What Kind of a Wedding?
NEWS reports from various lands tell of weddings taking many forms. For instance, two German acrobats were wed while on a trapeze high above a town square. Then there was a pair of skydivers who parachuted to earth, followed by a priest who married them on the spot where they landed.
Though these may be rare, publicity-motivated examples, more and more couples desiring to marry have decided to express their individuality in other ways. Such “individualists” have observed that many conventional weddings are extremely formal and costly affairs, where the emphasis is placed on etiquette, seemingly endless details and custom-bound ritual just to impress friends and relatives. Without question such preoccupation with “showy display” often detracts from the real significance and pleasure of the occasion.
In rebellion against such, the so-called “New Wedding” has developed in the past decade. In it the couple often disregard established customs and the opinions of their conservative seniors. They may get married on a mountainside, at the beach or in a cave, instead of in a church or a judge’s chambers. At a “New Wedding” the couple might read a piece of poetry instead of repeating the conventional wedding vows (imitating a wedding staged in a recent motion picture). At one such wedding near Los Angeles, California, a couple recited the following:
“I do my thing, and you do your thing. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations. And you are not in this world to live up to mine. You are you and I am I and if by chance we find each other, it’s beautiful.”
Now, in your opinion, no doubt, both extremes are undesirable. Likely you will agree that there is no need to be an abject slave of the “rules of etiquette” covering every detail. But you also probably believe that a wedding should not be a “do-it-yourself” stunt that disregards the feelings of others and the nature and dignity of the occasion.
What, then, is a reasonable course between these extremes? When planning a wedding, Christian witnesses of Jehovah give thought to what is actually necessary and what will be a modest and dignified wedding. That is why observers are often impressed with what they see when they attend weddings in Kingdom Halls.
EMPHASIS ON THE BIBLE
While the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses is essentially a place where the congregation meets for study of the Bible, sometimes weddings are held there too.a This is appropriate since the Bible itself shows that marriage is a divine institution.—Gen. 2:24.
As is fitting for a ceremony in the Kingdom Hall, a Scriptural talk is given on the meaning of marriage and the privileges and responsibilities of husband and wife. Then, at the conclusion of the upbuilding talk, there may be a vow taken or agreed to, conforming to what the local law requires.
In El Salvador and some other lands a marriage cannot take place in a religious building. It must be performed by a civil magistrate, such as at the Alcaldía (mayor’s office). Yet, in such lands Jehovah’s witnesses will often follow that civil marriage with a Scriptural talk at the Kingdom Hall. This, though not necessary, is a fine step. The day of one’s wedding is a happy time, and also an appropriate time to have in mind the wise counsel from the Originator of marriage.—Ps. 119:1.
As mentioned, sometimes local law requires that the bride and groom make a public statement or vow in the presence of others, and Jehovah’s witnesses comply with the law. But even in lands where it is not required, it is often customary for the couple to repeat or agree to a marriage vow.
The “New Wedding” example quoted earlier illustrates that even in regard to the marriage vow there is a trend to “do your own thing.” Sometimes the couple make up their own vow; in other cases the clergyman does so. Thus in one church the minister “married” two lesbians for “as long as there’s love.” Another pastor married a naked couple for “as long as you dig it.”
In refreshing contrast to such trends, which dishonor the God-given state of marriage, Jehovah’s witnesses use the following vow, as was recommended in The Watchtower of March 15, 1969:
For the groom: “I ————— take you ————— to be my wedded wife, to love and to cherish in accordance with the divine law as set forth in the Holy Scriptures for Christian husbands, for as long as we both shall live together on earth according to God’s marital arrangement.”
For the bride: “I ————— take you ————— to be my wedded husband, to love and to cherish and deeply respect, in accordance with the divine law as set forth in the Holy Scriptures for Christian wives, for as long as we both shall live together on earth according to God’s marital arrangement.”
But is there more to a Kingdom Hall wedding?
HAPPY, DIGNIFIED AND PERSONAL
One reporter observed: “The American wedding is a reflection of our dominant concerns: love and money, involving big doses of romanticism and status-seeking.” This may often be true in other lands too. However, Christians in all lands place the emphasis on the Biblical, spiritual aspects of the wedding. This, in turn, helps them to be moderate and balanced, to ‘let their reasonableness be known to all.’—Phil. 4:5.
