Recently I ran into someone I had not seen for a number of years. We were getting caught up with each other, asking questions like, “What are you up to these days?” When I explained my work as a wedding officiant and Celebrant, my friend asked a question I frequently get in such conversations. She asked if I was doing any marriage prep or counseling with the couples whose wedding ceremonies I perform. My answer always starts with, “No,” and it often includes lots of explaining.
First let me say that the majority of people with whom I have this conversation are either active Catholics or former Catholics. St. Louis is a very Catholic town! And my work history includes five years of college campus ministry in Catholic institutions and fifteen years of teaching theology at Catholic high schools. So most of these conversations have a Catholic framework and assumptions as a starting point.
For those of you who do not know, to be married in the Catholic church, a couple must meet certain specific requirements, including participation in one of a number of marriage prep activities sponsored by the Catholic church. It could take the form of a couples retreat (not at all like the movie!), a class, a workshop, or a sponsor couple program. One of the hopes for all of these programs is to help the couple take a good look at some of the realities of married life and to assess their own readiness to be married.
In the long run, one goal of these programs is to help couples avoid divorce in later years. Unfortunately, the last time I saw any studies on the subject, it appears that Catholics divorce at about the same rate as the rest of the population. This is not to say that these programs are not helpful to some or even most couples who participate in them. It is simply a suggestion that most current marriage preparation programs in general cannot possibly prepare couples for all of the complexities of married life between two very fallible human beings.
Of course, it isn’t only Catholics who require some sort of marriage prep for couples. There are many churches whose requirements for engaged couples include a minimum number of meetings with a minister or with people specifically involved in ministry to engaged couples.
Celebrants trained by the Celebrant Foundation and Institute do not require counseling, retreats, or workshops of the couples with whom we are planning weddings. Sure, we like to meet with the couple, but usually that meeting is a mutual interview where the couple gets to know us a little and we get to know them a little in an effort to decide if we will be a good match for one another. Once hired by a couple, our work as Celebrants is simply to design and officiate at customized ceremonies which help each couple celebrate their relationship and commitment as they see it.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that churches and ministers requiring some kind of marriage prep for engaged couples should change what they are doing. Not at all. I’m simply saying that Celebrants offer an alternative for couples who may prefer not to participate in such programs, and for couples who do not have a particular church affiliation at the time they decide to be married. And isn’t it always nice to have options? I think so.