Every year we see Brides and Grooms disappointed at not being able to have any wedding photography in church during the wedding service apart from the bride walking into the church, a pretend photograph of the signing of the register and the couple exiting from the church; three maybe four photographs of their very, very special day.
Its worth noting that Church weddings are on the decline and this, I have to say, I believe to be the one reason which will tip many couples over the edge into the idea of having a civil ceremony. In a civil ceremony they call all of the shots, decide what they want included and excluded in their wedding ceremony.
Yet the Christian wedding a ceremony is intended to be created by two people, and act of worship between them and God. The Minister is merely a facilitator, a guide, not someone who determines the content but someone who helps the couple honour their relationship to God.
Conflict of interest:
Let me be honest. I was a Baptist Minister for 12 years, pastoring two churches and personally overseeing dozens of weddings. So now I'm Rev. the Wedding Photographer. Therefore I have sat on both sides of the fence in this debate and I'm happy to debate the theological issues as well as the practical ones.
The Stated Problems:
What are the reasons given for not allowing wedding photography during the wedding ceremony?
First, the main reason given is that photography is not appropriate during the wedding ceremony because the Minister wishes to maintain the dignity and solemnity of the ceremony.
Second, its church policy that there is no photography be allowed during the ceremony.
Third, the Minister has had a bad experience of a crazy wedding photographer interrupting the service, climbing on the pews, or just being a complete idiot, noisily disrupting the ceremony.
I am going to deal with each of the points in turn. But at the root of all these issues is fear. Fear of being photographed, fear the service may be disrupted, fear of loosing control. Fear of non-conformity.
What I want to give you in simple language (as apposed to theological language), is how you can speak "sensitively" into these perceived problems of a Minister and a Church in order to "win" them over.
However, you must realise that at the end of the day if you want to get married in a particular church and the Minister says "No Photography" then apart from making a complaint to his boss, a Bishop or Overseer or Superintendent (allow yourself 6-9 months for that route) depending on the church, the Minister's decision is usually final.
Speaking into the Problems:
There is something which always strikes me as really important about marriage in the Bible, which after all is the source and arbiter of decisions for all things in the church, and its that the very first time we meet Jesus publicly it is at a wedding in Canaan.
I just want to flag up how important your wedding is to God and His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus' public ministry, first miracle, and first announcement of God's intention to bring about Saving Grace to our world starts at a wedding. How wonderful is that, God is intently and intimately concerned about your wedding. That's a great place to start.
So let me respond to the First Issue:
Jesus' chose a wedding to launch His message. Now what form did His message take. Scholars will tell you that 80+% of what Jesus taught was "Pictorial". That is, he spoke in images, he chose to communicate in verbal pictures.
Here are the photographs Jesus is showing the people in words at the wedding in Canaan:
- The wedding/miracles took place on the third day (Jesus' words "concerning 'His time' confirms this image) a picture of what is to come - on the third day Jesus would be raised from the dead
- Jesus' mother's response is, as IVP puts it, "a picture of the mother of Jesus..." leaving the initiative with Jesus an expectation for all future disciples
- John Stot call this a "powerful picture of true discipleship..." and the "promised time of restoration is expressed in the imagery of marriage..."
- The turning of water into wine is technically know as a "Sign", just like a "sign post", which is a picture. The sign is that, 100+ gallons of what was turned into new wine, a picture of God's gratuitous, gracious generosity towards men and women.
Without boring you to tears, the point I want to make and I hope is coming over loud and clear is that Jesus used verbal photographs at a wedding to tell the world about God and Himself. I can't help thinking that says something about God's take on wedding photography.
Also Jesus left the couple, who's names we do not know, with a lasting visual memory of their wedding day. The turning of 100+ gallons of water into the best wine, maybe Château d’Yquem which sells for £75,000 a bottle or whatever it may have been, is going to create a lasting memory for the couple and all the guests. Couple need lasting memories especially when life gets tough and it always does from time to time.
Over the years I have helped couples who's marriages where struggling. One of the first things I'd get them to do was to look back at their wedding photographs and talk about how they felt back then about each other. To remember why they got married. To relive the bond they made in marriage.
I think that's enough and you hopefully get the picture!
My response to the second issue:
"Church policy" is the way a MInister says "I don't really want to talk about this or that subject", whatever that may be. Its one of those copout clauses. I didn't make the decision and those that did aren't here, so you are stuck with the decision.
This is a difficult one to stand against because the Minister has made any resolution of the problem remote and "anonymous" - there is no one to talk to, no one to negotiate with, its been decide by some innocuous committee.
However, if you are marrying in a Catholic Church or an Anglican (Church of England) Church, or any Orthodox Church here is something to help you. To the "Free Church", Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals and alike I would say that "the history of the founding church fathers cannot merely be forgotten".
"Stations of the Cross". The church has used for 2000 years or more 12 painted pictures of the life and works of Jesus to explain to those coming into the church as disciples, who Jesus is, and what He is doing for them. These pictures are hand painted photographs and recognised as works of art, they are are referred to as "Icons". This is where the word icon comes from for those little pictures of your apps on your computers and mobile phones.
These Icons are the predecessors of photography. Therefore if a church uses the "Stations of the Cross" or has Icons (Paintings of Jesus) or arguably "Stain glass windows", surely wedding photography is permitted otherwise that would be hypocrisy and that is most definitely against the teaching of Jesus and the Bible.
My response to the third issue:
The law says that it is better for trial by jury to let a 100 criminals go free than to imprison one person wrongly.
There will always be fools. They have always existed and I'm guessing they always will. However, are you going to convict every innocent wedding photographer who respects the solemnity of the ceremony based on the experience of just one or two wedding photographers who behave badly.
Elise and I have a simple policy for photographing in Church:
- Agree with the Minister where to stand at the front and back of the church.
- Once in place do not move.
- Never get between the Minister and the couple without permission such as photographing the bride as she walks down the aisle.
- Only photograph the essential parts of the wedding so that the camera is not clicking constantly as it can be distracting.
- Any reportage/candid photography of guests at the ceremony is done when everyone is singing, again to avoid any distraction.
- Never photograph during prayers
These guidelines aren't rocket science and make for good practice as well as honouring the dignity and solemnity of the wedding ceremony.
Final thought is the main professional bodies are The Master Photographers Association (MPA) and The Society of Wedding & Portrait Photographers (SWPP) they have similar guidelines for members. Unfortunately of the some 27,000 wedding photographers listed on Google less than 3,000 hold any qualifications and belong to a professional body.
Consequently its not surprising that Ministers have had a bad experience of fools running wild in their churches. I strongly suggest that if you are getting married in Church you have a properly qualified wedding photographer. Someone who can give you an assurance of quality and the Minister peace of mind that some crazy person with a camera will not run a muck in their church.
I hope this helps all concerned in church marriages. Please do let me know how you get on with your Minister and wedding photography. If you are a Minister and would like to share your thoughts I'd love to hear from you.