The pattern is familiar: a couple calls the church office to say that they are planning to be married and want to arrange a wedding in the church. They are not members of this church (or perhaps they were members years ago but haven't been to church since confirmation). They may not even be members of the denomination, but they "knew someone who was married at St. Swithin's two years ago."
How should we respond? What are the pastoral possibilities inherent in these situations?
Many clergy dismiss such calls immediately, explaining that they perform services only for members of their own congregation. Others may see some of the couples and make a decision to perform the ceremony on the basis of the couple's rudimentary understanding of the Christian faith. Still others act as ecclesiastical marriage brokers, performing the ceremony for any and all who ask, usually beefing up their discretionary fund in the process.
After struggling with these questions for some time, I have devised an approach, based on a number of theological suppositions, that seems to work well.
Why Are They Here?
My primary assumption about all the individuals who call is that they have been prompted to call by the Holy Spirit. To be sure, they are probably unaware of this prompting, but in each of these situations, I assume that God is giving me an opportunity to do some serious examination with the couple about the nature and quality of Christian marriage.
The couple may have their own reasons for calling the church, and each of them is woefully familiar to every minister:
"Your church is so pretty."
"Your church is close to our reception hall."
"My second cousin was married here by ...