Women Officiating Weddings

I very strongly believe in equal opportunity for women and men in ministry. Sometimes the issue of the gender of a pastor arises around weddings. The following email is an excellent response from a male clergy person to someone who requested that he officiate a wedding ceremony instead of the female clergy person who had been initially recommended from the church. I think that it is a very sound response and will use it as a model in the future.

Thank you very much for your email. While I am flattered by your very kind words, I must unfortunately decline your request to officiate your wedding ceremony. The first reason is that none of the pastors at our church, including the senior pastor, is free to schedule weddings outside of our staff wedding coordinator. This is done to ensure that there is a high level of coordination between facilities, staff, and all of the other elements involved in staging a wedding.

The second reason I must decline is because of my feeling that accepting your request would be to effectively deny the validity of the ministry of my female colleagues. I understand that you have a strong sense of tradition attached to the churches you were brought up in. However, some of that tradition might possibly be rooted in a belief (on the church’s part) that women are inherently not suited to serve as pastors. In my experience, women are not only just as suited as men, but in some cases uniquely sensitized to realms of the spirit that men might be less comfortable with. This is especially the case with women pastors at this church.

I hope you might have the opportunity to re-evaluate your feelings on this subject and proceed with the pastor which the staff wedding coordinator has already recommended to you. Marriage is about mutual growth and compromise and what better place to begin that process than on your wedding day.

Have you ever experienced a similar issue? What responses have you given or found to be helpful in similar situations?

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14 thoughts on “Women Officiating Weddings

  1. I’ve had this occur with regard to pastoral coverage and funerals. I am male, but I often ask a female colleague to cover for me while I am away.

    Last time, a local person (not a parishioner) passed away and I was called on my cell phone to officiate. I told them I was out of town, but Rev. Mrs. would be available. They said she would not be acceptable. I had an inkling, and suggested another female minister, which was also rejected with the words “Well, who else do you have local? Can you give me a list to choose from?”

    At this point, my pastoral sense of sorrow for the family overwhelmed my righteous anger and desire to subject them to more theological difficulty, and I relented and gave the name of a male colleague.

    My guess is for a wedding, I would not be so sympathetic and applaud your friend’s final line “Marriage is about mutual growth and compromise and what better place to begin that process than on your wedding day.”

  2. Interesting thoughts Andrew. Since I grew up in a denomination where women weren’t ordained (and even though, of course, I support and encourage women in ministry), let me play the devil’s advocate and try to muddy the waters even more.

    Here’s a scenario: A young man from a Catholic background and a young woman who grew up in a Southern Baptist background both became active United Methodists during college and decided to marry after meeting in their local Church. Their senior minister is an amazingly gifted woman. However, when speaking to her during marriage counseling they ask if the associate pastor, a male, could perform the wedding ceremony. Although they entered the UMC as a result of the ministry of this wonderful senior pastor and strongly support gender equality, they want to do this because of the high sensitivity and strong beliefs of their extended families regarding female clergy.

    What would you say to them? Would you send a similar letter? 😉

  3. What a great response. I’ve heard over the years the argument that we need to be sensitive to the needs of the wedding couple. If I had heard more of this type of support for my ministry over the years from male clergy it would have had a powerful impact. Usually we are afraid to make such a strong response to a member of the church. This feels very good to me, but it will need strong support of a senior pastor to make a positive impact. I’ve not met many senior pastors, including me, with this much back bone.

  4. I’d like to believe my response to Matt’s hypothetical would be to respond similar to the Andrew’s post suggests.

    If we believe what the pastor in the letter wrote is true, then we should not deny that to protect the wedding guests.

    But, having said that, I am not sure my reality would live up to my hopes.

  5. Andrew: Thanks for this post. I think your colleague’s response is very solid. I assume from his response that it was explicitly a matter of gender, rather than just a preference due to the couple’s previous connection with one pastor. It’s bold of him – and I mean bold in the best sense, as in the boldness of a prophet – to use this particular situation to name the justice issues inherent in his parishioners’ request and to challenge their views. In terms of approach, I might have chosen to have a face-to-face conversation rather than to respond by e-mail, only because I’ve learned the hard way about the limitations of e-mail in addressing sensitive issues – but still, I think his response is solid. I’m curious to know the outcome.

