DCC News

 

Weekly e-newsletter for members and friends of the Dublin Community Church

 

January 4, 2008

                                                           

                                      

Legally Binding

“Have you ever officiated at the wedding of two people who were already married?” I was asked by the fellow on my right at the dinner table.

There are actually two parts to the wedding ceremony; the religious and the State of Ohio-Legal part. As an ordained minister, recognized by the United Church of Christ and authorized by the State of Ohio, I have the legal power to unite a man and a woman in matrimony. Once I perform the wedding, and sign the certificate and mail it in…those two people are now a legal entity. I will leave it to the lawyers as to how all of that works out in wills, insurance, etc.

So, as a minister, I am fully aware that some get married in a church by a minister such as myself because it is the culturally correct thing to do. Many (maybe even, most) do so because the church holds a special significance in their lives. I am happy to be a part of it.

I have done weddings for couples who were legally married by a justice of the peace, for whatever reasons and then wish to have the church bless their marriage and to have a larger family and friends celebration. That is fine. It’s not the norm, but it can be a wonderful way for a couple to publicly declare their commitment. Often times, military people will get married before a tour of duty; fulfill that military commitment and then return and have a larger church wedding with their family and friends.

But there are times when I, as a state-appointed functionary perform a wedding to legally bind a couple who has previously been married in their religion but not by the State of Ohio. Like…marrying a Hindu man and woman.

So, when the fellow at the dinner table asked if I had ever married two people who were already married…I said, that I had, indeed. And I told him this story…

Some years ago the father of one of my daughter’s friends contacted me. We knew each other through the schools and because our daughters were playmates. The father was a fine gentleman, in a demanding profession in our city. He was raising his daughter alone. He was a Hindu from India.

He had found a woman to be his wife and mother to his daughter. The woman, also was a professional in a demanding profession and a fine woman. They shared the same backgrounds from India and were both Hindus. It seemed like a good match, and indeed it was and still is. So when the father contacted me I was intrigued.

He and his betrothed came to my office with his father, who spoke no English, and we all sat down and talked. My friend and his wife had been married by the Hindu priests in a ceremony in another state. In the eyes of their faith and family he and this woman were now married and they and their families were very happy. But, the Ohio-legal part of it was not done. The Hindu priest was not a United States-legally-binding-marriage-person. They could easily go to city hall and have the Mayor or Justice of the Peace  perform the legal part of the wedding, but they chose to contact me and see if I would do so.

 

We spoke for quite a while about their family histories and what brought them together and their joyful plans for the future. The old father of the groom smiled as he looked at his son’s new bride. It was clear that the two were married in the eyes of their community. They were in love; they had bound themselves as husband and wife before their religious authorities. So they timidly if I would marry them to satisfy the legal part of the covenant. They were American citizens. They had the legal marriage certificate issued by the State of Ohio. I said, “certainly.”

I showed them the Book of Worship, which I would use for the ceremony and said that it uses “God” and “Jesus” and such Christian terms. That was fine with them.

I showed them our sanctuary and pointed out that they could be married in front of our Christian Cross surrounded by other Christian symbols. That was fine with them.

I asked if they would like to have the altar candles lit to signify the presence of God in the ceremony. That was fine with them; in fact, they were delighted with the candles.

So, there we were…four people. An Ohio minister. An Indian man and woman. And, the Indian father of the groom. One Christian and three Hindus. One spoke only English. Two spoke English and Hindi. One spoke only Hindi.

We stood there. We prayed. I intoned ancient and modern words, which are a part of our marriage ceremony. I pronounced them “husband and wife in the sight of God and each of us.” They embraced. They were married. I signed the certificate. They were happy and the state of Ohio was satisfied.

So, that is the story I told to the dinner party when the one fellow asked if I had “ever officiated at the wedding of two people who were already married.”

The fellow who heard the story listened and smiled. Then he quickly asked me something that was obviously very important to him, “And so, Reverend, did the Hindu couple accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior that night?”

“Ah…. no.” I replied. “It didn’t appear to me that they wanted to be Christians. They were friends of mine and they were committed to their faith and religion and they were asking me to assist with a legal part of their covenant. Besides, they showed me respect by asking me to be a part of their ceremony and they showed my faith tremendous respect by wanting to be married in our sanctuary, surrounded by the symbols that mean so much to us Christians. I thought I would show them and their own faith the same respect by merely being a part of their covenant and not pressing my faith on them when they were secure in their own faith. To me, it was all about showing them and their faith respect, as they showed the same to me.” That is what I told the fellow seated next to me.

“Oh, yes, yes, respect for another religion!” He replied.

But it doesn’t seem to me that the thought of respecting my friend’s Hindu religion would have occurred to my dinner partner if I hadn’t made such a big issue of it. He was more intent on conversion.

Peace, Bob