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The percentages, based only on this man’s intuition, are the proper numbers to use ascertaining what people spend on a wedding, the ninety-nine being relative to the one. Weddings for the ninety-nine percent, well, they are cheap. Inexpensive may be a better word. Frugal might work too.

When my wife and I married, we clearly were in the ninety-nine percent. We were so in the ninety-nine percent our major expense was the gasoline it took me to drive from Missouri to South Carolina where she lived, and then back to Missouri. If gas prices then were what they are today, I’d still be single.

The other expense was renting my new in-laws’ back yard for the wedding, which, as it turned out, was free. The presiding minister was a friend so his honorarium was limited to a free lunch after the ceremony. Was it cold cuts? I can’t remember.

It had to be cheap; sorry, frugal. I was on a year’s sabbatical from parish ministry and working as a weekly newspaper editor in Walt Disney’s boyhood home town, Marceline, Missouri. It’s a great job, by the way, if you can’t find another. Weekly word jockeys aren’t paid much and they are exempted from overtime rules.

We could have afforded more, but I was really trying hard to live on the salary without tapping other resources. I like to think, poverty aside, we were more intent on constructing a marriage than staging an event. Yet had we spent more, even way, way more we still would be among the ninety-nine percent. I do admit to a certain snobby sense of self-righteousness for having had such an inexpensive wedding.

I mention all this having run across recent figures for an “average” wedding in the United States. Are you ready: $27,021. This is from an annual survey of young brides eighteen and older who had a wedding in 2011. Nothing is reported of child brides.

This is an uptick from 2010 when the “average” was $26,985. I found no indication where the extra thirty-six dollars went but it is more than the present inflation rate. In 2009, before the recession really kicked in, the average was $28,385. Penny-pinching of a sort marks the two later years, but figures will increase, betcha, as perceptions of economic recovery improve. I don’t know who these “average” people are, but I’m pretty sure I don’t know any of them.

Where one lives affects the “average.” New York City brides shell out a whopping $65,824; some $2,403 going for a dress alone. In North and South Dakota the more sensible brides spend $745 for the dress, but I suppose it depends on how you describe sensible.

A reception hall runs $12,116. Whatever happened to the church basement, or the Legion Hall, or the community center? Wedding budgets”if that word applies at all”range from $65,824 in New York and in Virginia, $14,203.

In a Chicago area wedding the number of invited guests ran about two hundred four at a “luxury” affair; the more ordinary sort averaged only one hundred thirty-six, proving the poor have fewer friends. A majority of weddings extended to three or more days for all the events connected to getting hitched.

I guess there is biblical precedence from that three-day wedding reception at Cana and all that wine. St. John does note that Jesus and his mother and the disciples, including those three sailors Peter, James, and John, who likely drank more than their share as sailors do, left the reception and traveled back to Capernaum where in at least one translation they “rested” for three days.

I really don’t know what to say about all this, except ostentatious excess rules the wedding biz. A friend once defined ostentatious as neighbors placing the old washing machine on the front porch where everyone can see they bought a new one. More modest folk, he said, hauled the old one to the back yard. A twenty-seven thousand dollar wedding, it seems to me, falls in there with a display of old washing machines.

I’m inclined to think that they are compensating for something, a yearning they can’t define. When we have lost the distinction of Christian marriage in society as a vocation of the baptized in the exercise of the priesthood we share in Christ, then, as Billy Joel sings, “something has been taken out of our soul.” The closest our culture can come to matching the excitement and solemnity of a wedding feast is twenty-seven thousand dollars. Ah, but what else should we expect? With all the de trop nonsense we clergy have allowed and encouraged by silent consent, it’s nobody’s fault but our own.

So I’m going to start charging a clergy fee. I shall insist on ten percent of the total wedding cost. Go with the flow, I say.

Russell E. Saltzman is a Lutheran pastor, an online homilist for the Christian Leadership Center at the University of Mary, and author of The Pastor’s Page and Other Small Essays . His previous On the Square articles can be found here .


The Knot

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