When a couple wants to get married, the date and the place are some of the first things they need. But if they want to be married in a church or synagogue, a lot more is involved than just booking a location.
To be married at Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills, for example, a couple must meet with the officiating rabbi three or four times, starting as far in advance of the wedding as possible. Besides planning the ceremony, they will discuss many other issues. "We cover their relationship, family, children and Jewish ideas about marriage.
"This time also helps the couple to get to know the rabbi, so it's a personal experience when we stand together under the marriage canopy," said Rabbi Janet Marder, chief rabbi at Beth Am.
At Los Altos Lutheran Church, the premarital counseling is similar. Pastor John Sullivan takes couples through a Premarital Inventory that analyzes areas like conflict resolution, financial management, parenting and marriage roles, to find where they agree and where they disagree.
"We are not just interested in a pretty wedding," said Sullivan. "We nurture a marital relationship. Relationship is where we discover holiness."
Sullivan also encourages the couple to develop a relationship with the church for support after the marriage.
Jacque Butler, wedding consultant at St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Los Altos, said, "When people are church-shopping, they can have an attitude of 'rent-a-church.' And that's not what we're about."
To be married at St. Nicholas, couples must be members of the church community. And that's just the beginning.
"We have an extensive process couples go through. It takes at least six months," said Butler. First, they must attend four sessions, led by trained lay people, that cover communication, problem solving, finances, sexuality and the sacrament of marriage and family. Then they take a questionnaire called Focus. They meet with a family counselor and then with Fr. Gary Thomas, the pastor, to discuss the results.
"These meetings are a forum to connect the spiritual dimension with the lifestyle of marriage," said Thomas. "Marriage is the only sacrament in which an ordained person is not the minister. In marriage, the couple are ministers to each other. My role is being a spiritual mentor."
This preparation may seem like a lot of time to engaged couples. But, said Butler, "I can't tell you the number of couples who have come back and thanked us."