An Ethnography of a religious event
AN ETHNOGRAPHY OF A RELIGIOUS EVENT 8
AnEthnography of a religious event
AnEthnography of a religious event
Marriagerituals in Christian weddings
Marriageamongst the Christians is a religious and spiritual event or ritualthat is held at high regards. It is considered as a covenantrelationship that is ordained by God. The rituals that are involvedin a Christian marriage caught my curiosity and I decided to attend aChristian wedding in New York on the 21stDecember 2013. A Christian wedding, as I observed, is a compilationof a series of rituals which culminate into a holy matrimony. Thewedding, which was between two young people, was conducted in one ofthe Baptist churches in the city. The people who attended the weddingwere full to capacity in the church. However, from my observation, Inoted that there were more women than men.
Thegroom and the bride were both black Americans from the New York City.As a consequence, the wedding was attended by higher number of blackpeople. The parents to the bride and the groom are an essentialaudience in the wedding. The success of the marriage ritual isordained by the parents. During my observation, I had the opportunityto interview the event’s organizer who was tasked with theresponsibility of organizing the wedding. According to her, thewedding had taken over a year to organize and ensure that everythinghas been put in place for the big day. It was also easy for me tonote that a majority of the people in the wedding were from themiddle class. In other words, they were people from the middleeconomic status.
Christianweddings may seem to easily be conducted however, a keen observationand analysis indicate that it involves various rituals, which must bedone correctly and in certain order to warrant a Holy matrimony.
Theorganization of the environment and the church was unique andsymbolic. For instance, the compound and the entrance to the churchwere decorated with white rose flowers. During my library research Ifound out that the flowers were symbolic of the holy union expectedto take place. The seating arrangement and the gesture of the peoplein attendance were tense and unique before the wedding started.During my interview with the event organizer, it was apparent to methat the seating arrangement was unique. The parents seat in aprominent place to symbolize their relevance in the wedding. Thechurch was divided into two with the center being the aisle where thegroom and the bride will exchange the vows. The white runner at thecenter according to Christians, is the place ordained by God to havetwo lives joined together to form one(Cooke & Macy, 2005).The white runner ran over 100 feet to the outside of the church. Ialso observed that there were young girls along the aisle who wereholding flowers. They were dressed in white, which I learnt was asymbol of purity (Wright,2001).
Oneinteresting point I noted that happens in a Christian wedding is theseating arrangement at the venue. For this case, I was made torealize that not anybody who would seat anywhere. The relatives,friends and invited guests to the bride and the groom were seated onopposite sides of the church. However, as I was to realize later inthe ceremony, the two groups interact and celebrate together when thebride and the groom are pronounced as married. According to theChristian faith, the separation of the two groups of people is meantto symbolize the cutting of the blood covenant (BBC, 2013). Thewedding ceremony in the Christian faith is meant to symbolize theunion between Jesus Christ and the Christians. As a result, thewedding is regarded as a holy union, which is ordained by God. It isvital to point out that the whole ceremony is led by an ordainedspiritual leader. I was able to note that the spiritual leader wasuniquely dressed with a long white robe. This was a symbol of hispurity and authority to certify and ordain the marriage of thecouple.
Beforethe wedding started, it was apparent that there were plenty ofactivities going on. The guests in the wedding were being entertainedwith music from a hired band. I was also able to observe thatChristian weddings involve feasting. Behind the church where thewedding was being conducted, a group of women were busy preparingmeals. It was apparent that the meals were traditional foods, whichwere meant to signify the origin of the couple. Going to the start ofthe wedding, it was apparent that all the members of the family andthe invited guests were quietly seated. The spiritual leader wasseating at the front of the church facing the crowd. The groom wasthe first to enter the church amidst cheers from the crowd. As I wasto learn later, this entry of the groom was symbolic. SinceChristians believe that Christ married the church, they believe thatweddings are a reflection of this marriage (White& White, 2006).Since Christ came for the church, Christians believe that the groomshould enter the church first.
