Spirit, Word and Sacrament
The CEC Wedding, Emmaus Abbey Style..."One man and One woman"
A few years ago as an Army Chaplain I officiated a family wedding in which the groom’s family was Southern Baptist and the bride was Roman Catholic. Neither family could find any peace in having their pastor or priest conduct the church wedding. Of course, there was a third option of using the family pastor, them knowing I was a former Southern Baptist, helped the Baptist side of things but the Catholics were not amused. Again no one new what to expect from a CEC wedding? To solve the dilemma they asked if I would conduct the wedding. Afterwards, both matriarch's being very pleased gave me a big hug after the ceremony. The Baptist grandma loved hearing the music and having the Scripture read, and the Roman Catholic grandma loved the vestments and the "Eucharist" or sacramental reverence of marriage. The audience identified with the mix and convergence of traditional hymns and contemporary music. Everyone loves the Prayer Book service, as it is so familiar. And the surplice and black tippet on the minister is exactly right for every wedding. The best part about an CEC wedding is when the visitors acknowledge that they felt drawn into the moment during the ceremony.
The CEC is a ministry of "Convergence." Meaning we draw together all three streams of the historic and apostolic traditions. We see God working among the body to unite church and family, not trying to separate the body life of Christianity. Our approach is "Temple" maintenance, meaning we minister through the Holy Spirits giftedness of each pastor. Three streams: evangelical, sacramental, Liturgical and Contemporary. We leave nothing out, we are authentic in Spirit, Word and Sacrament!
Here are a few areas in which Emmaus Abbey weddings differ from your typical non liturgical wedding. Other areas are included because of contemporary relevance. I offer this in the hope of explaining what we do, but also in persuading people to see that the reasons behind what we do, or won’t do, are related to important Christian and Biblical understandings of the Church and marriage.
First, we see the wedding as taking place within a Eucharistic Worship or communion service or normally called the "Great Thanksgiving." The setting is worship, and the occasion is worship. Jesus Christ himself is present. People are praying and singing together. A man and woman are united in Holy Matrimony. But the service is not “just” a wedding, and the Holy Communion and the singing, praying, are not an ornament to the wedding. The wedding is taking place as part of worship. It is a holy sacred moment focused on God. not us.
That explains why we don’t just give Eucharist or communion to the bride and groom. We can’t do that. The communion table is the table of the Lord. It is never a private meal, or an individual meal. It is always a holy meal shared by all baptized believers. To make communion private, to only serve the bride and groom, is to imply that the Lord’s Table is “our” table. But it is not our table, it is His, and he calls all of his children to it. At its worst, the private communion practice can imply, unintentionally, that the communion is a mere ornament, or sentimental moment for the bride and groom. But no, they are joining the community as a married couple, for the first time. They are not doing this privately, but are sharing the communion of the Lord. Because the wedding is a gathering of worshipers, in the church, it is also a time for married couples to reflect on marriage, and to be renewed.
Second, the Church prayer book service demonstrates doctrinally the Trinity and the three strands of Scripture, Spirit and Sacrament. We want to be sensitive to the needs of those being married, but not distract from the sacramental meaning of the marriage ceremony. This is why we differ from non liturgical churches or the justice of the peace or a state marriage. We believe by adding contemporary faddish additions which distract from the worship service also diminishes the view of the Trinity. Things like the cord of three strands, unity candles, filling shadow sand boxes, letting people write their own vows and other additions could best be done at the reception party.
Third, we must use the vows in the prayer book. When a couple meaning one man and one woman are getting married, they are entering into Holy Matrimony. The institution of marriage already existed before they were called to it. Christ instituted it over 2,000 years ago. They can’t make it up as they go along. It is highly personal, but it is also historic and sacramental. Writing your own vows implies that you are entering into a contract of your own creation. Taking “the vows” teaches that you are entering into a holy covenant, sacred relationship that God has made for you. That said, it might be a great thing to write personal promises or expressions to each other, and to read those at the reception. The personal aspect is so important, it just can’t overshadow the moment of the vows. They must be said from the heart, but must bind the bride and groom to marriage itself, as much as to each other personally.
Fourth, we believe that the rings are a sign of the marriage. They are sacred objects which are blessed in the ceremony, and serve as sacred signs of the marriage. This is not that controversial nowadays, but it was a few hundred years ago. The main idea here is that the rings both remind us of our vows, and also they seal those vows upon us. We carry this sign upon us every day, and with the right intention, the rings help us keep those vows.
Fifth, we believe God designed marriage between one man and one woman. Marriage, as both a natural institution and a sacred union, is rooted in God’s plan for creation. The truth that marriage can only exist between a man and a woman is woven deeply into the human spirit. The Church’s teaching on marriage expresses a truth, therefore, that can be perceived first and foremost by human reason. This truth has been confirmed by divine Revelation in Sacred Scripture. The natural structure of human sexuality makes man and woman complementary partners for expressing conjugal love and transmitting human life. Only a union of male and female can express the sexual complementarity willed by God for marriage. This unique complementarity makes possible the conjugal bond that is the core of marriage.
Some questions: Why is a same-sex union not equivalent to a marriage? We believe as Christians that same-sex union contradicts the nature and purposes of a biblical marriage. It is not based on the natural complementarity of male and female. It cannot achieve the natural purpose of sexual union, that is, to cooperate with God to create new life. Because persons in a same-sex union cannot enter into a true conjugal union, it is wrong to equate their relationship to a marriage. Biblical marriage is between God, one Man and one Woman.
Isn’t the Church discriminating against homosexual persons by opposing same sex unions? [No]. We in the CEC Church as Christians must give witness to the whole truth and, therefore, oppose as immoral both homosexual acts and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons. Since July 2015,the U.S. government and supreme court usurped God's authority are now the official agents who authorize, approve, perform and validate marriage licenses for same sex unions. We are the New Testament church and the Bible is older than the US Constitution, therefore, the Holy Bible defines what a marriage relationship consists of and why, for procreation. So, those not in compliance with Sacred Scripture can be by law married by a federal, state or county judge.
Sixth, the CEC holds a very orthodox and biblical view of marriage between one man and one woman as a sacrament of the church. This is why we differ from other denominations and churches. All weddings must be approved by the Diocesan Bishop before being conducted, the couple must be a member of Emmaus Abbey Church and receive no less than 8 sessions of pre-marital counseling.
Lastly, weddings when done correctly are memorable and are great family traditions. Planning ahead like getting the marriage preparation course, resolving family conflicts before marriage, working out who and where the marriage is to take place and making sure that the in-laws do not end up out-laws. Weddings truly are God's creation, a family affair and very emotional times for all involved.