Holy Matrimony is the union of two people in heart, body, and mind, and is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and when it is God's will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord.
MARRIAGE IN THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH
The Episcopal Church requires that at least one of the parties be baptized, that there be at least two adult witnesses, and that the marriage conform to the civil law and in accordance with the canons of the Episcopal Church. Marriage ceremonies are conducted at St. Paul's in accordance with the rites approved by the church. The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage from The Book of Common Prayer has been the standard form since 1979. In 2015, the Episcopal Church formally endorsed same-sex marriage. Three alternate rites of the blessing of a marriage are available for our use: I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing, and two versions of a rite called The Celebration and Blessing of a Covenant Relationship. In other words, we treat same-sex and opposite-sex couples equally, granting in either case the choice of a variety of rites for the blessing of a marriage.
BELONGING TO ST. PAUL’S
Since marriage is a sacrament of the church, our policy at St. Paul’s is to marry members of the congregation. Civil marriage is always an option for those who have no desire to join the church. If you are coming to us as non-members who are curious about the life of a worshiping congregation, we welcome you wholeheartedly and would like to introduce you to the many ways you can get involved at St. Paul’s. We are happy to help you engage all your questions. In addition, you may find our website to be a valuable introduction to life at St. Paul’s and in the Episcopal Church: http://www.stpaulsbellingham.org/about-the-episcopal-church/.
DECLARATION OF INTENT
Each couple intending marriage in the Episcopal Church is required to sign a copy of the following declaration:
"We, _______ and ________, desiring to receive the blessing of Holy Matrimony in the Church, do solemnly declare that we hold marriage to be a lifelong union of husband and wife as it is set forth in the liturgical forms authorized by this Church. We believe it is for the purpose of mutual fellowship, encouragement and understanding, for the procreation (if it may be) of children, and their physical and spiritual nurture, and for the safeguarding and benefit of society, and we do engage ourselves so far as in us lies, to make our utmost effort to establish this relationship and to seek God's help thereto."
“We, _______ and ________, desiring to receive the blessing of a Lifelong Covenant, do solemnly declare that we hold this covenant to be our lifelong commitment as provided by The Episcopal Church gathered in General Convention. We believe that our covenant is intended by God for our mutual joy, for the encouragement and support given one another in daily life and changing circumstances, for bringing God’s grace to our community, for the deepening of faith as we experience God’s love in our love for one another, and (if it may be) for the physical and spiritual nurture of children. This covenant shall be nurtured and characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which shall enable us to see in each other the image of God. And we do engage ourselves, so far as in us lies, to make our utmost effort to establish this covenant and to seek God’s help hereto.”
DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE
The Episcopal Church teaches that marriage is, by intention, lifelong and each couple signs a declaration of intention which affirms this teaching. However, it must be acknowledged that divorce does occur, in spite of the best and most solemn intentions. The Church regards divorce very seriously and encourages married persons to do all they possibly can to effect healing and reconciliation before divorce. When divorce does occur, the Church seeks to provide pastoral care to assist each of the parties during a most difficult and painful time of their lives. The Church allows remarriage after divorce, but the period of premarital preparation with the clergy may be a little longer. Written permission from the Bishop must be obtained by the priest before the priest is allowed to solemnize the marriage. The request for the priest to officiate must be made to the Bishop not less than sixty days before the marriage.
If either party has been divorced twice before, premarital counseling must be completed not with a St. Paul’s clergy person, but with a licensed marriage and family therapist. St. Paul’s will take no further steps towards your wedding until this process is completed and the therapist makes a report to St. Paul’s clergy.