Itwas apparent that the groom was dressed in a black suit, a whiteshirt and a blue tie. After the arrival of the arrival of the groom,the bride followed accompanied by her parents. As I was to learnlater, this gesture is a symbolism that the parents are giving awaytheir daughter to the potential husband. It also symbolizes thetransfer of care and responsibility from the parents to the husband.I also observed that the spiritual leader asked a question at thispoint. The spiritual leader presiding over the wedding asked, “Whogives the woman?” to which the father to the daughter responded,“Her mother and I” (BBC, 2013). It was immediately apparent thatthe bride was dressed in white dress and a white net. This is asymbolic dressing in Christian marriage rituals. The choice of thewhite color is meant to signify purity. In addition, the white dresswon by the bride was a symbol of the righteousness of Christ. Thewoman is believed to be both pure at heart and body.
Asit was noted during my observation of the Christian wedding, thewedding is an event for everybody in attendance. For instance, it wasapparent that everybody in the crowd would equally participate in thecheering and singing. The parents, relatives and the invited guestscome with gifts for the couple as a means of approving the marriage(Thomas,2001).The couple exchanges the vows while holding their right hands. Thisis a ritual in Christian weddings, which is meant to manifest thatthe couple commit, not only themselves, but everything else they haveto their covenant relationship. I was also able to learn the contentof the vows which was "To have and to hold from this dayforward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness andin health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part” (Wright,2001).The religious leader presiding over the wedding says the vow whilethe bride and the groom repeat after him individually.
Theexchange of the rings is a vital step and event in a Christianwedding. This is coupled by the bridal veil, which covers the Bride’sface. I learned that the veil is significant of the temple of Christveil which was torn into two when Christ died on the cross. Duringthe death of Christ, the removal of the veil was meant to give manfull access to God (Wright,2001).Equally, the removal of the veil from the bride is an indication thatthe man can have full access to the bride. It signifies that thecouple has been given authority from God to live as one and commit toeach other. After the groom unveiled the bride, it was the time toexchange the rings. The rings are symbol of commitment into themarriage. They signify that the couple commits their resources,energy and emotions into the marriage.
Afterthe rings are put and the bride is unveiled, the presiding spiritualleader pronounces the couple as a husband and wife. I noted that thespiritual leader used the words that “I now pronounce you husbandand wife” (Thomas,2001).This pronouncement is met with joy and cheering amongst the crowd. Itsignifies the beginning of a new covenant. The culmination of thewedding is realization with the ritual of cutting the cake. Thecouple is supposed to feed each other the cake before proceeding andfeeding the parents before feeding the other family members and theguests. The feeding of the cake, as I came to learn, is meant toindicate that the couple cares for each other and they have given allthey have for the sake of the relationship.
Lastly,I observed that there is throwing of the rice to the couple. Ilearned that this is meant to send a message to the couple that theprimary purpose of marriage is to create a family. The guests at thewedding threw the rice as an indication of their blessings to thecouple both physically and spiritually (White& White, 2006).The wedding was later followed by a reception in a nearby location,where the guests and the newly married couple enjoy meals together asa celebration of the Holy matrimony.
Inconclusion, it is evident that a Christian wedding may seem to easilybe conducted, but apparently it has been revealed that there is morethan meets the eye. Every step and activity in the marriage is aritual that is meant to signify something. Interesting though is thefact that marriage signifies the union between the Christ and thechurch. The marriage, therefore, in a Christian setting is anindication of purity and holiness. It is critical for all Christiansplanning on any wedding to consider the meaning and significance ofthe events that take place. I would wish later to research on thesteps followed, which culminate to a wedding. For instance, I wouldwish to research on the payment of the dowry and what it takes forthe bride’s parents to give away their daughter.
BBC.(2013). Marriageand weddings.Retrieved from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/ritesrituals/weddings_1.shtml
White,S. J., & White, S. J. (2006). Foundationsof Christian worship.Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox Press.
Wright,H. N. (2001). Thecomplete book of Christian wedding vows: The importance of how you say "I do".Minneapolis, Minn: Bethany House.
Thomas,D. M. (2007). Christianmarriage: The new challenge.Collegeville, Minn: Liturgical Press.
Cooke,B. J., & Macy, G. (2005). Christiansymbol and ritual: An introduction.Oxford: Oxford University Press.