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Preparing for Marriage

Wedding Policy

1)  The Wedding as WORSHIP

     Even though God has established the marriage relationship, there can be marriages and wedding services apart from the church that are in accordance with the will of God. This is because God has provided this relationship as something for the human race as a whole which is not limited to the church. Therefore, the regulations and recording of marriages is the responsibility of the State and not a sacrament or exclusive right of the Church.

     Nevertheless, a Christian will want to have both a Christian service and marriage because of his/her relationship with Jesus Christ. As the Christian desires to follow God's will and to give glory to have God's blessings on the marriage, begin that marriage in Christ, and give witness to Christ in the wedding service. The wedding ceremony is a worship service (much like a Sunday service) in which the bride and groom make their commitment to live in the marriage relationship as He established it and invite their fellow Christians to join them in worship and pray with them and for them as they begin their marriage.

     The object of our worship is the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He alone is worthy of our worship and adoration.

     All elements of any service of worship will praise, honor, and glorify God. What this means for Christians is that the wedding service is never theirs alone. It is a public act (even though it may be performed privately) which belongs to the worship life of the church. As such, you will want your wedding service to reflect a distinctly Christian content so that not only you but everyone present will be enriched and edified. This document represents our heartfelt desire to aid you in planning a worshipful, joyful wedding service.

2)  Thoughts Concerning Your Wedding Worship Service

     A Christian marriage is possible only when those who are intent on entering this holy estate have committed themselves to their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The members of Bethel Lutheran Church offer the facilities of the congregation to those who have the sincere desire to be united in Holy Matrimony under the direction and guidance of the Triune God. It is to be understood by all who wish to stand before the Altar of God to receive His blessings also profess a sincere faith in Christ, along with allegiance and obedience to Him.

     Since marriage is a union of the community of believers - the church - we consider it of primary importance that those who choose to unite in Holy Matrimony are active in their church lives (i.e., worship, Bible study, communion, etc.). It is also expected that the married couple will share their gift of oneness with the rest of the Body of Christ.

    If you are not an active member of Bethel Lutheran Church, or a sister LCMS congregation, a meeting with one of our pastors is required before the process to have your wedding here begins.

3)  Pre-Marital Preparation

     The pastor and couple will meet to help the couple identify the strengths on which they will build and the growth areas on which they will need to work. The pastor will also provide information to the couple regarding other aspects of married life and the marriage relationship as needed. The primary resources that are utilized as "Prepare/Enrich" and "Before You Say 'I Do.'" This will also be a time for the pastor to help the couple prepare the wedding ceremony.

     We believe that beginning a marriage is not something to be taken lightly. God has established marriage for the good of society, but also for the good of man and woman who plan to enter that relationship. Part of that good of marriage also includes specific directions as to how husband and wife are to act toward each other and toward people outside the relationship.

4)  Sexual Activity

     God has given the gift of the sexual relationship to people to be used in marriage for the purpose of bringing children into the world and for the expression of affection and pleasure between husband and wife. He forbids the misuse of this gift by using it outside the marriage relationship, often fornication and adultery (Genesis 39:9Exodus 20:14). He also encouraged all to honor the marriage relationship and keep it pure (Hebrews 13:4).

     The marriage relationship begins when the man and woman make their public vows to commit themselves to each other as husband and wife until death parts them. In the case of a church wedding, this is done in the presence of the congregation attending the ceremony and in the presence of the Lord.

     Christian couples are to exercise self-control during the courting and engagement period. This time should be considered a special time of anticipation - getting to know each other's interests, going to church and receiving God's gifts of forgiveness together, attending social events, spending time with each other's families and friends, and also self-preparation and prayer for your future life together.

     Couples will struggle and, like all sin, should repent, seek forgiveness from God and one another and by God's grace, amend their lives in conformity to God's will. Rejoicing in the forgiveness of sins and with a clean heart, couples should then look forward to their wedding day and their future together as husband and wife.

5)  Who can be married at Bethel?

     A wedding at Bethel Lutheran Church is normally a privilege for members of the congregation, or for those seeking to commit to a regular and active membership in the congregation. In this regard, it is ultimately at the discretion of Bethel's pastoral staff whether a wedding will take place in our church.

