The rite of Christian Marriage is a deeply spiritual and sacred experience, “being instituted of God, regulated by His commandments and blessed by our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA) describes Christian marriage as, “... a covenant through which a man and a woman are called to live out together before God their lives of discipleship. In a service of Christian marriage a lifelong commitment is made by a woman and a man to each other, publicly witnessed and acknowledged by the community of faith.” (Book of Order, W-4.9001). Further, “The marriage ordinarily takes place in a special service which focuses upon marriage as a gift of God and as an expression of the Christian life” (W-4.9003).
To this extent, all weddings to be performed at the Bessemer Presbyterian Church are therefore to be such services of Christian marriage. This means that the heart of the service is to be the worship of the Triune God, and the celebration of the covenant between a man and a woman made before and with Almighty God. Care should be taken to understand this aspect when planning to use the church for such services.
We are happy to provide this rite to members and regular attendees of our congregation, and occasionally to others who are members of other congregations but need use of our worship space for various reasons. All uses of the sanctuary for a service of Christian marriage must be approved by the session.
In accordance with our understanding of the marriage service, all such ceremonies in our church building will be performed by a licensed and ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament in good standing. It is the standard practice that this service be performed by the pastor of this congregation.
It is Rev. Leslie’s policy that only those couples where either a) one member of the couple is a member or regular-attendee of this congregation, or b) one or both are members of another Christian congregation in good standing will be married by him. The reason for this is because Christian marriage is “a lifelong commitment ... made by a woman and a man to each other, publicly witnessed and acknowledged by the community of faith” and “a covenant through which a man and a woman are called to live out together before God their lives of discipleship.” Unless that union will be acknowledged, celebrated and upheld by the Christian community, the marriage cannot truly be a Christian marriage.
Another minister may also be requested and invited to perform a marriage ceremony in the church building, or to "concelebrate" with the pastor. In that event, such arrangements must be approved by the session of the congregation with the concurrence of the pastor.
It is also Rev. Leslie’s policy that those who are to be married by him will undergo marriage counseling sessions prior to the wedding. The Book of Order states that, “In preparation for the marriage service, the teaching elder [minister] shall provide for a discussion with the man and the woman concerning (1) the nature of their Christian commitment, assuring that at least one is a professing Christian, (2) the legal requirements of the state, (3) the privileges and responsibilities of Christian marriage, (4) the nature and form of the marriage service, (5) the vows and commitments they will be asked to make, (6) the relationship of these commitments to their lives of discipleship, (7) the resources of the faith and the Christian community to assist them in fulfilling their marriage commitments. This discussion is equally important in the case of a first marriage, a marriage after the death of a spouse, and a marriage following divorce.” (W-4.9002a). The couple will need to arrange this with the minister in advance of the wedding so that it can be appropriately undertaken. They can expect to meet with him at least three to four times, depending on the needs of the couple. It should be noted that if Rev. Leslie determines, during counseling, that the marriage is unwise, he may refuse to marry a couple: "If the teaching elder [minister] is convinced after discussion with the couple that commitment, responsibility, maturity, or Christian understanding are so lacking that the marriage is unwise, the teaching elder shall assure the couple of the church’s continuing concern for them and not conduct the ceremony. In making this decision the teaching elder may seek the counsel of the session" (W-4.9002b).
Reserving the Church
It is important to reserve the date and time of the wedding with your minister and to make sure the Church has been secured before any announcements or other arrangements is made. The church cannot schedule a wedding or wedding rehearsal in conflict with established services or programs or in close proximity with previously reserved wedding dates or times. A “Church Rental Agreement” form must be completed and submitted to the session for approval.
It is necessary to arrange for a rehearsal, except in small weddings with no attendants or when fewer than 15 guests will attend. The date and time for the rehearsal should be reserved at the time the wedding date is reserved - typically the evening before at 5 p.m. Wedding rehearsals should begin promptly and proceed in a dignified and reverent manner. The rehearsal should last no longer than an hour and at least 90 minutes should be allowed for completion of the rehearsal before other engagements (rehearsal dinners, receptions, etc.) are planned.
