VARIATIONS ON THE UNITY CANDLE
The unity candle is a familiar sight at weddings. In the center of an arrangement is a candle that is not lit, flanked by two that are. At the appropriate time in the ceremony, the bride and groom move to this arrangement, pick up the two lit candles, together light the center candle, and then extinguish their candles. Sometimes the action is accompanied by music, sometimes by words from the minister, who says something along these lines:
The marriage of____and____is symbolized by these candles. The candles they now hold are the emblems of their lives as they walked alone. Now these two have consented before God and you, their witnesses, to unite their desires under God. As they in Christian devotion have submitted their own wishes to the will of God, so now each also puts the desires of the other above those of self. Thus, in the spirit of oneness and unity, this family is dedicated to God, and God's will is acknowledged to be supreme.
There are a number of variations on this theme. Acknowledging that bride and groom maintain their individuality even as they are united in marriage, some have chosen to keep all three candles burning while the minister says:
The marriage of____and____is symbolized by these candles. The candles they now hold are the emblems of their lives as they walked alone. Now these two have consented before God and you, their witnesses, to unite their desires under God. Thus, in the spirit of oneness and unity, this family is dedicated to God, and God's will is acknowledged to be supreme. Though united, ____and____remain distinct persons whose lives are now enriched through the gifts and abilities that each brings to the union they celebrate today.
A further variation is to have the two flanking candles lit by the parents or by the mothers of the bride and groom. During the lighting of the center candle, the minister says:
The marriage of____and____is symbolized by these candles. The candles they now hold, lit by their parents, represent the individual families that have nurtured them and prepared them for each other. Now, through the union of these two individuals in marriage, another family has been formed. Even as____and____begin their own family, they give thanks to God for the families of which they are still a part and into which they bring each other.
Naturally, the two flanking candles are not extinguished since they represent the two existing families from which the bride and groom come to form yet another family.
—George Vander Weit
CIRCLE OF SUPPORT
Many weddings include a promise of support. The minister asks the assembled guests:
Do you who are present here promise to pray for ____and____and support them as times and circumstances may require?
The guests respond: "We do, God helping us."
I've tried to warm that up a bit by saying:
People of God, we are present on this joyful occasion because in some way our lives have touched the lives of___and____. Today we rejoice with them. Today we pray for them. But our care, our thoughts and prayers for them continue beyond this day. Please verbalize that by responding "We do, God helping us " to this question: "Do you who are present here promise to pray or___and___ and to support than as time and circumstances may require?"
The circle of support goes beyond this, both in terms of words and symbolism. After the minister pronounces the bride and groom husband and wife, the parents are invited to join the bridal party. The bridal party, parents, and pastor are positioned in such a way that they form a circle around the bride and groom.
The minister then says:
Even though the focus of this ceremony is on___ and___, many others have shaped them and brought them to this moment. Tliey are encircled by people who have contributed significantly to their development. They are thankful for the nurture and guidance of godly parents, for the example and instruction of pastors, church school teachers, and other religious leaders, and for enriching experiences shared with relatives and fiends. They especially rejoice that the Lord Jesus has been proclaimed by and mirrored in the lives of so many who have influenced them. As they begin their life together, they pray that the Christian community will continue to encircle them, making tangible the love and support of the Savior whom they desire to serve. Let us look to that Savor in prayer.
Notice that the circle of support reflects a variety of circles—the home, the church, and the wider community. If desired, more circles could be added (for example, the Christian school or a particular person or event that was especially formative) by making the language more specific.
After this statement, the minister leads in prayer:
Lord Jesus, we know you as the one who grew in wisdom, in stature, and in favor with God and others. As ___and___trace their own growth and development, they praise you for all whose lives have enriched theirs. Continue to encircle them with the love and support of family and friends, that in their maniage your will may be done and your kingdom may be evident. You have joined them in maniage; assist them as they seek to make you the center of their new life and home even as they stand in the center of this circle. In your name we pray, Amen.
—George Vander Weit
"CIRCLE ME, O GOD"
The text for "Circle Me, O God" comes from Murna Bigler, a family friend in Switzerland, who sent it to my parents, Herm and Janice Luben, in August 1995. Murna writes:
Whenever Celtic saints felt the presence of evil or were greatly troubled they would, with a stick or their index finger, draw an imaginary circle around themselves called the Cairn. This was not a magic protection but a reminder of the real presence of God. Thought you would find the thoughts and words helpful.
My father sent this to his three children, suggesting it as a way of praying for each other and for ourselves, especially at times of crisis, stress, or travel, but also in "ordinary times."
My sister received the text the day before she left on a two-week business trip to India, and she took it with her. The poverty of India, the narrow streets and the harassment by men and poor children took their toll, and she was very distressed at the end of the day. She read the prayer, and a tune came to her, which she was able to remember and give to me when she got home.
I have used the prayer at two wedding rehearsals with brides and grooms who have been especially intentional about their weddings. At the end of the rehearsal I summoned the families and wedding party into a circle at the front of the sanctuary. With the bride and groom in the center I sang this song, after explaining where it came from. I then prayed a blessing over them and dismissed them with joy.
I have also used the song at the beginning of a consistory meeting, taking the fourteen of us outside to stand on the bank that overlooks the lake our property sits above, looking across to the city of Schenectady, to the large Ellis Hospital and various other places we recognize. We read the 139th psalm, and I sang this prayer to close our time of devotion.
My father took the text with him to Camp Fowler to lead senior adults in retreat. My sister had quickly jotted down the notes and Dad read the 125th psalm, especially the second verse:
As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the Lord surrounds his people.
A guitarist added chords to the melody my sister had quickly jotted down. A circle quickly formed, and the group quietly sang, "possessed of a new sense of being circled by the embrace of God's love. Psalm 125 had come alive" (from personal correspondence from Herm Luben dated 10/95).
This song was a gift from the Celts via Switzerland, the USA, India, to many friends. May it remind you of the One who enfolds and encircles you!
—Jan Luben Hoffman