Our church staff engaged in a round of emailed conversation a few weeks ago when one of us forwarded a question this brother raised. Another coworker asked if anyone knew the questioner. I chimed in that I did, that I served as his premarital counselor, in fact. I could already tell that this was going somewhere: I was about to be somebody’s punchline.
Indeed, our lead pastor replied that something was amiss with the couples I had been working with. A few weeks prior, he informed me of my “first divorce,” the first time a couple whose marriage I officiated ended in divorce. Of course, that conversation was serious. In this emailed case, he was suggesting that my track record was not good. He was being playful.
But it stung. It still stings.
Any pastor paying attention to his congregation takes notice when a couple is in trouble. If the pastor doesn’t, he or she should look to another type of work. Leaders care when marriages experience trouble or falter. Some of our best work is done in crisis. I know we have limits, but there’s much room for grace when trouble fills a person’s life.
Nonetheless, my own small record, if I can call it that, has me thinking hard about my role in people’s lives and about the community’s role in helping sustain relationships when possible. It’s not always possible, I know. But I’m thinking that I shouldn’t lead people in taking vows when and if I cannot be in the immediate community who will help that couple live those big words. That’s the idea behind the ceremony being led by a pastor, in a church, after all.
Leading a couple in vow-taking is a joy and a responsibility. It’s fun to see a pair in love, standing before me with nothing but bliss in front of them, to look at them and to know some–again, some–of the things that will work against that bliss. It’s a responsibility I enjoy, living with them, side by side in the faith community, as they push their feet to keep up to those uttered promises.
In my congregation, a lot of people get married and leave. They graduate from school and go off to some place else. It’s a part of our mission to do with those good folks what we can, but we know that many of them will leave. In some cases that means “marrying them off” and watching them go to (hopefully) other communities of faith where they will be supported. But my first divorce has me considering how to approach my pastoral responsibility.
It’s why I don’t officiate just anybody’s wedding in the first place. I’m not a service provider. I’m selective. Because I’m a pastor. But this sting is bothering me. It has me thinking about what I’ll say to the next pair who sends an email looking for an officiating minister–and I’m always thinking about this.
Not everybody’s married, but we all know that relative divorce, don’t we? You know a friend or a person you trust or a person you believed with all your heart would maintain a successful, enduring marriage. You have an example or two, an up close one, that makes you wonder about marriage and divorce, that makes you ask questions about things you once assumed.
So I ask you: Has divorce made you do something differently, made you see something differently? What can you share?