What exactly is the role of a pastor officiating at a marriage ceremony? This question has been of great debate since a Pastor declined, at the last minute, to officiate a wedding in Nakuru.
At the centre of the debate appears to be two separate issues. The conduct of both the Pastor and the couple on the one hand, and the general role of a pastor in a marriageceremony on the other.
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The former appears to have been adequately prosecuted in the court of public opinion, whether rightly or wrongly. The latter, however, requires some careful consideration if we are to see fewer of the Nakuru scenes.
A pastor officiating a wedding has the dual role of a priest and a government officer.
In the first instance, the pastor is divinely mandated to preside over a divine covenant of marriage in the presence of God.
To this extent, the pastor has to ensure that the marriage is conducted in accordance with the Law of the Lord.
In the second case, the pastor is legally mandated to serve as a Registrar of Marriage and must therefore ensure the marriage is conducted in accordance with the law of the land.
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Clearly, there is a significant difference between the pastor as a priest and the pastor as a marriage officer.
When a couple appears before a marriage registrar in a government office, the wedding is often a simple legal event executed in a matter of minutes.
What the couple does before or after the wedding is irrelevant to the registrar, provided the law is adhered to.
In contrast, the couple that stands before the pastor is, in most cases, well known to the pastor. Therefore, the pastor as a priest, has a shepherding responsibility over these two individuals, which begins well before the wedding day and often extends into the couple’s old age.
A responsible pastor will therefore ensure that every step the couple takes is in the long term interest of both of them. This may not always be appreciated, especially by young people steeped in love, and are focused on their wedding.
As the old adage goes, love is blind. When two people are deeply in love, they often are blind to serious facts and realities of life, which they at times readily dismiss as none issues.
One of the critical duties and responsibilities of the pastor is to open the eyes of the blind – to point out areas of potential threat to the future of a marriage.
Thus, where there are significant areas of potential discordance, the couple must be helped to make sober judgement and take actions that are not blinded by the fleeting feelings of love.
It has been known, for example, that major differentials in age, education, or social status can be a challenge in marriage if not carefully handled.
This is especially so when the man is the younger, less educated, or lower in social ranking. During courtship, many couples gloss over these issues, presuming that their deep love will compensate for these matters.
For a couple seeking to enter marriage under such circumstances, the pastor must have a frank talk with the man and woman to ensure that they are not only alive to these realities, but are assisted on how to navigate them.
It is for similar reasons that the matter of HIV status demands the involvement of the pastor, so that he can counsel the couple towards making a sober judgement, in case one of them is positive.
It is a fact that, where couples have entered into marriagewithout giving due consideration to such critical matters, the consequence has been serious heartbreaks. In the case of HIV, it is worse where one member did not disclose their status prior to marriage.
There are situations where one marriage partner obtains fraudulent results from quack clinics simply to secure a wedding. The resulting hard feelings of betrayal have sometimes led to premature separation or even divorce.
That is why, it would be a serious failure in priestly duties for a pastor to simply surrender a couple preparing for marriage to their right to privacy.
One person’s right to privacy cannot override the other person’s right to information, to health or, in some cases, to life.
It is therefore the duty of the pastor, both as a priest and as a marriage officer, to safeguard the rights of each of the marriage partners and to usher them into a happy and blessed matrimony.
– The writer is Presiding Bishop of Christ is the Answer Ministries. [email protected]
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