From Tony Jones
When my friend, Bill Yaccino, first called me about this idea, I was a bit skeptical. I worked on a large church staff for many years, and we kept raising the bar on how hard it was to get married in our church, thus driving many couples to get married elsewhere. At the time, I bought the pastor's argument that the church shouldn't just marry any Tom, Dick, or Harriet who wanted to get hitched in our beautiful sanctuary. We should have standards. But the more I've talked with Bill, the more I've been convinced that his ministry is a truly missional endeavor: to marry churchless couples. Once you start hearing the stories about his conversations and ministry to these couples, you can't help but be moved. And I think that a lot of pastors in the Emergent friendship will be intrigued by his ministy. So, read on, and check out his site: http://www.weddingpastorsusa.org/
Pastor, Will You Help Us?
“Pastor Bill?” said the unfamiliar voice on the end of the line. “My fiancé and I need help, will you help us?” Her name was Jennifer. I had never talked to her before this phone call.
As a pastor, I naturally responded by telling her to buzz off and then slammed the receiver down. Not really. Unless you are depraved beyond what Calvin said we all are at birth, most of us would say something like, “Well, I’ll try.”
That’s what I said.
Jennifer replied, “My fiancé, Mike, and I consider ourselves spiritual but not religious. We are getting married in a few months and we kind of think it is one of the most important days of our lives. We’ve called seven churches, talked to six receptionists and one minister, and all have told us they can’t help us.”
“How so?” I asked.
I’ll never forget the rejection in Jennifer’s voice. “Some asked if we were members of the church – I guess we gave the wrong answer. Some asked if we were living together – again, wrong answer. Others asked if we were previously married. Still, others required we go through a 10-week counseling session. I guess we just had the wrong answers to some of the questions. Honestly, it made us feel pretty sh#%@y!”
Here was a couple looking for spiritual guidance. Christian pastors were nowhere to be found.
“How did you get my name?” I asked.
Jennifer informed me their caterer gave them my name. The caterer told them that I was a great guy that seemed pretty “normal.” I’m not kidding; she said that!
Jennifer continued, “We took a look at your website and thought you seemed like the type of minister we wanted at our wedding. Can you help us? Oh, and what do we call you? Reverend? Father? What?”
To be honest, a few years ago I was one of those “wrong answer” pastors. I was sure that by being selective about whom I married, I was saving the institute of marriage. I was being righteously selective, as if marriage was only valid for Christians. I wonder how many couples I made feel terrible about themselves?
After this encounter, I went through my own personal “Dan Puhl” (A New Kind of Christian, Brian McLaren) type of experience, and I began hanging around people who did not attend church regularly – many spiritual, but not religious. You know, the type of people we all read about, but never meet because we are so busy being pastors!
Long story short, I was invited to officiate several weddings for these “unchurched” people. They liked the way I lived out my faith and how they felt free to question and reconsider their own. So I performed a few weddings. I loved it! And guess what? They loved it! So did their families, their friends, even the secular wedding professionals with whom I partnered.
And here’s another really cool thing - they paid me well! Not like the cheapo weddings I had done for the previous 12 years in the church. Most importantly, for the first time in a dozen years, I felt Missional. I felt authentic. I felt empowered to serve these couples without an agenda. I echo Rob Bell when he said; “I am learning that the church is at its best when it gives itself away.” (Velvet Elvis, p. 165).
Just two weeks ago, I sat in Starbucks and talked with Angela and Steve about their wedding. Angela is a young, attractive professional raised in a Greek Orthodox family. Steve is a young, well-educated man born in Lebanon to a Muslim family.
While their families are not overly devoted to their religious heritage, they are also not super pleased that their children are marrying outside of their cultural beliefs. Both Angela and Steve are respectfully and culturally connected to their faith backgrounds, but neither lives out or embraces their faith actively. They are, however, in their own words “spiritual,” and very interested in living out life the way it is “supposed to be.” Isn’t it interesting how human nature takes a look around and notices that things are not the way God intended them to be!
Anyway, at the end of an incredibly interactive discussion, Steve said, “You know, I’ve always been curious and intrigued with the teachings of Jesus, but the whole Muslim/Christian thing never allowed me to go there.” Wow! Angela and Steve called me, a Christian pastor, to help them celebrate on one of the most important days of their lives. I can represent my faith in Jesus best, by serving them best.
Here is my dream for you, my fellow Emergent Pastors: Will you reach out to couples in your area looking for help? Will you help them even if they might be “wrong answer” people? Isn’t this what it means to be ‘Missional’? George Barna said in his new book, Revolution, that people will increasingly look outside the church for any type of spiritual connection or interest. That is exactly what I have experienced!
I’ve put together a website that will connect Emergent Pastors with couples looking for a minister to perform their wedding ceremony. If you are in the Emergent stream, there is a good chance this is for you. The world is in need of pastors who are willing to be Missional, authentic and empowered to serve without an agenda.
Let’s do it together!
Pastor Bill Yaccino