     In cases of special arrangement, a wedding of a couple from another LCMS congregation can be performed in the Bethel sanctuary, but only after consultation between the pastors involved.

6)  When can our pastor not participate in a wedding?

     Holy Scriptures speak only of heterosexual marriage unions; therefore our pastoral staff will not solemnize, officiate, recognize, or bless same-sex partnerships or unions (marriages - see Marriage Policy).

     If a couple from another LCMS congregation comes to Bethel to have their wedding performed, the pastoral staff will consult with the pastoral staff of their congregation. In cases of dispute between the couple and their pastor, the Bethel pastoral staff will seek to reconcile the situation if at all possible.

     If a couple from another Christian denomination or non-Christian religion comes to Bethel for their wedding, the pastoral staff is not permitted to perform such a wedding unless the couple seeks catechetical instruction to become members of the Bethel congregation.

7)  What pastors can or cannot participate in a wedding?

     All wedding services that happen at Bethel Lutheran Church will be overseen by the pastoral staff of Bethel. In the case of a couple who has a relationship with another pastor of another LCMS congregation, that pastor may be included in the service in recognition of his relationship with the couple.

     Only pastors of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod are permitted to participate in the wedding services at the Bethel congregation. Pastors of other denominations are not permitted to participate in any capacity as this would be considered "unionism" (co-mixture of Christian confessions). Ministers of other religions, likewise, are not permitted to participate in any capacity as this would be considered "syncretism" (the mixture of different religions). (See LCMS Constitution, Article VI: Conditions of Membership)

     Exceptions may be made under the following condition: A member of the family serves as the clergy of a different denomination and the couple desires their participation at some level. The pastor may allow them to read Scripture as part of the service, but not in religious-specific attire.

8)  Setting the Date

     Bethel Lutheran Church requires a minimum of three (3) months advance notice of your desired wedding date to determine if the church's calendar and the pastoral staff's schedule will accommodate the day and time you have selected. Arrangements for pre-marital counseling will be made at the time your wedding date is confirmed.

9)  Special Considerations

+  No smoking is allowed in any of the campus facilities.

+  No alcohol is permitted at any rehearsal or wedding on the campus.

+  Use of the campus is contingent on completing a rental agreement through the church office.

+  Off-campus weddings, while they do not require the use of the campus, nonetheless are to conform to the marriage policy and are performed at the discretion of the pastoral staff.

+  The pastoral staff has final authority on all matters regarding the conduct of the wedding, decorations within the Sanctuary, musical selections, and readings from Scripture; if a wedding consultant is secured, they will function in an "assistant only" capacity to the pastor.

10)  Decorations

     To maintain proper reverence for the Lord's house, the decorations may be as simple or as elaborate as the couple chooses as long as they conform to the policies given in this document. No decorations (including flowers) may be placed on or attached to the altar, communion rails, or baptismal font. The color of the altar cloths (paraments) will depend on the season of the church year. All paraments remain in place during wedding ceremonies. Flowers may be placed within the Chancel area as long as proper respect is maintained before the Altar. If it is the desire of the couple that the flowers be used for worship services following the wedding, notice should be given to the church office so that proper acknowledgment can be made in the church bulletin.

     Marriage/Unity candles are the responsibility of the couple. They can be purchased locally at a Christian bookstore or from a florist. Plastic sheets must be placed under the candles to prevent wax from dripping on the altar cloth or carpet.

     The Blending of Sands vases is also the responsibility of the couple. They can be purchased locally at a Christian bookstore or online. Two sands shall be chosen in accordance with the couple's wedding colors and a thin, white sand, is to also be obtained to signify the foundation of the Christian marriage on the forgiveness and love of God shown to us through Jesus Christ.

     If bows, ropes, or ribbons are to be attached to the pews, wire/metal fasteners and tapes are not to be used (they damage the pews). Please ask your florist for special, plastic pew clips designed for this purpose.

11)  Wedding Bulletins

     It is helpful, but not necessary, to have printed bulletins to inform guests of the order of service and the names of the participants in the wedding. If desired, the church may print a standard wedding bulletin. If desired, special bulletin covers may also be purchased through the church office and the bulletin can be printed on the special cover.

