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Reality Check

Love and marriage

By David Ewart

If you’re old enough to remember the 1955 hit lyric “Love and marriage go together like
a . . . ,” then you’re old enough to notice that walking down the aisle of a church to get married is going the way of the horse and carriage.

Canadians are still getting married. Federal government cutbacks forced Statistics Canada to stop keeping count in 2008, but in the last decade of record keeping there were about 150,000 marriages each year. However, the percentage of Canadians choosing to get married in a United church has been in steady decline from over 25 percent in 1945 to six percent in 2008. And that trend could reach zero by 2019.

The future will not unfold in a straight line, but there are already over 700 United Church congregations that had no weddings in 2012. And the threshold to be among the top 10 percent of United Church wedding chapels is six ceremonies per year.

In my ministry, walking down a church aisle was a part of almost every couple’s dream wedding — even if they had nothing to do with the church. Those loose ties to religion in the wider culture helped us connect to the community without evangelizing. People came to us for weddings, baptisms and funerals. So we didn’t need to go to them to share our experience of what a difference trusting Jesus and being part of a community of faith makes in one’s life. But as the wider culture becomes “spiritual but not religious,” far fewer people are turning to the church to meet these ritual needs; baptisms may also cease, and funerals will be fewer.

This cultural shift is creating a number of issues for the United Church. One is that the post-war church building boom has left us with an excess capacity that is now a burden to many congregations. But perhaps the more difficult change is the need to figure out what it means to be the church in a culture that doesn’t need us. What on earth are we good for? And what is the most viable way to organize and pay for ourselves to live out those purposes?

Rev. David Ewart is a United Church minister in Vancouver.

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