I realized fairly early on in my professional ministry that most of the people who came to me to get married in the church I served were using me. I don’t write this to be harsh; in fact, I think if you asked most clergy about this, they would agree. Most of the clergy I know would rather do a funeral than a wedding. There are lots of reasons for this; for me, it is simple: I am not ordained to perform weddings. I do them in a Christian setting, which means that the people getting hitched need to have some understanding about what church is, warts, and all. So, since I have been in full-time ministry, I have not taken money for weddings. Instead, I make the couple come to church for a year and go through some preparation. This means that instead of spending every weekend doing weddings, I do 2 or 3 a year. I have made exceptions for medical issues and deployments, but otherwise, that is how I roll. And it makes me glad I do this.
This week, though, I got a call that was the ultimate in someone attempting to use me. A young woman called and said that she had applied for a kitchen job at a Christian camp, and part of the application was for a clergyperson to write a reference for the applicant. She lives near our building, so she asked me to write the letter. Since I didn’t recognize her name or her voice, I asked if we had ever met; she said no, but she was going to start coming to church on Sunday (sound familiar?) The thing was, she needed the letter by this Friday. I asked if she had any friends or family who attended church anywhere, and could they put a good word for her with their pastor? No – the only person she knew of was a cousin in Delaware. She also had never been baptized, so that connection was out. I have to admit that I was stunned. I said the following to her: So, you want to work at a Christian camp, and you want me – a member of the clergy you have never met – to write a false document stating you are a Christian in good standing – is that correct? Hearing it out loud made her stop and say that she saw my point. I wished her luck and said goodbye.
If you read my daily thoughts, you know that I am tough on the church. God knows – really, God knows – that we could be a lot better than we are. But I also want to point out that we get used a lot, and none of us like that. People use us to get married, get their children baptized and confirmed, and get buried. We generally go along with it, because we tend to be empathetic people who like to help others. My empathy, however, is tempered by self-preservation; if I did every wedding I was asked to do, I would never have a day off! And when I do weddings, I develop a relationship with the couple that lasts for years. My take is that my marriage and my family and my relationship with God are the most important thing in my life, and I expect others to feel the same way. Taking the money out of it makes this easy, and I do not put my expectations on other clergy, especially those who are not full-time. I am the protector of the rites and sacraments of the church I serve, which means that I make sure they are administered fairly. That’s why children are welcome at the communion table – people with dementia too.
I jokingly tell couples that my church is not a Las Vegas chapel, and I am not an Elvis impersonator (although I do a pretty good leg shake, to be honest). My calling is to help lead people to God and be true to my ordination. And if you don’t like being used, you should give me the same respect. We should all tell the truth about what we believe and why. I will not judge you if you say you don’t believe in God, but I will also not do your wedding, no matter how much I like you. The young woman who called me about the letter seemed very nice, and I encouraged her in her search for work. I hope she finds a job, and I hope she gets closer to God. We could all use a little more of that. And a lot less of being used. That’s just disrespectful.
Prayer – Holy God, help us to be merciful and, at the same time, filled with expectations of one another. We all need You, even if we don’t know it. Amen.
Today’s art is called “Faith Tondo” by Maria Susarenko.