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Wednesday
Jul292015

Destination Weddings—A Message to the Church about Place

Dr. Doug Hardy 
Professor of Spiritual Formation
Director, Doctor of Ministry Programs

Weddings have always been performed in a variety of settings: in churches and other houses of worship, yes, but also on beaches, in parks, in homes, and in judge’s quarters. The trend for weddings to occur outside of religious buildings seems to be growing, perhaps best exemplified by the growing popularity of the “destination wedding.” In a destination wedding, almost everyone involved travels to a location especially chosen by the wedding couple for its aesthetic qualities and/or its association with significant memories. For many, the hometown of the bride or a church of membership are no longer considered governing criteria for selection of the place of the wedding. 

This has me thinking about Christian church buildings and grounds as location. In what ways do our places of worship function as destinations? What qualities enhance or detract people from viewing the church as a destination for sacred events? 

As John Inge points out in his excellent book,  A Christian Theology of Place (Ashgate 2003), Christians tend to be ambivalent about the importance of place in their theology and practice. On the one hand, we devalue particularities of place by virtue of our commitment to the nature of God as transcendent. As Jesus said to the Samaritan woman who wanted to know where the proper place was for worship, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24, NRSV). On the other hand, God’s immanence, especially as understood in the Incarnation—God becoming flesh and dwelling among us—suggests that we need to take seriously both the natural and the built environments. Jesus did, as evidenced in the many Gospel references to the sea, the mountains, travel from one region to another, and, of course, the Temple courts.

My sense is that in the free church tradition we have largely taken an approach to our buildings and properties that devalues aesthetics and uses the language of the “spiritual” to rationalize all kinds of location choices that ignore the Gospel of Incarnation. Might the fact that many of our Christian young people do not choose a church as their “destination” for a wedding be a call for us to pay attention to some of the unintended consequences of our ecclesiology (or lack thereof)? Have we in some ways failed to cultivate a sense of the sacred in our churches?

I’d like to suggest two possible lines of further inquiry on this topic:

  1. Recapturing the importance of church buildings and properties as sacred space. Drawing upon a centuries-long history of Christian engagement with the built environment across many different cultural contexts, how might churches re-invigorate their identities as destinations for people who want to ritually enact their faith commitments?
  2. Re-engaging with the natural and built environments outside of the church. If we truly believe that God’s Spirit is not limited to the Church and, in fact, is always “out there, ahead of us,” what might God be drawing us toward in the places that couples are choosing for their destination weddings?  

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