A marriage is more than a wedding

How some young Mennonites choose to plan their wedding day

February 29, 2012 | Young Voices
Rachel Bergen | Co-Editor of Young Voices

Many weddings include diamond engagement rings, expensive wedding gowns, the bride being given away, extraordinarily expensive flowers and cakes, and spending way beyond one’s means in order to celebrate a lifelong commitment.

This was not the case, though, for Susie and Kris Guenther Loewen and Brandi and Nathan Thorpe on their respective wedding days.

The Loewens and the Thorpes did things a little differently than most people organizing weddings, citing theological reasons for doing so.

They wanted to break from convention to carry through their values on one of the most important days of their lives.

The Loewens were married in 2007 in Winnipeg behind Canadian Mennonite University’s south campus in “the back 40.” On their wedding day, they emphasized the religious and community aspect of marriage, simplicity and family involvement.

They did so by not signing the legal marriage licence in front of their family and friends. They also involved many of their friends and family members, although they did not have bridesmaids or groomsmen. Instead of having the father of the bride give Susie away, their families gave them both away to each other.

“We chose to have our families walk both of us in from either side and we met in the centre,” Kris explains.

Because the Loewens try to live simply every day, simplicity was something the couple valued in the planning of their wedding.

“The pressure to spend thousands and thousands of dollars on one day distracts from the fact that you’re not just having a wedding, you’re marking and celebrating the beginning of a marriage,” Susie says.

Their clothes were second-hand or homemade, they had a post-ceremony chilli potluck at Charleswood Mennonite Church, Winnipeg, after the ceremony, and Kris’s siblings made cupcakes for dessert.

“Why would I not emphasize this [and other] values in weddings and marriages as well?” she asks.

Because the Loewens believe that weddings are often so focused on the bride, they decided to both wear simple engagement rings without diamonds.

“Weddings are really about two people getting married, not just the bride,” Susie says. “There’s no need for the bride to be the sole focus of attention. The diamond engagement ring tradition implies that the bride is the only one who becomes engaged, which is indicated with an extravagant piece of jewelry that’s unaffordable for most people. There are also a whole bunch of issues related to diamond mining practices.”

For the Thorpes, who just got married on New Year’s Eve at midnight in Kitchener, Ont., concentrating on making their wedding and marriage a ministry was very important.

The date of the wedding itself was a celebration of newness, Brandi says. “We didn’t want to have traditions for the sake of traditions, but we wanted to have a wedding that reflected Christ and his purpose for marriage, rather than what culture says. . . . We wanted to bring back the focus of bringing people together in simplicity, Christ-centred community and celebration.”

In order to do this, the Thorpes involved almost 80 percent of the wedding guests. Their parents gave both Brandi and Nathan away, and they had a community prayer space.

“Our guests came around us and, as they were comfortable, they formed a massive circle, laid their hands on us and started praying for us,” Brandi says.

Brandi also waited for God to provide her wedding gown. Before the wedding, she had gone to France on a prayer trip and felt encouraged by a friend to wait for God to present her with a gown. It was found 15 days prior to the wedding and it was in her possession one day before the wedding. “It was like God saying, ‘Brandi, I love you and this is how I’m going to show you,’ ” she says.

Both Kris and Susie advise people getting married to step outside of conventions even though there may be criticism or pressure to conform. “We also got plenty of compliments for doing this differently, though,” Susie says.

“It was worth doing it differently even though people didn’t understand” the theological reasons, Brandi says.

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