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Betsy Kneepkens: Children marrying outside the church is a mother’s worry

May 15, 2017

My grocery store trips are never short. You can ask my husband. Even if I just have one or two items to pick up, a five-minute jaunt turns into a half hour or 45-minute excursion.

The reason is that grocery stores are much more than a place to purchase staples. They are opportunities to connect with friends and acquaintances you have not seen for a while. I rarely run into the same people, and the wide array of friends make each grocery run refreshing and worthwhile, even if I come home with nothing.

Betsy Kneekpens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

Obviously, the connections vary from person to person, but as I look back over the years, there appear to be timely themes.

In the early years, discussions included questions like, “How many children do you have now? Are they walking yet? Or are you potty training? Do you get to stay home with them, or which daycare do they attend?”

As years pass, the questions change. “Which school are your children attending? What sports or activities are they participating in?” Later you begin hearing things like, “Now how old are your kids? Are they driving? Boy, they are busy. I bet you never get to see them.”

And it is not much after that you begin talking about what your child will be doing after high school. You ask, “Work, college, military?” You tend to connect with people who are in similar situations, and as your family progresses, others seem to go through the same issues at about the same time.

In the not too distant past, the discussions started to evolve further. The most recent encounters have included, “What sort of job does your child have? Are they dating anyone special? Are any of your children married?”

I don’t have a child that is getting married, but if my friend does, I undoubtedly ask how the wedding plans are going.

Interestingly enough I have discovered a typical angst shared by many in my generation that is a result of a rather new phenomenon. I frequently hear moms in the grocery aisles share their frustration or excitement about their son or daughter’s impending wedding based on the location where their adult children choose to get married. Unfortunately, you can no longer assume that a child raised in a faith-first family will ultimately want to get married in a church.

The conversations I have had with mothers vary. For instance, those whose children are getting married in a church have expressed how relieved and overjoyed they are that their children have made that decision. The hope I hear is that faith appeared central enough to their child and future son- or daughter-in-law’s relationship that the place of their wedding reflected that priority. I think this gives the mothers assurances that faith, throughout their son or daughter’s marriage, would be a priority.

On the other hand, moms who have children planning to get married at places like beaches, backyard gazebos, or mountainside resorts often share their disappointment with that sort of arrangement. These mothers seem bewildered that the faith priority they encouraged while raising their child did not appear to resonate enough for their son or daughter to see that the logical place for their wedding would be at the house of worship they grew up in. These moms know this decision is out of their control but are frustrated nonetheless.

I think getting married outside of a church building is a massive cultural shift. Every single wedding I attended just 30 years ago happened inside a church. Now a church wedding seems to be the exception, not the rule. With six children, I can only imagine it won’t be too long before I encounter this same matter.

It seems to me that people entering into enduring relationships think so very differently these days. I have to wonder how the current culture has persuaded people of faith to think that scenery like nature or quaint buildings are much more meaningful than saying your vows at a consecrated altar or a sacred sanctuary.

How has the norm of “it’s your day” been taken so seriously that God the Father, the creator of the union, becomes perhaps a secondary or lesser thought in the wedding day planning process?

I am additionally perplexed by faithful engaged couples who may not see the significance of starting this one-flesh union, the foundation of a new Catholic family, in the spiritual home of Christ. I think the hardest concept to overcome by Catholic parents like me is that we know Catholics are so very blessed to have the true presence of Christ in our parish tabernacle, which is so special because it is not possible at other locations. Therefore, not having your wedding in a Catholic Church can make a parent, in a certain sense, think their child has uninvited Christ to their marriage ceremony.

Fortunately, I have some time to propose what really is an old idea to my children: getting married at their parish. This is such a novel concept these days that I think I can make it sound like a brand new idea before the first one gets engaged.

The significance of starting this new state of life under the best possible conditions, which include the special graces bestowed upon a newly married couple in the sacrament of matrimony, cannot be overstated nor under-appreciated. I can’t help but empathize with friends I visit with in the grocery story who are currently dealing with this situation. God only knows it may not be much time before I may be struggling with the same family faith dilemma. I can’t even imagine how long my grocery store trips will take then, much to my husband’s displeasure.

Betsy Kneepkens is director of the Office of Marriage and Family Life for the Diocese of Duluth and a mother of six.