By SARA ARTHURS
Between them, the four men have married roughly 1,600 people.
But although weddings are part of the job for pastors, it never feels rote, said the Rev. Mark Hollinger, pastor at St. Marks United Methodist Church.
“I really want to make sure that it’s going well,” he said.
This starts with planning long before the big day. Hollinger will marry couples who are not church members, although their cost is higher. They meet and check the calendar to ensure nothing else is happening at St. Marks the day the happy couple has in mind.
“We will do everything on our part to give you a hassle-free wedding,” Hollinger said. “A worry-free wedding — that’s on you.”
The bride and groom then fill out a premarital inventory discussing topics like their family of origin, finances, their living style and how they communicate their feelings. They send it back to Hollinger, so possible conflicts can be identified. He appreciates their trust, as some couples are not members of the church. He assures them, “I won’t post anything on Facebook.”
The Rev. Todd Dominique, pastor at St. Wendelin Roman Catholic Church in Fostoria, spends months holding meetings with couples to prepare. They cover many topics: family planning; how to handle finances; the difference between Christian marriage and legal marriage in the state of Ohio; and what it means to be faithful, physically and emotionally.
In a survey, the couples respond to statements like “Sometimes my future spouse’s behavior annoys me” with “agree,” “disagree” or “undecided.” This allows Dominique to look at the strengths and weaknesses of the relationship.
If you’re not on top of attending these sessions regularly, “you’re not going to get married by me,” Dominique said.
And it’s possible that, as they go through the process, he’ll feel a certain couple shouldn’t get married. This is rare, but “I do a disservice to the couple if I’m not discerning,” he said.
Couples being married at St. Wendelin should be attending church there. If “you claim that being married in a church is really important to you,” you can show that by going to church regularly, not just for your wedding, and being involved in the church community, Dominique said.
He said it’s also important that they not be living together, and during this time of preparation they have a “sense of independence.”
Some couples are remarrying after the death of a spouse. Dominique tailors the preparation and formation for these blended families, which may include grandchildren.
“You begin by praying for the couple,” he said.
The Rev. Ben Borsay, senior pastor at Gateway Church, said during pre-marriage counseling, “I get a feel of who they are.”
His goal is to prepare couples “for their marriage, not their wedding. And I make a big distinction.” They may fixate on one day, but the wedding may last more than 50 years, day after day.
He said it used to be pretty standard: you come to the church, say your vows and hold a reception, then go off on your honeymoon. Today, fewer couples are being married in the church building. They may want to get married at, say, their grandparents’ barn. Borsay is flexible and will work with whatever they want, “as long as the ceremony is worshipful and Christ-centered.”
Generally, “I give them a lot of flexibility,” he said. But having done many weddings, Borsay can offer practical advice. If a couple plans an outdoor wedding in April or May, when Ohio is often rainy, he asks, “So what’s the backup plan?”
In addition to outdoor weddings, “I’ve had weddings where they’ve had a cowboy theme. … I’ll roll with all of that,” he said.
The Rev. David Pratt, pastor of Upper Room Church of God, lets couples know when he meets with them ahead of the wedding: “Marriage is not a 50-50 … You have to give 100 percent each.”
He said younger generations do things differently: “Their traditions aren’t necessarily the same.” He’ll respect them, as long as it doesn’t go against his convictions and ethics. One couple, after he pronounced them man and wife, danced down the aisle to “Love Shack.” It was fun, Pratt said.
Other couples are very traditional in how they want their procession and recession.
As a minister, Pratt wants to make this about them and their day. “If they’re jovial and they’re cool with it, we’ll laugh” and have fun in ceremony, he said.
After all, it’s once in a lifetime.
“We want to make this day, create the day to be what they want,” he said.
Borsay tailors the message from scripture to the couple, asking if there is a particular passage they’d like him to talk about. Or he can suggest passages they might want to consider.
Today, more and more couples have children from a previous marriage. If they’re not too little, Borsay often has them say their own vow, such as that they will support their new family, so they feel included.
Pratt, too, had one wedding where the bride’s daughters read poems to their future stepfather, thanking him for coming into their mom’s life and theirs.
One groom wanted to surprise the bride. He wrote some words and emailed them to Pratt ahead of time. Pratt told the bride that her groom wanted her to hear, as he gazed into her eyes, his thoughts about how grateful he was that she had chosen him out of all the people in the world.
Hollinger said only “a handful” want to write their own vows. This is fine, but he asks to see them first. When they write their own vows, they keep them secret from one another until they say them during the ceremony. But twice, Hollinger found both the bride and the groom expressed similar sentiments using similar wording.
Right before the wedding, Hollinger is ensuring that everyone is in place on time, that everyone is OK and “nobody’s freaking out.” He said he’s not a wedding planner, but in some ways is like a master of ceremonies, with many details to track of.
Pratt said he’s also ensuring details are ready including candles and elements for communion. He makes sure the marriage license is in place, the bride is ready and calm, and that aunts, uncles and grandparents are present. Once, a bridesmaid was 30 minutes late. “She said she got lost,” Pratt said.
He told the groom it was his call, as it was a member of his family. The groom decided they would go ahead and start the wedding, and eventually the meandering bridesmaid walked down the aisle and joined the ceremony like nothing had happened.
Pratt always tells the photographer or videographer they have full rein to get behind him to take pictures, as it’s important to capture those first looks. When the bride is making her way down the aisle, he has the groom look at the ground, then look up at her.
“I have yet to have a guy not cry,” Pratt said.
Dominique said by the time the wedding happens, all three of them — the minister, the bride and the groom — have put in a lot of hard work preparing. He said couples need to know that when you get married in a church it’s a lot of hard work.
But he said by the time they get to the rehearsal, “it’s just a lot of fun. … It’s great joy. Welcoming God into that relationship for the couples is always so important.”
Down the road, he may see the same couple bring their baby back to the church for baptism.
Hollinger said what’s most rewarding is the fact that families are coming together.
“I think it’s just wonderful to be a part of this celebration, this union,” he said.
If he wants to know if he and the rest of the team involved did their job well, he can ask the bride: ‘Is this how you wanted it?’
“And if she says yes, then we all did our job,” he said.
Arthurs: 419-427-8494 Send an E-mail to Sara Arthurs