Green Street 01: When 'Pastoral Authority' Finally Mattered to Straight People



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Church Choices re: Weddings

Actually, what happened at Green Street UMC is part of a larger issue that we UM clergy are actually afraid to talk about. That issue is: should clergy be allowed to keep honoraria given to them for performing weddings and funerals.

For years, if a minister performs a wedding, or a funeral, the couple or someone from one of their families, or the families of a decedent will give the minister a financial gift for performing those services. The justification is that this payment is for the extra time a pastor expends in counseling the couple, or for meeting with the family of the decedent to plan the service.

But wait a minute! Is the performing of a wedding or a funeral not part of the ministry of the local church to such families? One rationale often given is that performing such services MIGHT cause the family to come to Christ and to become members of the local church---this, though overwhelming experience would show that this is a fallacy. Privately, we clergy even joke about families with no church affiliation want to have a minister conduct a funeral for a loved one, as "fire insurance" for the decedent!

And, some local churches are very happy that a minister might perform many weddings, because it becomes a lucrative source of monetary income to the local church. I still find myself offended when a person comes to a local church to inquire about having a wedding---not for the issue of the religious significance of a wedding, but because they "are looking for the prettiest place to hold their wedding."

Some churches have a policy that if the wedding is for a member of the church, or the child of a member of the church, or if the funeral is for a member of the local church, there should be no honorarium. If the service is for someone outside of the membership of the local church, the minister can receive all he honorarium that families might wish to give to him/her.

I've often wondered what would happen if (yes, you can laugh here), the General Conference passed a church law that weddings and funerals are part of the overall ministry of the UMC, and that they are not allowed to receive honoraria for performing any service. (We have such a rule for Baptisms.) Any honoraria given should be given to the local church which pays the pastor, to help cover the cost of the pastor's salary package.

This is the larger issue surrounding the issue of a clergy deciding whether or not to perform a wedding, or indeed, any wedding.

As a pastor, I made a decision to only perform weddings of members of my local church, or for one of the children of a member of the local church. I stopped doing outside weddings, because I am banned from performing weddings of loving same-sex couples--even if they are members of my local church. That decision cost me an average of $1200 a year. My decision did not affect anyone in my local church.

Who really is affected by a local church decision not to allow weddings?

Tom Griffith more than 8 years ago