As young people in the US increasingly reject formal religious traditions, they are increasingly charting their own course for rituals that once took place inside a house of worship. The Washington Post reports on a growing phenomenon of couples choosing friends or family to officiate wedding ceremonies:
A study last year byTheKnot.com and WeddingChannel.com showed that 31 percent of their users who married in 2010 used a family member or friend as the officiant, up from 29 percent in 2009, the first year of the survey.
Although the majority of brides and grooms still use members of the clergy and other professionals, including judges (61 percent last year, according to the study), the shift toward nontraditional officiants seems to be further evidence of another, broader trend: the movement of Americans away from organized religion.
Recent studies show that most Americans aren’t a regular part of an institutional faith community, and many people say they don’t know a member of the clergy well enough to want to be hitched by them.
“I can’t remember the last time I was at a wedding that wasn’t officiated by a friend,” said Jim Kurdek, the groom from the Southwest Harbor wedding.
While eschewing religious practice in general, trends show young couples still yearn for traditional rituals that accompany wedding ceremonies: exchanging rings, a public commitment ceremony, and profession of vows. Officiants can choose to become certified to perform a ceremony through online websites that confer certificates on “ministers,” or in some states, apply to receive a temporary license to conduct a wedding.
The couples in the article cite the desire to have someone who is intimately involved in their lives serve in such a meaningful capacity on their wedding day, and thus choose a close friend or family member over distant clergy. When a cousin asked me to consider obtaining a one-day license to officiate at his wedding, I questioned whether or not this would present an obstacle to my Catholic faith. After some reflection, I accepted his offer and worked with him and his fiancé for several months to plan their ceremony. The ritual took place outdoors, and incorporated both Roman Catholic and Lutheran language, along with secular poetry and vows they penned for one another. Officiating the ceremony was an honor; I was assisted in a meaningful way as my cousin and his wife as they vowed their lives to one another. And in the process, I was able to transmit to them some of my faith tradition’s beliefs about marriage, commitment, and love.
As young people leave churches for wedding ceremonies, what are the implications? Are important messages not being heard? If so, can the church play a role in preparing lay people to officiate secular marriages? Can the sacramental nature of marriage be preserved outside churches? Will this phenomenon be cited as another example of the declining respect for the institution of marriage, or as a moment to reflect on how young people interpret their world?
Read the full article here.