12)  Photographs and Video

     The Bethel congregation recognizes the value pictures and videos hold for a couple. Pictures may be taken in the Sanctuary or on the church grounds with flash/special lighting either before or after the service and during the processional and recessional.

     Because flash photography is disruptive in the worship service, no flash photography is permitted during the wedding service. Photographs may be taken during the ceremony without a flash anywhere but in the front, or chancel area. No photographer/videographer (professional, friend, or family) is allowed to disrupt the worship ceremony. It is the responsibility of the couple to inform their guests of Bethel's policy.

13)  Wedding Music

     The couple should consult with the pastoral staff regarding arrangements for an organist, accompanist, soloist, or other desire musicians. All use of musicians from outside of the congregation and music to be included in the ceremony must be approved by the pastor.

     The pastor uses the following criteria regarding the approval of submitted music:

a)  the text (words) should be Christ-centered

b)  the theology of the text shall be in harmony with the beliefs and teachings of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

c)  the music should not be associated with any secular, political, or cultural event or function which will detract from the sacredness of Christian worship in a wedding service.

d)  The timbre, structure, and general "sound" of the proposed music should be appropriate for a Christian church wedding.

     The pastoral staff will be happy to provide the couple with files of appropriate vocal solos, instrument solos, processional and recessional choices and the like. The musicians playing for your wedding may also be willing to meet with you to give you samples of appropriate choices.

14)  Organ

     The organ is normally the principal instrument used in connection with the services of worship, including weddings. There are other instruments traditionally employed in the church for festive occasions. These include most orchestral instruments (trumpet, strings, etc.). Unless previously excused by the pastor, all musicians will be present at the rehearsal.

     Bethel's Director of Worship Arts will have the right of first refusal, that is, he will be the couple's initial contact for musical support and he will normally provide the music for the service. If he is unable, another of the organists within the congregation can provide musical support. This provides a musician familiar with the church and the organ to serve at the Wedding. Should a guest organist be the desire of the couple, the pastor must approve the request, well in advance of the service.

15)  Soloists

     Vocal music performed during the wedding should enhance the worship experience. Asking friends who might be of questionable competence creates a tension and is usually unwise. It brings an unharmonious element into what should be a joyous occasion. The decision to have a soloist participate in your Wedding should be made in consultation with the pastoral staff.

16)  Service Participants

a)  The Wedding Party: With the exception of your Florist, Photographer, and/or Videographer, all wedding participants are expected to be present for the rehearsal in order to assure that your wedding runs smoothly. It is your responsibility to notify all participants in your wedding service to conduct themselves maturely and respectfully during both the rehearsal and wedding service. Please refrain from "celebrating" prior to both the rehearsal and wedding service.

b)  Attendants: We recommend relatives and close friends of your faith to be your first choice. Experience has shown us that wedding parties with more than five attendants (five bridesmaids and five groomsmen) create placement problems in the Chancel.

c)  Flower Girl and Ring Bearer: Children selected as Flower Girl and Ring Bearer should have the maturity to conduct themselves worshipfully. If children will be involved, please consult with the pastor in the initial stages of your planning.

d)  Ushers: The duties of Ushers at a wedding service are quite involved. They are the first participants your guests will see as they arrive for your wedding, and they have very specific duties, which continue through the Recessional. Therefore, those you select to serve as Ushers, if possible, should not be groomsmen. Two ushers are needed for the uninterrupted continuity of the service. More Ushers may be used if desired. Ushers may be male or female and are expected to participate in the rehearsal.

e)  Photographer, Videographer, and Florist: The other participants in the wedding are normally the photographer (and possibly a videographer) and the florist. Both should speak to the pastor prior to the wedding service regarding arrangements for the service. Please advise the florist that he/she is responsible for all cleanup of arrangements, runners, and any debris on the carpet and/or pews, boxes, and other paper trash. This cleanup is to be done immediately after the service.

