Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Weddings or Funerals?

“Weddings or funerals? Which do you prefer to officiate?” As a pastor, this is a question I get asked on occasion. Pastors have the privilege to do both quite often. I have personally officiated almost 40 weddings. It wasn't until I moved to Waupaca in 2004 that I began to officiate many funerals. One of the local mortuaries actually keeps my name and phone number on hand in case someone with no religious affiliation passes away and the family needs someone who is easy to work with and would make them feel comfortable. That is a high compliment indeed.

Back to the question at hand. Would I rather officiate a wedding or a funeral? I suppose if you were to focus on the “fun factor” I may have to go with weddings. However, the whole “bridezilla” thing is very real and some weddings aren’t as fun as they should be. Let’s just leave it at that. But for the most part, weddings are a pleasure to be a part of. They are celebrations of love, joy, and promise after all! I especially love officiating weddings when a wedding planner has been hired. People may not realize this, but when there isn’t an official wedding planner the pastor generally takes on the duties of organizing the ceremony’s events when he shows up for the rehearsal. This is why I personally charge a fee to officiate a wedding (you can read that blog by clicking here). 

Are weddings a great opportunity for ministry? Sometimes. This may be considered old fashioned but I make couples go through pre-marital counseling before I agree to officiate their wedding. This is when I can have the biggest impact as a pastor. When the big day arrives (and certainly by time the reception begins) half of the wedding party is buzzed and the rest of the night becomes a blur for them. Also, the pastor is usually friends with the couple and will remain their pastor for many years. This changes the dynamics of the situation. Likewise, let’s be honest: the pastor is often just viewed as a means to an end. The pastor provides the signature necessary to make the marriage license official. I have had people find me on Facebook a few weeks before their wedding date and ask if I would officiate their wedding. Not surprisingly, they “unfriend” me the moment they get back from the honeymoon. Of course I do have the chance to coach the couples during their counseling sessions, talk to people at the ceremony, and offer advice when asked, but I find that most people are focused on the party and not the religious aspects of the event.

What about funerals? The opportunity for ministry is much more prevalent when officiating a funeral. People's hearts are so soft and open to encouraging words and life changing or thought provoking questions when they are dealing with grief. Now, I suppose there are times when the pastor is again simply seen as a means to an end. The family feels bad about just burying Aunt Ruth “who had a beard and it felt weird” (Sorry for the “Veggietales” moment) so they ask the local pastor to say a few kind words, read the Lord's prayer, and give her a proper send off on a day that’s convenient for them. The coldest funeral I have ever officiated was when the parents of the deceased stayed in the car while I did the graveside service. Thankfully, those situations are few and far between. From a ministry perspective, the conversations with the families and lessons learned during this time of hurt are invaluable. Unfortunately, like weddings, once the funeral is over the “unfriending” on Facebook or in person begins. That is why I take whatever opportunity I get, short as it may be, to make an impact on the people who ask me to officiate their ceremony. 

At the end of the day there are ministry opportunities at both weddings and funerals. My answer when asked which I prefer? Funerals. I find that I’m able to have a bigger impact on the people I interact with as they grieve a lost loved one than when I’m working with a happy couple with stars in their eyes. As much as it warms my heart to see couples get married, I am much more moved by the chance to heal a broken heart. That doesn’t mean that it’s easy though. Being a pastor is my vocation. Regardless of what you do for a living, it’s easy to imagine how it might feel to form a friendship with a person when planning their wedding or arranging for a funeral only to be tossed aside after providing my service. It doesn’t feel good to be used for my credentials. 

I’m sure there are many of you out there who have never thought about this before. That’s not surprising since it’s not commonly talked about. This feeling is no different than any other situation when a photographer, doctor, or even insurance agent are being manipulated by the people they think are their friends. The realization that the friendship is based only on what service they can offer is tough. It’s not fun to realize that a bond you thought was real and genuine ends up to be “strictly business.” Yet, we keep on keeping on because there is still a large group of people who are genuinely blessed by the ceremonies we officiate. At times like these, the pastor is just as blessed as the people being tended to. Real bonds, real relationships, and real impact. That’s what life should be about.

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