Considerable thought and planning have contributed to the design and decor of our sanctuary to reflect the historical nature of Christian worship. The furnishings and symbols make it a place of dignity and reverence, which should not be diminished by too elaborate decorations. The following guidelines have been established:
- Simplicity of decorations should be followed.
- No decorations should be hung or suspended from lighting fixtures or ventilators. Please be certain that decorations including candle wax will not damage carpeting, walls, furnishings or equipment.
- Nails or screws should not be driven into any part of the building or furniture. There should be no carpentry work in the sanctuary.
- No fixed or secured furnishings may be moved. Other equipment or furnishings may be removed or moved only with the permission of the church’s pastor.
- Removal of all decorations should begin within two hours of the conclusion of the ceremony.
- After removal, florists or other decorators should leave the sanctuary clean. All tallow (candle wax), adhesive materials and greenery should be cleaned and removed from pews, carpeting and woodwork
The wedding ceremony is a sacred religious service. This should be kept in mind as you plan. It is preferable that music of a sacred character for such a service. Your minister or church accompanist can give guidance on the selection of suitable music. A list of such selections for wedding services is available in the church office.
Many couples prefer to leave the choice of music to the accompanist. When this is done, the wedding music consists of selections that reflect the joyful nature of this worship service. When special music is desired, the organist should be advised at least one month before the wedding date. If the couple wishes to choose from the accompanist’s selections, a conference with the organist should be arranged at least two weeks prior to the service.
Music that is not related to the worship of God is discouraged for use in the wedding service; it is more appropriate that such music be used at other occasions such as the reception or rehearsal dinner.
It is customary to use the church’s accompanist. Please contact him or her to make arrangements and let him/her know of your plans. If you do not wish to use their services, or would like a guest to play, please let the accompanist know of your plans to do so.
If a vocal or instrumental soloist or other special music is desired, the minister and accompanist should be advised. Such music should be suitable for use in a service of divine worship.
The license to permit the minister of this congregation to perform the service must be secured from the Lawrence County Prothonotary's office. It takes three days to process this license; thus couples should plan accordingly to ensure there is enough time for turn-around in advance of the wedding. The license should be presented to the officiating minister prior to the time of the wedding so that he/she may complete their section of the license. A copy will be made and left in the church office for our records.
It is customary for an honorarium to be given to the minister performing the wedding and to the organist for their services. The amount is left to the discretion of the couple. Traditionally, these honorariums range from $125-$200 for the minister, and $75-$100 for the organist. Fees for the custodial work and for the rental of the building may be found in the Rental Agreement, and are required payment to the church.
If a reception is desired in the Fellowship Hall, the church secretary should be notified, the date and time reserved, and a Rental Agreement filled out and submitted to the Session. It is necessary that the kitchen be returned in proper order and cleanliness after use.
- Smoking is not permitted in the church or in front of the church. If you need to smoke, you may do so in the church parking lot.Absolutely no alcoholic beverages are permitted on the church premises at any time.
- No flash or strobe-light photographs may be made during the service. Such distractions are inappropriate for a service of worship. Such photographs may be made outside the sanctuary or following the service. Time exposures and video of the service may be made from the back of the sanctuary.
- The bride’s party may dress in the church parlor. Groomsmen may use a classroom in the upstairs of the educational building. It is suggested that no valuables be stored or left in the church. The church cannot accept responsibility for any that are left.
- Damage to church property, a facilities or equipment as a result of negligence by the wedding party will be reflected to the family of the bride for repair, restoration, or replacement as may be necessary.
- No rice, birdseed, or confetti may be thrown anywhere inside the church or in front of the church. Birdseed is suggested for use outside the church. If there is ice or snow, please do not use rice or birdseed as this provides for dangerous conditions.
- No balloons may be used in the sanctuary or narthex.