15)  Decorations and Arrangements

a)  Floral Arrangements: Floral bouquets should be prepared and placed throughout the church under the advisement of the pastoral staff. They will be able to guide you regarding placement and will ensure that your floral decorations are not "over-done" and "crowded." The pastor will be happy to speak to your florist and even meet with him/her at the church. If such a meeting is desired, it is necessary that the bride be present.

b)  Candles: Normally the candles on the altar and the Christ candle are lit for the wedding service. No decorations are allowed on these candles. The two, communion candles on the altar are not lit unless communion is being celebrated. They are not removed and they are not to be decorated. Arrangements for placement of any other candles (for a candlelight wedding) must be discussed with the pastoral staff before any final arrangements are made. This is to be certain that precautions are taken with regard to Fire Regulations and Requirements.

c)  Church Furnishings and Accessories: No special removal or rearrangement of any of the church's furniture and/or accessories can be made for your wedding service. The bride and all concerned must accept the church as it is presented; this includes all paraments, banners, place of furniture, etc. The wedding party should realize they are responsible for leaving the church in the condition in which it is found.

d)  Rice Throwing: The throwing of rice, birdseed, glitter, paper streamers, or any other items is not allowed inside the Sanctuary, Narthex, or outside in front of the Church. This activity should be planned for your reception. Bubbles may be blown for the couple, but not inside the Sanctuary or Narthex.

17)  Additional Concerns

a)  License: It is the responsibility of the wedding couple to obtain the proper License, which will record your marriage in the State Registry. The pastor performing the service should receive the License no later than the rehearsal in order for him to complete it and return it to the wedding couple. It is also the responsibility of the couple to return the completed and signed document to the state for registration. The pastor will give you this document following the ceremony.

b)  Timeliness: Wedding services are not a primary duty of our pastors; they serve in a number of capacities for the sake of the Bethel congregation. Therefore, we ask the couple and all of the wedding participants to be mindful of the pastors' time.

     The wedding rehearsal is to start on time! It should be held at a time when all members of the wedding party can be present. Take this into consideration when you set the time. The pastor should not be expected to wait for those who arrive late. The pastor will be present to answer last-minute questions and will direct the rehearsal.

     The wedding worship service is to start on time! All members of the wedding party should be on the campus at least thirty [30] minutes prior to the start of the service. The bridal party and the groom's party will be located in different parts of the campus until just prior to the beginning of the wedding worship service. Additionally, the bride's and groom's parents should keep out of the Narthex as much as possible to avoid crowding and people not entering the Sanctuary.

     Obviously, "life happens." Cars can break down; traffic (though rare in the Oxford area) can cause interruptions to any plans. We simply ask that you keep the pastor aware of any potential disruptions to the schedule.

c)  The Order of Service

     The order of service for the wedding service is found in the Lutheran Service Book, pages 275-77. Additionally, an elongated service may be used from the LSB Agenda. Wedding worship services will be conducted in accordance with the rubrics (directions) of these orders. Changes/modifications to any service will be made only in consultation with and by the approval of the pastor.

     Holy Communion is normally not celebrated in a wedding worship service. The primary reasons are that the guests are usually not made up of only LCMS members. The Communion Policy of Bethel is based upon the teachings of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod which is built on the foundation of the Scripture with regard to the real presence of Christ's body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine of the Communion meal. Many of the Christian churches in America do not believe this Biblical teaching (1 Corinthians 10:16). Since many of your guests may not be able to participate should Holy Communion be observed, this could prove a disruption among those who might not understand the special nature of Communion.

     Should a couple desire Communion as part of the wedding, the pastor could offer private communion after the rehearsal or prior to the wedding service if so desired.

16)  Couple's Check-List

[ ]  Read through Bethel's Marriage and Wedding Policies.

[ ]  Fill out a "Wedding Information Sheet" and "Request for Wedding" form from the church office; return completed forms to the church office; make an initial appointment to meet with one of the pastors.

[ ]  After meeting with the pastor, contact the church office to finalize your request for wedding and rehearsal dates.

[ ]  Meet with the pastor and/or director of worship arts about the music for your wedding. Request musicians as needed.

[ ]  Purchase any sheet music, if needed.

[ ]  Share the policies with your florist, photographer or videographer.

[ ]  Secure the marriage license and bring it to the church office, no later than the rehearsal.

[ ]  Purchase the Unity Candle or Unity Sand if desired.

[ ]  Coordinate the open/close of the church with the pastor.

[ ]  Pay any fees by the week prior to the wedding date.

Policy drafted on March 23, 2015; Policy revised on May 5, 2015; Policy adopted on May 31, 2015.