Eleven Free Weddings and Counting

Article by Bill Calvin, Associate Pastor

Five couples who cohabit began coming to our church all at once. I was glad they were coming but also concerned—how can our church be as welcoming as Jesus and yet, like Jesus, deal with this sin?

I invited all of them to Alpha (the greatest outreach ministry in the world).  One of these couples came regularly to Alpha and I got to know them and their children pretty well. Several months later I was chatting with the man. He and I had a good rapport because we both love sports and would talk to each other while we worked out at LA Fitness. I remember saying to him, “You’ve got this beautiful family and Sarah* is great. Are you married?”

He immediately hung his head and said, “No.”
“What’s keeping you from being married?” I asked.
His reply, “Money.”

They thought that if they moved in together, they’d have more money to pay for a wedding, but instead, they started having children, bought a house, and saw their dream of a wedding fade.

At this point, I felt the Holy Spirit come upon me and I blurted out, “We can do your wedding for free. We won’t charge you to use the building, or for the pastoral services of counseling or officiating the wedding. We have decorations that can be used for weddings. We have a photographer. We can even cater a dinner for 100 people in the church reception room. You’ll have to pay for the food, it’s not much because we have used this same caterer for other events but we will do the set-up, decorating, and cleanup.”

My friend got a big smile on his face and went home to tell his fiancé. She loved the idea. They attended the Alpha Marriage Prep Class at church and we got busy on this new ministry. When the people in the church found out what was going on, they began to offer their services. Two different people have stepped forward to bake professionally styled wedding cakes. A person with 20 years of experience as a wedding planner came out of retirement to make this her primary ministry at our church. Suddenly a church that had no weddings planned for the year had ten weddings on the church calendar.  The first Free Wedding we did brought me to tears as a pastor who has done many, many weddings without crying.  The bride and groom did not have enough money to buy rings. A church friend took off her necklace, which was her parents’ wedding rings soldered together, had the rings separated by a jeweler, burnished, and then gave them to the couple so they could have rings on their wedding day. The wedding cake was a gift from a great baker in our church. There was so much love in the room that all involved were sold on the importance of this ministry.

Counterintuitively, it makes sense that these Free Weddings are of much higher quality that the weddings where the couple pays professionals to do it all. Admittedly, we don’t have the same quality of flowers as a florist. We don’t have the same quality/quantity of pictures as a professional photographer, either. But there is a lot more joy and excitement in the Sanctuary because so many people have invested time and resources into this couple and their wedding day. 

I have learned a lot of lessons in the past year. Here are four:

  1. Most people living together—that show up at church—would like to get married.
  2. The high cost of weddings is keeping them from getting married. According to The Knot, the average cost of a wedding in the suburbs of Chicago is over $33,000. It is over $50,000 in the city of Chicago.
  3. The church is seen as part of the problem due to the cost of building use, pastoral counseling and officiating, and the cost of the musician(s) and sound system technicians.
  4. The people in the church love serving these couples as they plan, decorate, bake cakes, sing, run the sound system, and lead the Alpha Marriage Prep Class. They become friends through the process and the couples sometimes end up belonging to our church.

Learn more about our Free Weddings ministry at Bloomingdale Church.

*not her real name