PREPARATION FOR THE MARRIAGE
The period of the Engagement is meant to be a time of planning, preparation and growing together. In the Episcopal Church, the clergy are required to explore with the couple the nature, meaning and purpose of Holy Matrimony. The time of preparation is typically a time when the couple and the priest come to know one another quite well, learning to work together in community with a common goal: the marriage itself and the life of the couple as a new family. The theology of the Church is discussed in detail, the Marriage Rite is carefully reviewed, and planning for the service itself occurs in regular consultation with the clergy. Often, premarital seminars are suggested and certain books and videos may be recommended. Please: do not publicize a date for your wedding until you are well into this process, and don’t do so without an assurance from St. Paul’s clergy to hold the wedding on this date. The clergy of St. Paul’s are available for consultation and advice during the entire time of preparation. It is our commitment to the couple to make every effort to help them prepare for this important event in their lives. Under the Episcopal Church canons, no clergy other than parish staff will solemnize a marriage at St. Paul’s without the prior consent of the Rector.
The marriage will be recorded in the parish records of St. Paul’s. These records are kept in the parish and are a part of its history. Parish records are legally admissible in any United States court of law and are frequently requested by those researching their family history.
THE MARRIAGE LICENSE
A Washington State marriage license is required for all weddings at St. Paul's. You may obtain one at any county courthouse in the State of Washington. An application for the license must be completed by both parties. The license is issued immediately, and then there is a three-day waiting period before the marriage may be solemnized. At St. Paul's it is recommended that the license be obtained and delivered to the church office at least two weeks before the marriage. This allows sufficient time for the necessary documents to be prepared prior to the rehearsal and marriage liturgy.
THE WEDDING COORDINATOR
At St. Paul's, the Wedding Coordinator serves as a representative of the Altar Guild, which is the group charged with preparing the altar for the wedding. The Wedding Coordinator is assigned to each wedding, and it is the responsibility of the couple to contact her at least three months prior to the wedding day, and also to schedule a meeting with her at around the six-week mark. At that meeting, she will answer many of your questions about the mechanics of the marriage service. The Priest is responsible for the rehearsal. The Wedding Coordinator will assist at the rehearsal and at the marriage service. There is no need for a professional wedding coordinator during the rehearsal or the marriage ceremony itself; however, if one is desired, permission must be granted by the officiating clergy. Although an outside wedding coordinator may consult with the clergy and guilds, he/she does not have authority over ritual matters.
THE WEDDING IS WORSHIP
The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage, and the alternate rites, are public services of worship in the Episcopal tradition. Therefore, the ceremonial customs associated with the worship of this church apply, especially those for processions, entering or leaving the church (which are led by a Crucifer), and, if desired, Torch Bearers. A Crucifer is normally provided by the church from the Acolyte Corps. However, a Crucifer may be a relative, a friend, or anyone who is trained for this function.
Every church wedding is a public worship service. It is customary to allow St. Paul’s staff to publish an invitation to your wedding in the service leaflet on the two Sundays prior to the wedding. You are not required to invite everyone to the reception, of course, nor need you expect a flood of extra people at the ceremony. But neither is your wedding a private event. It is one more occasion for the congregation to celebrate together.
If you would like to celebrate your marriage at St. Paul’s, the first step is to arrange an appointment with a priest. That conference explores Christian marriage, the customs of the Episcopal Church, and the wedding policy of St. Paul’s Church. The wedding date is set by mutual agreement with the couple and the church. At that time, the wedding deposit is due to reserve the date on the church calendar. (An explanation of specific fees is available through the church office.) If the amount of the fees is a financial hardship for the couple, they should discuss this with the priest at the initial conference. An honorarium is a customary gift for the priest officiating at the wedding for his/her discretionary use. Traditionally, the best man gives the honorarium to the priest at the rehearsal. Parish policy requires that it be in the form of a check made out to St. Paul's Episcopal Church (note the priest's name in memo section of the check). Because this fee will be deposited into the priest’s discretionary fund, it is not for the priest’s personal use, so it should NOT be made out directly to the priest.
If you would like to celebrate your wedding on a Sunday morning during our regular worship, let’s talk! To take this option speaks volumes about your understanding of how your marriage fits into the context of this worshiping community. The wedding deposit will not be necessary in this case. However, it is understood that a Sunday morning wedding will take place in the context of Holy Eucharist.
