The Rev. Margaret Jumonville is the pastor at the Canton-Scotland Presbyterian Church. 
The Rev. Margaret Jumonville is the pastor at the Canton-Scotland Presbyterian Church. CHARLIE WARNER/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPER GROUP

So you’ve ordered the flowers. The fitting for your wedding dress is complete. The bridesmaids’ dresses and tuxes for the groom and groomsmen have been picked out and ordered. The caterer for the meal and the hall for the reception have been reserved. The organist and soloist for the wedding and music for the wedding dance are all lined up. The invitations have been sent, letting friends and relatives know which big box stores the bride and groom are registered at.

Scanning the lengthy checklist, it appears as if everything has been addressed…but has it?

The majority of weddings in this area still take place in local churches. Usually the family’s pastor or priest is the person presiding over the service. Pre-marital counseling has long been an important part of the events leading up to the big day. And, according to several area ministers, it still is.

The Rev. Margaret Jumonville of the Canton-Scotland Presbyterian Church and the Rev. Matt Larson of the Burr Oak and Hesper Lutheran Churches were asked about their thoughts on pre-marital counseling. The questions posed are in italics.

Do you feel pre-marital counseling is important?

“I do think it is a must,” replied Jumonville. “I use a model of premarital counseling that helps couples identify how similar or different they are in various areas of personal style and future married life. This includes emotional style, social profile, relationships with their own families, finances, degree of risk-taking, child-rearing philosophy, intimacy, etc. This helps identify their individual and shared strengths, which both partners may use to focus on areas of greater difference and potential problems.”

Larson agreed. “Under normal circumstances, I won't officiate at a wedding if the couple won't do premarital counseling,” he said. “My counseling is not a silver bullet, but it undermines the integrity of the institution of marriage to enter into it lightly; a bit of preparation is the least that we can do. If they won't do their part to prepare for the lifetime of marriage that comes after the ceremony, I can't in good conscience be a part of the ceremony.”

Does the age of the prospective wedded couple make a difference in the number of counseling sessions?

“My counseling is built around preventive maintenance, communication, and conflict resolution,” Larson said. “The number of sessions I hold depends on how quickly we're able to get people to understand the importance of all three, and to gain at least a rudimentary set of skills around each. Age doesn't really affect that.”

Jumonville, who became an ordained minister recently, said she has only officiated two weddings so far, and they were both younger couples. So she really didn’t have anything to compare it to…yet.

What about a couple that has been previously married? Do you go about the subject matter differently?

Having officiated over 100 weddings, Larson said, “In my experience, marriages usually fail because they aren't tended to (preventive maintenance), or aren't healthy (communication and conflict resolution). I'll ask a couple entering a second marriage what happened to the first one, and why they think this one will be different. Other than that, the subject matter is largely the same.”

With the changes in our social mores', (couples living together before they wed, starting a family before they wed, etc.) has this changed the focus or message that you provide?

“I entered the ministry at a time when most people do live together before marriage – it’s a given, even in my family,” Jumonville noted. “I try to encourage couples to think about how marriage is different from cohabitation: financially, legally and emotionally. Now they are entering into a covenant relationship, like the one God models with us: mutual love and respect, compassion, commitment to working through troubles, forgiveness and grace. So for me, marriage is a whole different ball game.”

“In my whole career of officiating, I've had only a handful of couples that weren't living together ahead of time,” Larson reported. “My message hasn't changed, because what we have now is all that I've ever had to work with.”

How do you handle a couple with different religious backgrounds? Have you worked with pastors from other faiths in an ecumenical-type service?

“I've never had an interfaith wedding,” Larson stated. “I'm a Christian pastor, so I pretty much only get asked to do Christian weddings. I've had some where one person was Christian and the other was ambivalent. I've had scads of weddings where people come from different Christian denominations (a Lutheran and a Roman Catholic, for instance). In those cases, we try to do what we can to honor the preferences of everybody involved. I've worked with pastors and priests from a wide range of traditions; we focus on what we agree on, and set aside our differences on what we don't. It usually works out pretty well.”

Humorous missteps sometime occur during weddings. Do you have any humorous anecdotes you'd like to share? 

“Waterproof mascara and eye makeup save beautiful teary brides from streaky faces,” Jumonville observed.

“Sorry, but none come to mind,” Larson replied. “Careful preparation has fended off any real disasters. Most of what I've seen is the ring bearer or flower girl having a meltdown — but half the reason we have them there is to provide comic relief, so they're really just doing their job.”

In closing, Jumonville opined, “I see my role as one of preparing couples to think differently about what a wedding is. It is a public witness to the strength of their love and commitment, based on God’s gift of relationship and God’s desire for our happiness in relationship. They gather their loved ones around them, to promise they will do their best to live into the love modeled by Jesus. Marriage is not a sacrament in the Presbyterian church, but is an example of our Creator’s great gift of love and commitment.”