I’ve been getting enough questions about this topic that I figured I should put it on the blog and work through it with some good ol’ fashioned word vomit. Having been a member of the Mormon church my whole life, I can say I know a fair bit about what’s really important in this culture: 1) achieving the estate of eternal happiness surrounded by one’s family, and 2) serving chocolate fondue on a basketball court (in precisely that order).
Q: Where are you getting married?
A: Scott’s and my actual wedding ceremony–or “sealing”–will take place at the LDS (Latter-Day Saint, or “Mormon”) temple in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Q: What is a temple?
A: The temple is a building dedicated to God, but more sacred than a chapel. Inside the temple there are ordinances and rites performed that date back thousands of years. I wish I could say it was stuff like in Indiana Jones, but it’s honestly nothing scandalous or even all that interesting unless you know the symbolism behind it. The temple is meant to be a place that is a refuge from the world, a place where you can find peace and connect with higher powers.
Q: Who can go inside the temple?
A: Members of the Mormon church as young as 12 can attend the temple, but they must pass an interview first. The interview consists of questions about how you’re living your life, if you are an honest person, if you’ve done anything unethical, etc. If you successfully complete the interview you get what’s called a recommend, which is a little card that acts as a pass you can use to go inside.
Q: What’s a sealing?
A: A sealing is the marriage ceremony performed inside the temple. The couple kneels at an altar in a room seating up to a few dozen people and a temple priest leads them in a ritual that lasts around 5-10 minutes. It bears absolutely no resemblance to a traditional or modern-day wedding. There is no procession, no wedding party, no pomp and circumstance. Everyone is dressed in simple white clothing. The priest gives a short speech, a prayer is said that “seals” the couple’s union for this life and the next, and then it’s over.
Q: So do Mormon people not celebrate weddings like other people?
A: Here’s where it gets weird. Most people end up in a situation where they’re forced to have a sealing and a wedding. They get the big engagement ring and the fancy invitations and everyone dresses up and goes to the temple and…waits. There are limits on whom and how many can attend the actual sealing ceremony, so it can be a bit anticlimactic for those inevitably left outside. Some Mormon couples choose to have bridesmaids and groomsmen, but there is no real purpose for them. They usually end up waiting along with everyone else–in matching dresses and ties–as they have no part in the ceremony. (Another reason Scott and I have chosen not to have a wedding party.)
Choosing to be sealed in the temple makes a statement contrary to that of the indulgent modern wedding culture. There’s no place for all the glamour and pageantry and egomania in the temple, and that’s one reason I am happy with my decision to get married there (in case you haven’t picked up on how I feel about weddings from my other posts). However, as Scott and I have learned, weddings are not just about the bride and groom. They’re about everyone else the bride and groom know, and people have expectations whether they are Mormon or not. So it’s tempting, almost necessary, for many couples to try to bridge that gap. And the majority of the time, those who cross-hatch a sealing and a wedding end up with a more complicated planning process than non-Mormon couples.
Q: Do Mormon people have receptions?
A: Yes, unfortunately. Allow me to put on my Sassy Pants to answer this question.
There is nothing on this earth more dreadful than a Mormon reception. You can rent any of the 29,483,283 Mormon churches in southern Nevada for free, so that’s what most people do. The largest room in the church is the “cultural hall,” which is technically a basketball court with some AV equipment. People try really hard to class it up with organza and sprigs of rosemary or what have you but they’re not fooling anyone; you’re still in a basketball court.
Receptions usually begin with a “reception line.” I don’t know if that’s actually a thing, or if only boring Mormon people do them. The wedding party basically stands there as all the guests line up for their turn to talk to the couple and awkwardly exchange hugs for about 20 seconds each. And it’s almost guaranteed that some old dude your dad knows whom you’ve never met in your life will come up to you and give you unsolicited marriage advice. I have been in reception lines before and they are horrible and Scott and I vowed to never, ever do that to the people we love.
For some reason the standard fare at a Mormon reception is always some combination of fondue and punch. ALWAYS fondue and punch. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with fondue or punch, but really?! Be original with your menu items! And by “punch” I mean non-alcoholic, of course. So when the groom’s roommate starts playing cleaned-up R. Kelly songs, everyone is fully sober and aware of how bad they are at dancing. Then the bride gets upset because “NOBODY’S DANCING! Nobody’s having fun!” And everyone feels even more awkward.
It’s a strange thing, really: choosing a sealing because you’re faithful but being all but forced to patch together a wedding around that sacred ritual because you had the misfortune of being born into a society that is obsessed with kitsch and extravagance. It’s like wrapping a gold coin in paper maché. I stress about this a lot. I have friends and family traveling from all around the country to be with me on my special day, not because I’ve obligated them to but because they truly want to be there. And I want them there too, but I also want them to enjoy themselves even if they don’t share my beliefs. How do I do that when not everyone can participate, let alone fully understand what I’m doing and why I’m doing it?
This is a conundrum I haven’t been able to solve easily, but I’m doing my best.