It is the responsibility of the couple to contact a local florist and have them provide altar flower arrangements. Flowers are expected for both altars in the church. The altar arrangements are considered gifts to the church for the wedding in thanksgiving for the marriage and remain on the altars for the Sunday services following. The couple may designate a dedication of the altar flowers and have it printed in the church bulletin by calling the church office.
Many of the flower shops in the Bellingham area are familiar with the liturgical and physical requirements at St. Paul’s; alternately, the information may be obtained from the secretary in the parish office. Please note, the family is responsible for removal of any extra decorations that are not appropriate for a Sunday service (i.e., pew decorations, etc.). The tossing of rose petals is not permitted inside the church, and any tossed outside the church must be cleaned up. Please contact the St. Paul’s Flower Guild director, Susan McDermott, at 360-224-2411 or firstname.lastname@example.org, and let her know your plans.
The Canons of the Episcopal Church specify that the music used in all worship should be an offering for the glory of God and as a help to the people in their worship. In addition, the traditions of the Church serve as a guideline as to the appropriateness of music selections. The Organist/ Choirmaster of St. Paul’s will provide consultation regarding the possible choices of music suitable within the limits of Church Canon and tradition. The final authority for music is with the clergy as advised by the Organist/ Choirmaster. The couple should contact the Organist/Choirmaster at least three months before the wedding date to consult about the music. Arrangements for soloists and other musicians must be made in consultation with the Organist/Choirmaster. Please note that we do not use Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream or the “Bridal Chorus” from Wagner’s Lohengrin. Their use is an invention of Hollywood filmmakers in their quest for music with no historically religious use.
Photographs are an important part of most weddings, and St. Paul's has a particularly beautiful building. A majority of the professional photographers in Bellingham are familiar with the lighting and physical characteristics of St. Paul's. But Holy Matrimony is a Sacrament: flash pictures during the service are distracting and, therefore, inappropriate and prohibited during the wedding ceremony. Likewise, parishioners are not permitted to shoot photos or video with any device during the ceremony. One video of the wedding is allowed, and the Wedding Coordinator will identify a recording location so that the recording is satisfactory to the couple and unobtrusive during the service. All posed photographs must be completed 45 minutes before the beginning of the service in consideration of arriving guests; if the couple has an official photographer, that person may shoot non-flash photos from the back of the church during the ceremony. The key is for the photographer to remain unobtrusive.
ORDER OF SERVICE
The order of service for the wedding is arranged for and produced by the couple, not the church office. The consulting priest will be able to offer resources to the couple in producing it.
As a sign of respect for the church and the couple, the consumption of alcoholic beverages by members of the wedding party before the wedding is discouraged. Alcohol consumption is not permitted on the property (church, Great Hall, parking lot, etc.) prior to the wedding by friends or members of the wedding party. Alcohol consumption (champagne and white wine) may be permitted by approval of the clergy during a wedding reception scheduled in the Great Hall. In addition, smoking is strictly prohibited within the building and on the grounds.
Every wedding requires a rehearsal to provide an opportunity for all of the participants to learn their parts in the service. This is a time for the priest to meet the wedding party and to prepare them for the liturgy. The time for the rehearsal is set in consultation with the priest and is usually set on the day before the wedding itself. Rehearsals at St. Paul's typically last about an hour. If a rehearsal dinner is planned and the priest and spouse are expected to attend, it is customary to send a written invitation (likewise for an outside wedding reception).
The Great Hall and Sports Hall of St. Paul’s are available for wedding receptions. The St. Anne’s Guild of St. Paul’s Church handles all receptions. For more information, see the Fee Schedule page.
The wedding day is just the beginning of a new phase in the life of a couple: a new life empowered by the grace of God. We do not take marriage lightly, but as a sacred commitment between two persons made before their families, their friends, and God. It is our prayer that the life begun at St. Paul’s will be a life lived in the knowledge of the love of God and a profound awareness of unending love. The Church celebrates the mutual love between two people and proclaims that God is the third person in every relationship. May the blessings of God be upon you always.