ECM Editorial Contributor
Members of a church in St. Bonifacious gave five couples a Valentine they won’t forget – a free wedding worth at least $1,500. Pastor John Braland of the Freshwater Community Church came up with the idea after realizing couples want to get married but can’t afford the expense of the wedding.
So, he, his staff and volunteers removed all the barriers by providing at no charge: the wedding license, the space, the photographer, the music, the printed program, the reception and even the wedding cake.
Over the “Wedding Weekend” of Feb. 8 thorugh 10, Pastor Braland married a couple Friday night and four brides and grooms Saturday in separate ceremonies to the delight of many guests. The five were picked out of those who responded to an appeal on Facebook.
Sunday of Valentine Week, 14 couples renewed their wedding vows. The church supplied 19 sheet cakes for all the couples.
Braland explains the reasoning of offering free weddings. “Marriage is the bedrock of society. Married couples build better families and better families make better communities.”
So you are wondering, what’s the catch?
There is none. The couples do not have to be members of the church. In fact, they don’t even have to be Christians. They did have to attend premarital counseling as part of a “Happily Ever After Marriage” series, to make sure they were ready for marriage.
“We said if you say I do; we say we do,” he said.
Pastor Braland figures including a reception, the church is saving each couple up to $2,000. The 900 members of the church are paying the bills, because they believe this is one way to build better families and a better community.
Pastor Braland is getting positive reaction to the free weddings, since the story by Todd Moen broke in the “Waconia Patriot” newspaper. The pastor probably would offer free weddings again on a smaller scale.
This is an idea other churches should try. Braland agreed.
What about those who make a living selling wedding services to married couples?
The pastor figures there are enough weddings to go around, saying these won’t make a dent in the wedding market.
Vanessa Martinson, the church office manager who coordinated the wedding weekend, said, “We want to be a church that gives something and reaches out and helps the community.”
With all the sad news lately, she said, it’s nice to have a good-news story that helps people. Come to think about it, that’s the real message of Valentine’s Day.
Don Heinzman is an ECM Publishers editorial contributor and columnist.