The Other Side of the Altar, Part I

“Safe Sex The Old-Fashioned Way”: “Bundling” was a customary way for colonial-era Americans—and many Europeans as well—to allow young sweethearts to get to know each other intimately without going “all the way”. It was not only a way to help ensure a more durable relationship but also a sensible move economically, since the young man often lived several miles distant from his girlfriend and the practice conserved firewood and candles.

PHOTO CREDIT: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.                                                   “Bundling” was a customary way for colonial-era Americans—and many Europeans as well—to allow young sweethearts to get to know each other intimately without going “all the way”. It was not only a way to help ensure a more durable relationship but also a sensible move economically, since the young man often lived several miles distant from his girlfriend and the practice conserved firewood and candles.

How Ministers View Weddings, Monahans

NOTE TO READERS:  Back in March of 1980, when I was the newspaper editor in Monahans, Texas, one of what I consider my most inspired ideas occurred to me. How, I wondered, do ministers prepare engaged couples for their nuptials, and how do they view a wedding in itself as well as marriage?

   To answer those questions, I interviewed several local ministers and received, to me, some surprising responses. It was a very enlightening experience for me and, I hoped, for my readers, although I don’t recall any comments from people out on the streets. But, there was nothing unusual about that: people in that town were rather non-committal around me, afraid that whatever they said would end up in the newspaper. A common expression when I walked into a café or a bar or even the bank was, “Watch what you say; that’s the newspaper man.”

   But, back to the feature article. I was so fond of that piece that when I moved to Alpine a decade later I decided to prepare a similar feature. If anything, the second version was more interesting than the first; not least for the reason that I was able to get the local Catholic priest to accept my request for an interview. (The priest in Monahans in 1980 had put me off by saying he would have to ask the bishop in El Paso for permission; he never got back to me.)

   What I plan on now is re-publishing on my blog the two feature articles: one today, and the second one on January 14.

   Hope you WordPress readers discover something beneficial in at least one of them.

* * * * * *

© 1980, 2015 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

Is it really possible to be prepared for marriage?

An old adage observes that many a man who would insist upon counting a horse’s teeth before he buys it will yet marry a girl after a brief acquaintance. Erma Bombeck advised that, before tying the knot, a couple should shop for groceries together, see each other in the morning before either has had time so much as to comb their hair, and nurse each other through an illness. (That last test might end up extending the engagement indefinitely if the couple is generally healthy.)

From the days of the Pilgrims’ “bundling beds”, American elders have been trying to find a way of guaranteeing that their children marry wisely. One of the modes tried has been private talks with the minister who will perform the ceremony. While not a perfect method, since the counselor has ordinarily been only one (perforce of a single gender), such consultations seem to be about the nearest to a sensible solution we’ve been able to come up with.

Because of the sanctity of the marriage vows, many ministers require one or more pre-ceremony conversations with engaged couples. However, not all do, and there is great variety in the content of such sessions when they are required. A survey of three local ministers produced some interesting insights into their perspective from the other side of the altar.

Dr. Ed Lang, pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Monahans, doesn’t require premarital counseling because he feels that when people are forced into a counseling situation their hearts won’t be in it. Most couples, he said, will do anything to get him to perform the ceremony; and, if counseling is a prerequisite, then so be it.

Lang prefers simply to make himself available for any type of counseling, premarital or otherwise. Also, he pointed out, the very process of preparing for a wedding has three moments when counseling naturally enters: when a couple asks him to marry them, while reviewing the service, and during the rehearsal.

Lang said that other kinds of counseling can be related to premarital counseling. For instance, a person who seeks his help while going through a divorce might return later and ask him to perform the ceremony of a second marriage. (Lang, by the way, insisted he not be quoted directly, i.e., within quotation marks.)

First Baptist Church pastor Charles Inman does require counseling, but he has altered the timing of the sessions for reasons similar to those expressed by Lang. “One of the most frustrating aspects of premarital counseling  is that the couple is not in a very objective state of mind during the engagement period,” he said. “Even if they have discovered some problem area during the engagement period, the commitment to marry is so strong they aren’t very objective.” For that reason Inman has switched from requiring three-to-four prior sessions to two or three plus a commitment from the couple that they will return one more time after six months of married life.

Dr. Lloyd DeLong, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church here, says the number of sessions he requires varies and is determined after the first interview with a couple. However, he expects no fewer than two. He realizes that a couple’s receptivity for counseling is very low at that time, but he believes that a minister must accept their expressed sincerity and have faith that some of the information he imparts to them is bound to sink in.

