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Weddings at the Bruderhof

January 21, 2022 by

The turn of a new year still includes for me a time of reflection on the highlights of the old one, giving thanks for many blessings. The great gifts of last year included the weddings of two of our children. Our daughter was married in June, and our son in October. Each one’s experience leading up to the wedding gave me opportunity to reflect on marriage, what we as parents want for our children, and how we in the Bruderhof regard and celebrate the union of two of our members.

As we talked with our children before their weddings, we spoke about the world in which they will be starting their new families, a world that largely considers marriage a human construct, designed for human desires, and subject to human will. We talked about our conviction that marriage is no more a human invention than is birth or death. It is a sacrament that transcends the law of the land, ordered by God as the life-long union of a man and a woman for the purpose of union and procreation. And we talked about faith that carries us through days of doubt, or grief, or any of the forces that can assail us. We told them that loving is more than liking.

A wedding at the Bruderhof

As Christians, our convictions stem from belief in Jesus, and our marriage is based on that faith, on deep love, and mutual respect. This means that we make room in our relationship for each other as individuals. Neither of us has agency over the other, and our vows to one another are immutable. We recognize that we are not saints, and we will be the first to acknowledge God’s grace – he has allowed us to be part of a church that provides an environment where this is possible. A marriage that hits the shoals is supported and restored with love and faith, and forgiveness. Divorce, in this context, is obviated; indeed, it is never an option.

Bruderhof founder Eberhard Arnold said, “Christian marriage cannot be demanded of anyone outside the whole context of life represented in the words ‘kingdom of God’ and ‘Church of Jesus Christ.’” The way I understand this, anyone who desires to live by the precepts of God’s rule, however imperfectly they do so, can ask for and enable faithfulness in marriage. The “whole context” is indeed the full continuum of respect for life, and it includes compassion and empathy, justice, and peace, values often missing in so much of the public discourse surrounding sex, marriage, and abortion. Within this context, the forces that break marriages and kill the unborn are supplanted by God’s love. Outside of this context, attempts to define marriage or decide when life begins are not only unfounded, they are destined to fail. You cannot legislate morality: to do so is to replace individual faith and conviction with laws and rights.

Every culture has its customs, and in the Bruderhof we have courtship and wedding traditions that have stood the test of time. A growing relationship between two church members discerning marriage is guided by the pastors in the community. Because sex outside of marriage is out of the question, the meeting of heart and mind comes long before physical union, which is first sanctified by vows of life-long faithfulness to God and to one another in a wedding ceremony.

A wedding on the Bruderhof is a time of high festivity and celebration, full of music, rejoicing, and prayer.A wedding on the Bruderhof is a time of high festivity and celebration, full of music, rejoicing, and prayer. The actual marriage ceremony is profound and beautiful. Hearing two people make vows to remain faithful, to always love, honor, and respect one another, is moving every time. When it is your own child, you pray again that you have given them everything they need for marriage.

Included in the wedding vows is one that places faithfulness to Christ above human love. The idea that God is deserving of a love that is greater than marital love might be foreign to some, but it is not exclusive to the Bruderhof, and we have found that faithfulness to God sustains faithfulness in marriage. C. S. Lewis says it well in Mere Christianity. Lewis discusses the initial in-love-ness between two, and the impossibility of maintaining that fire forever after, as fairy tales would have us believe. Yet –

…Ceasing to be in love need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense – love as distinct from “being in love” is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both partners ask, and receive from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other…. ‘Being in love’ first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote my other favorite word about Christian marriage, in a sermon written in letter-form, from his prison cell. “It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.” This beautifully crafted idea points to the scaffolding required for the enduring of any ideal: some form of community for faith, vows for marriage. At the turn of another year where again everything seems to be shifting under our feet, I give thanks for my church family, and the support and care given to couples who desire to live in a Christian marriage.

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Carmen Hinkey

Carmen Hinkey

Carmen Hinkey and her husband Stephen live at the Mount Community in New York State.

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