Here comes the Consumer of Bridal Products

By Ann Fontaine

I would rather do a funeral than a wedding. People are often startled when I say that. They respond but a funeral is so sad and a wedding is so happy – why do you prefer funerals?

A current issue of Newsweek speaks to some of my problems with weddings:

Fast Chat: the Price of Marriage

Why are brides spending so much money—and losing their minds?

We live in a consumerist society. You’re not a bride, you’re a consumer of bridal products. And second, there’s something very profound psychologically happening. A wedding once marked a major transition in a person’s life—the first time you slept with your spouse, lived with your spouse. Today, you’re just not that different the day after the wedding, so the wedding planning has to function as a traumatic experience. So you can say, “I’ve been through this experience that was so demanding, it must mean something.”

Is it fair to say the bridal industry took over the sacred space that religion left behind?

The bridal industry has filled a vacuum of authority that used to be important to how weddings are conducted. If you talk to ministers now, they hate doing weddings. The brides want to change the vows. They want to put flowers where they don’t belong. They don’t listen. What’s so interesting is that one of the things the bridal industry says it’s selling you is tradition. But if you asked your grandmother if she needed a personalized aisle runner when she got married, she’d say no.

As a priest at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, with a beautiful chapel in Grand Teton National Park, I became even less enamored of weddings than I had been before. The large window over our altar shows a spectacular view of the Tetons. The Chapel of the Transfiguration is a 1925 log building with buck and rail fences surrounding the property. It is featured on most of the wedding planning sites in Jackson. Although we had a strict policy and required pre-marital counseling, those who were looking for a destination wedding would question every guideline. One secretary spent much of her time managing the 2-4 weddings per weekend held from Memorial Day until the end of September. Families spend amazing amounts of money on bringing families and friends for a week of festivities in the Jackson area. The wedding is almost an afterthought. And that is where I have difficulty.

I love a wedding when the couple sees it as place to make their vows to God and to ask their community to support them in their marriage. When this happens, discussing the wedding is a joy and the wedding is a celebration of their commitment to marriage and caring for one another. In the one same sex blessing service where I presided, that couple was one of the most involved in having a rite that reflected these ideals.

The money spent is not so much an issue except when families go into debt to buy the perfect wedding and all the trappings. The issue for me is what the church is doing to support a couple in the making of their commitments. When we respond in The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage to the question “Will all of you witnessing these promises do all in your power to uphold these two persons in their marriage?” I want the church to mean it when we say, “We will.” This is not a one shot ceremony attached to a party. It is heartfelt and for the long haul. Others can officiate at weddings, for me the church offers more. In 2006 Newsweek wrote of the post wedding blues for many brides. Maybe our offering can cure these blues.

And what is it about loving funerals more than weddings? At the time of death and during planning of the ceremonies for saying goodbye to a loved (or even one not so loved) one there is openness to the presence of God. There is an awareness of what is truly meaningful in life. People look at the importance of family and friends in their lives. If these elements are present at weddings I could learn to love weddings, too.

The Rev. Ann Fontaine, Diocese of Wyoming, keeps the blogs Green Lent and what the tide brings in. She is the author of Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible.

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