DeLong starts the first interview usually by discussing the couple’s relationships with their families. Occasionally it happens, he said, that one or both of the young people are having problems in their current homes and are using marriage as an escape.

Other areas DeLong explores are the couple’s educational and religious backgrounds. “If one doesn’t have a high school diploma and the other is going to college, they may have problems,” he said.

As for dissimilar religious backgrounds, DeLong said he has no qualms about intermarriage “as long as love — and more than erotic love — is there.”

DeLong emphasizes that differing religious and educational backgrounds do not necessarily mean a marriage won’t last; but, he said, they could presage problems which the couple will have to resolve.

Both DeLong and Inman cite poor financial management as a more frequent and serious cause of marital failures. Inman even tries to help the couple set up at least a rough sketch of a budget. “I strongly suggest to them that they set up a priority of purchases and then buy only when they both agree to the purchase.”

Inman gives his counselees two brief multiple choice tests as a means of inventorying the couple’s relationship and predicting the success potential of their marriage. One of the tests provides a profile of an engaged person: his or her social, economic and religious background; how he or she views the fiancé(e); what each enjoys doing; how they handle disagreements, etc.

The other test gauges the extent of a person’s knowledge of sex. Inman said he has found that a young man who may have been considered the campus Romeo often fails the sex inventory test, while the quiet type often does very well on it.

Whether the couple takes the inventory or not, Inman gives them a 76-page sex manual called A Doctor’s Marital Guide. “I try to find out the basic attitude the boy or girl has toward sex,” he said. ”My purpose is to correct misconceptions learned in locker rooms and at slumber parties.”

Another aspect of married life Inman stresses is Christian fellowship. He encourages the couple to change the focus of their social life from that of the single person to one of developing friendships with other couples in the church.

After everybody has resolved in their mind that the marriage should take place, the question arises: What kind of service will it be?

Lang said that almost every couple wants to design their own service. He tells them that is fine with him as long as their service is written within a Christian context and they give him sufficient time to learn it. However, in virtually every instance the couple finally opts for the one provided in the Book of Worship, unchanged. Their change of mind results, Lang explained, from their reading the service, which is well-written and no longer contains phrases referring to the woman as the man’s chattel. Both the man and the woman recite the same words.

Inman offers two basic services: one he wrote himself, and one called “the Episcopal Service”. Like Lang, he allows the couple to write their own service “…as long as it is in good taste and within a Christian context. There are two times when a person should be able to plan an activity,” Inman said, “their wedding and their funeral.”

A restriction Inman insists upon, however, is that the photographer remain at the entry of the church. “I don’t want him distracting attention away from the service.”

DeLong’s pet peeve is wedding party members who drank the night before. “If any person in the wedding party shows any indication of drinking, then I withdraw from the service,” DeLong said. “If a person has to build his courage up for marriage by drinking, he’s not ready to get married. Nobody yet has objected.”

As for the service form, DeLong said he allows the couple to make suggestions, and he discusses those with them. “If I think the suggestions are within the tradition of the church, then I allow them,” he said. The service he ordinarily uses is one he made up himself by selecting parts from among six other services.

Lang said he has never refused to perform the ceremony, because of the strong impression made on him by someone close to him who left Christianity altogether after being refused the marriage ceremony by another pastor.

Inman, too, said he has never refused to marry anyone; although he has walked away after completing some services saying to himself, “Boy! That marriage hasn’t got a chance!” And yet, Inman was impressed by the number of marriages he thought would not last a year but have proven stable and the number of marriages he had thought would be 50-year marriages which ended in divorce after a year or two.

DeLong could remember only four occasions during his 25-year ministry when he refused to bind people in matrimony. His refusals in all instances were caused by the attitudes of one or both the persons wishing to get married. “One woman had been married six times,” he recalled, “and the seventh time was to be to a former husband. Their attitude was that if it doesn’t work out this time, they would get a divorce and try again (with someone else).”


NOTE TO NON-BLOGGER READERS: WordPress has its program set up where only WP bloggers can register “likes” and “comments” on this page. However, if you are a non-blogger, I would be glad to hear any helpful criticisms you might wish to share and, therefore, have left my email address in the “About” page (see button above the title of this post). Please, no “snarky” comments, or I will have to delete it.
Thank you for reading.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Jack McNamara on January 13, 2015 at 9:17 am

    Well,thanks. Published evidence as to why I would get married in a texas church…LIKE NEVER!

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