Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Do We Need to Reaffirm Our Wedding Vows?

When I was growing up in the 1970's, we didn't do affirmation of Baptism. Sure, we baptized babies in the Lutheran church of my childhood. But reaffirming our baptismal vows hadn't become part of that rite yet.

Likewise, I don't remember any reaffirming of marriage vows. In my younger days, I associated that idea with couples who had done things to violate those vows, and who decided to publicly recommit to each other and to the marriage, even though they hadn't officially divorced.

So, when churches started doing reaffirmation of wedding vows in a wider way, it's taken me some time to get used to it. And to be honest, I'm not entirely comfortable with the idea. I'm deeply uncomfortable with integrating the reaffirmation of wedding vows into a church service.

It feels to me like watching people get rebaptized, complete with water on the head. As a church, we've declared that you only need the water on your head once. Do we really need to see couples take those vows again? Do couples need the reminder? Or is it for the purpose of the congregation?

My sneering, cynical self can't help but notice that churches across the country routinely do this service the Sunday before Valentine's Day. If we really feel that reaffirmation of wedding vows are important, why don't we do it more often? Why not in the dog days of summer? Why do we have to tie it in to a Hallmark holiday that has made every effort to cash in on the human expression of love?

I worry about the people in the congregation who don't have a partner, who feel this loss or this lack. I worry about the people in the congregation who have suffered because of broken vows.

And what do we do with the knowledge that some of the church's greatest leaders have been unmarried (like Jesus, like Paul, just to name two of the most famous)? Can we talk about what the larger world loses when any two of us marry? As an artist, I can't help but notice that the most successful female artists are the ones who haven't married, who haven't dissipated their energy and focus that way.

Of course, for my examples, you can probably name others who did much to promote the church, who wouldn't have been able to do what they did if they hadn't had a loving family to return home to.

But to return to my basic question: should we incorporate the reaffirmation of wedding vows into a church worship service? Could we do it in such a way that we're not having couples come forward and re-pledge their vows individually? Could we do it in such a way that we're not only reaffirming our vows to each other, but our vows to the larger community, our vows to God, God's vows to us?

To me, it's clear that we need a new liturgy, if we're going to continue to reaffirm vows during Sunday worship.

And I repeat, if we really think that it's an important thing to do, let's move it away from the commercial holiday that Valentine's Day has become--at least one other time during the year, we should do it.

And only if we have a meaningful liturgy that leashes the reaffirmation to larger aspects than just the couple(s) before the congregation.

Of course, I'm older and wiser and willing to admit that I don't know everything. It's quite possible that everyone in the congregation finds it deeply meaningful, and I'm the only one who sits there thinking through these implications. It's possible that the barking dogs of my theological inquiry have chased the wrong implications up a tree.


Wendy said...

I've been thinking about this since I read it yesterday. I really don't think it belongs in a regular worship service unless it can be made to fit many circumstances in life and that seems like it would get clumsy quickly. The idea makes me deeply uncomfortable. It is so fraught for so many folks. It's akin to the Mother's Day issues the RevGals have brought up. Church shouldn't always simply make us feel good, but it should strive to never make us feel bad just for existing as we are, and I think this reaffirmation of vows in a service would do that to many. Especially close to Valentine's day. Yikes!

When might it be appropriate? I know that every wedding I have been to since my own, as the couples say the vows, I am remembering them and affirming them. I don't need to say it out loud or stand up or have attention called to me. I listen and remember and squeeze my spouse's hand (or think of him as he stands in the back with a toddler.) It's akin to remembering our baptismal vows when we watch a baptism. I don't think, at a wedding, it's particularly appropriate to call this out (though it could be done carefully), but maybe we should be teaching people to notice and be intentional and attentive to things that don't need to be called out.

Kristin said...

Thanks for your thoughtful response. I suspect I'll return to this subject again.