Does this mean that weddings at the Kingdom Hall are all the same, or that they are somber or spartan affairs? No, not at all. These weddings are dignified yet joyful occasions, just as weddings were in Bible times. (Ps. 45:13-15; Isa. 62:5; Rev. 19:7, 8) Often there are special attire, flowers and pleasant, Bible-based music from the songbook used at the Kingdom Hall; these all help to make it a festive affair.
And there is variety according to individual taste. In Bible times the bride was decked with various ornaments and festive garments. (Isa. 49:18; 61:10; Rev. 21:2) So too at a Kingdom Hall wedding, variety may be observed in such things. For instance, the bride may be wearing a special bridal gown, or she may choose to wear something that will also be suitable to wear on future festive occasions.
There may be variety too as to those participating in the wedding. In Lebanon the bride and groom normally each have one close friend to serve as a companion. (Matt. 25:1; John 3:29) Usually those chosen to be the very close companions on this happy occasion are spiritual brothers and sisters, ones also hoping to serve Jehovah eternally. Elsewhere, it may be customary for a parent to appear in the wedding party. But if there are no legal requirements, just how the couple arrange this aspect of their wedding can reflect their personal taste.
Similarly, the couple can plan what they would like as to other matters. Whether they will exchange rings, come into the hall in any certain way, have refreshments at another location after the wedding, and so forth, are things for them to decide. They are aware of local customs, but need not be slavishly bound to tradition.b More important will be having a happy, dignified wedding that all who attend will find pleasant and spiritually upbuilding.
WHO MAY USE THE HALL?
There is, of course, no objection to Jehovah’s witnesses being married at a home or in some place where civil marriages are performed. But if they are interested in having a wedding at the Kingdom Hall, they should contact the congregation’s committee of three ministers who are responsible for such matters.
These ministers will make sure that both prospective mates are Scripturally free to marry and are in good standing in the congregation. Also, they will determine from the couple the type of ceremony they have in mind. The committee recognize that personal tastes differ, and they do not want to impose their preferences on anyone. Still they will check to make sure that nothing planned seems as if it would cause stumbling or take away from the peace and unity of the congregation.—1 Cor. 1:10; 14:33.
In line with the Bible’s clear counsel—‘marry only in the Lord’—Jehovah’s witnesses definitely do not encourage the marriage of a Christian to one who is not yet baptized and serving Jehovah. (1 Cor. 7:39) If someone does not follow that Bible advice, he or she faces the likelihood of many problems and much grief, as the experiences of others have proved. (Neh. 13:25-27) But would such a marriage be permitted at the Kingdom Hall?
The committee of overseers are the ones to decide on that. One case may involve a new Christian who is going ahead with plans to marry a person to whom he or she was engaged before learning the truth of God’s Word. In the next case the circumstances may be much different. Consequently, each situation is weighed individually. Since these ministers know the facts and the possible reactions locally, they can determine what is in the best interest of all.
In certain instances couples who are still studying the Bible with the Witnesses have been wed at the Kingdom Hall. For example, a couple in Denmark wanted to have a wedding talk in a Kingdom Hall near the home of the bride, before they moved to his homeland, Spain. The ministers caring for the congregation gave permission. They saw that the couple were making real progress toward becoming Christians and believed that the couple and their friends and relatives would benefit from the Bible counsel given in the marriage talk.
Hence, if you have occasion to attend a wedding at a Kingdom Hall, you should find it an enjoyable, dignified, happy and spiritually beneficial affair. There may be some features that reflect the local customs of the area. Other aspects will likely evidence the personal tastes of the groom and his bride. But you will also hear a helpful and upbuilding talk about marriage based on God’s inspired Word.
a Naturally, a wedding and any preparation for it would be arranged around the normal schedule of services at the Hall.
b More detailed observations about wedding customs appeared on pages 57 to 61 of The Watchtower of January 15, 1969. Information about receptions was published in the issue of May 1, 1969, pages 283 to 286.