    As half of a clergy couple, like you, this is an issue I’ve come across a few times, especially since Sara and I have begun to share ministry in the same congregation. We’ve never had requests like this around weddings or funerals, although I could see this coming up. There are times when parishioners request to speak with me or with Sara, but I think it has much more to do with how well they have connected with one or the other of us, mostly due to personality or affinity, or even due to our particular giftedness for certain areas of ministry. I honor those requests and trust the Spirit’s leading (in our lives and the lives of our parishioners) as we share ministry. If I thought there were justice issues – i.e. it were all about Sara’s gender, or mine, for that matter – I would challenge them.

  6. This situation happend to my wife and I at COR about 4 years ago. I am from a Catholic background and she is from a Methodist background. We met with the femail pastor assigned to us to express our concerns. I did not care the pastor was a female, but I had enough concerns regarding my family as I was getting married in a Methodist church as opposed to a Catholic one. I did not want to throw another issue out there. After we agreed to think about it, we actually agreed that she should do the wedding because we thought she would do great. But then she changed her mind and said she that it was probably better to have a male do it. We were a bit surpsied at the turnaround. While I understand it is important to show that women can do all pastoral things men do, I think you are overlookiing the role of the church. If there is a member that is actively involved in the church and they wish to have a male pastor on what is the biggest day of their lives so far, I don’t think this is the appropriate time to make the point about women pastors.

  7. I had this very situation arise at a church, and, thankfully, it led to a revision of the church’s wedding policy when I (a female clergyperson) questioned it. Because the United Methodist Church does ordain women, the church where I was serving decided that people who wanted to be married in the church could not request a particular minister based on gender. Anyone making such a request would be gently reminded of the UM’s affirmation of female clergy. If it is that important to them NOT to have a female officiant, then they should be directed to a church that more closely connects with their theology. We have to speak the truth in love, of course, but not to speak the truth is a giant step backwards on this issue. Kudos to your colleague for his response!

  8. Again, thanks for bringing up the discussion Andrew. It’s an important issue, and this discussion has been really helpful for me.

  9. I am also a ardent supporter of Ordaining Women – some of the most important people in my spiritual growth have been female clergy…having said that I tend to think this is a place we should follow Paul’s advice to be all things to all people. For those who are offended by eating meat sacrificed to idols….. etc. In the same way, I think we should actually allow individuals to request either male or female pastors for any particular reason. I just don’t think this is a place we should die on a theological hill. I think much more important is the issue of cohabitation that seems to be rampant even in todays church culture. Should we marry people in the church who are currently co-habitating. I tend to think not. Of course I also think we should allow re-baptism so what do I know 🙂

  10. Chuck, I need to re-read by Book of Worship. I don’t recall the marriage service asking people to make an positive statement about their chastity. I agree we should not encourage co-habitation, but how does marrying people who have co-habitated make matters worse? It seems like an improvement to me.

    As for re-Baptism, well, that’s a whole different blog post.

  11. Of course the book of worship isn’t the book of discipline – what is important is the call to celibacy in singleness and faithfulness in marriage. And I am not sure that i concur that moving from co-habitation to marriage is an improvement. In some cases maybe but with a union based on such a fractured background – I would have a very hard time performing such a ceremony in the Church – notice that was my initial objection. Civil marriage maybe, but for folks who are clearly outside the basic teachings of the church regarding sexuality – why marry them in the church?

  12. Wow, this has been great conversation – Thank you for adding value. I want to respond to just a few comments.

    Matt – I think that I would use a similar statement / line of reasoning in the example that you put forth.

    Allen – I do not know the direct result of the interaction, but will follow up on it and post a comment here when I find out.

    Craig – Thanks for sharing your experience at Resurrection. Interesting to hear that the switch took place. Family issues are some of the most difficult ones in a wedding at times…

    Chuck – Co-habitation before marriage is another hot topic… I am starting to ruminate on a post about that issue. Thanks

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