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Planning a Military Wedding Doesn't Have to be a Saber-Rattling Experience

By Tami Faram for LIFELines

Unlike other areas of the military service, there are no steadfast rules in the marriage process. Getting married by a Navy chaplain really is not much different than getting married by a civilian minister, priest, or rabbi. The only differences occur in the way a couple chooses to marry.

Military uniforms and the Arch of Swords/Sabers mostly come to mind when couples plan a traditional military wedding, but Navy chaplains in military chapels can perform many different types of religious ceremonies.

All active-duty Sailors and Marines, reservists, and their family members, as well as Department of Defense civilians, can be married at a military chapel. A couple can be married by the base chaplain, another Navy chaplain with whom they are familiar, or a civilian ordained to perform marriages.

If a civilian minister is chosen, he or she will work with the base chaplain to keep within individual church guidelines for performing the ceremony. Chapel decor, flowers, photography, video taping and events following a ceremony, such as the Arch of Swords/Sabers, the throwing of birdseed or release of balloons, are traditions that may be considered, depending on the specific military chapel.

Goin' to the Chapel
Since planning a wedding may be one of the most taxing times a couple endures in their initial time together, Navy chaplains are available to help couples begin the marriage process.

When preparing to be married by a Navy chaplain, couples are typically asked to begin planning their ceremony three months in advance of their wedding day. Some military chapels, especially popular ones at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and the Chapel of Hope in Newport, R.I., hold hundreds of ceremonies a year. Because of the number of weddings held at the Chapel of Hope, for example, CDR Timothy Demy, base chaplain in Rhode Island, suggests, "a couple should book a wedding here no less than 90 days and not more than a year in advance."

He added that, before a couple plans to marry, he must be advised of the officiator of their wedding. A civilian can perform a wedding, as long as the person is ordained to perform marriages.

"We allow every denomination to be married here," Demy said. Each couple works with him to set their own denominations traditions for the ceremony and pre-marriage requirements, he said.

Although there may be fewer weddings performed every year at other military chapels, some chapels still will book up at certain times of the year, so no matter where a couple chooses to marry, it's always helpful to give advanced notice to any base chaplain.

To reserve a military chapel, the chaplain will ask a couple to complete an application. Most local chapels require a couple to fill out their application in person, but depending on the circumstance, some chaplains will fax an application to the couple or receive a couples information over the telephone.

I'm Gettin Married in the Morning … or Am I?
When an unexpected call to duty arises, a Navy chaplain can work with a couple to speed up the marriage process. But like many civilian ministers, Navy chaplains may caution a couple in making hasty decisions toward marriage.

If a couple chooses to have the base chaplain or another Navy chaplain perform their wedding ceremony, the Navy chaplain usually will recommend pre-marriage counseling.

"Navy chaplains help to prepare couples as much as possible," said LCDR Mark Hendricks, chaplain leader of the Ministries, Policies branch at the Navy's Chief of Chaplains office in Arlington, Va. But Hendricks added that any pre-marriage counseling is up to the individual chaplain and the couple being married.

CAPT Stephen Linehan, chaplain division director of Plans, Policies and Facilities for the Chief of Chaplains office, said pre-marriage counseling helps a couple improve on communication skills. This can be especially important for military couples who experience long separations while one or both are on duty at sea.

"We're there to support them and encourage them, and to get them to think things through before they marry," he said. He also added that it's not just the long separations military couples must endure in their marriages, but the readjustment period that occurs when one spouse returns home that can upset a couples relationship.

Chaplains will often start the pre-marriage process by having a couple fill out a pre-marriage questionnaire. An example of the questionnaire is available on Chaplain Care. Questions found in the guide help couples evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their relationship. They are offered to couples who are preparing for marriage as well as for those who are already married.

Satin and Lace and Dress Whites
Once a couple has completed the application for the chapel, they will meet with the base chaplain to talk about the type of ceremony they plan to have and about the officiator of the ceremony, similar to the process at the Chapel of Hope.

A couple who chooses to have a traditional military ceremony, complete with uniforms and the Arch of Swords/Sabers, will simply talk to the base chaplain about that. Couples can choose to have bridal attendants dressed in uniforms, tuxedos or suits and some couples may want to have a mixture of tuxes and uniforms during the ceremony.

Orthea D. Swartz, author of the book "Service Etiquette," published by the Naval Institute Press in Annapolis, Md., in 1988, explains the Arch of Swords/Sabers tradition.

"The ushers, when they are commissioned officers, usually act as sword bearers, but other officers may be designated for the arch of swords/sabers ceremony following the wedding vows." It is custom, Swartz said, for "six or eight ushers (or designated sword bearers) to take part in a ceremony." She said a local chaplain may furnish the swords or sabers, or the officers may choose to bring their own. The sword/saber bearers may all be from one of the uniformed services, or there may be a mixture of military uniforms in a wedding ceremony.

No matter what the wedding ceremony or traditions, getting married by a Navy chaplain can be as easy as a piece of wedding cake.






Related Articles: Resources: So you are getting married?


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