” venues market heavily (and successfully) to engaged couples. Many couples want their weddings to be custom-built, reflecting their unique personalities and aspirations. Fewer people in the traditional “marrying” demographic have faith commitments and, therefore, would not seek a church, synagogue or mosque for their vows. Additionally, fewer people choose to marry or even partner at all: more American adults now live alone than at any time in our history. That’s a lot of reasons for fewer church weddings.
The internet is filled with hand-wringing speculation about the long-term, dire consequences of this marriage trend. Blame is spread evenly across the unsuspecting spectrum. It’s the church’s fault. It’s women’s fault. Its men’s fault. It’s society’s fault. It’s capitalism’s fault. It’s the internet’s fault. Eydie Gormé would “Blame it on the Bossa Nova.” (You’re welcome for the ear worm.)
Much of this hand-wringing is fueled by a longing for a remembered past when, according to our faulty memories, all weddings were held in churches and everyone was gleefully married and family structures were stable and we all lived happily ever after. Both research and experience tell us that we may be remembering wrong.
As I prepare for both Saturday’s wedding and Sunday’s preaching, I am amused to learn that misremembering is an older tradition than any “traditional” wedding you can name.
In the Old Testament reading, the Israelites, who had been slaves for 400 years in Egypt before being freed, remember their slave lives as idyllic. (Numbers 11.4-29) “We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the garlic! Those were the days!” Though we know that their slave days were horrible beyond description, that fact didn’t prevent them from misremembering it. (This text was the inspiration for a clergy friend’s coining the phrase “The Back to Egypt Committee,” referring to those church members in every parish who remember with great fondness a past that never was.)
Jesus’ disciples, uniformly clueless and selfish, get all wrapped around the axle because they overheard somebody speaking “in your name who is not following us!” (Mark 9.38-50) Gads! This faux indignation fell from the same mouths that only ten verses before had bickered about which disciple Jesus loved best. They remembered themselves as far more faithful than they actually were.
What do we willfully misremember? Besides weddings, slavery and our own smallness?
There is one thing we are not misremembering. Our lives pre-pandemic were significantly different than they are now. To imagine that we will one day return to those lives is, at minimum, naïve. And, as unable as we are to accurately remember the past, so are we equally unable to imagine the future. For ourselves. For our families. For our careers. For our church. For our country. That is why we continue to gather for worship and community life—both in-person and virtually—to remember and to hope together. We need to hear again the simple, timeless message that we will read on Sunday: The load is lighter when it is shared (Numbers); prayer heals (James); the giving and receiving of small kindnesses is its own reward (Mark).
I invite your prayers for Matt and Amanda, soon-to-be-married, that, in all the joys and sorrows that lie before them, they will not forget their vows, or the loving support of those who will witness their vows, or, most important, that God watches over them with love. Even though we may misremember God, God always remembers us.
Pastor JoAnn Post