By Haleigh Couture
The ringing of church bells sounds once again, embracing the celebration of love and commitment for couples in Maine as the pandemic fades.
Having their unions blessed is a tradition of love that was never truly lost, just postponed. The faith is finally restored as religious organizations are able to welcome back their communities.
For some couples, having their wedding ceremony in their local church or other house of worship, is sacramental. Roman Catholic churches must adhere to Canon Law by providing sacraments during wedding ceremonies.
Kris Torrey, the wedding coordinator for the Sebago Lakes Region Parishes, said there’s so much detail and advance planning that goes into performing weddings services. As a pastoral minister overseeing local parishes in the Gorham (St. Anne’s Church), Westbrook (St. Anthony), and Windham (Sebago Chap), says things were coming down to the wire at the end of 2019.
“We average about 12 to 14 wedding services a year,” said Torrey. “Those numbers fluctuate, but at the end of 2019 a lot of people started to reschedule for 2020. Then, the bottom sort of fell out for the beginning of 2020.”
Torrey said that most couples contact churches about a year in advance to start their wedding planning. The dynamic for recent wedding services had to accommodate the needs of both the couple and the state guidelines.
“The four weddings we had last year were all very small because of all of the COVID-19 restrictions that came into play,” said Torrey.
All four weddings averaged around 20 guests. Prior to the pandemic, most church service weddings held roughly 100 people, according to Torrey. In the case of these four, all of them opted for smaller receptions. Three of which were held at the couple’s parent’s backyard.
Currently, there are nine scheduled weddings for 2021. Demonstrating an influx since the lifting of the state guidelines. People are wanting to get their marriages either booked in the church for this year or in 2022.
According to Torrey, there’s two distinct types of weddings within the Catholic Church. There is a simple ceremony or couples can request a full-service mass ceremony. The difference is communion. Torrey said communion is just now starting to be offered once again.
“The mass weddings typically are longer services because you have the liturgy of the Eucharist, which is about 25 minutes of the wedding,” said Torrey. “Then in the simple ceremonies, you have the readings of the Gospel and then the vows.”
In 2020, only one of the four weddings opted for a mass ceremony. Both ceremonies are valid, but now the parishes are beginning to see an increase in demand for mass ceremonies rather than simple ones. Torrey said she believes this is partly because of an increase in vaccinations and the flexibility the church now has to perform these services in full.
Although the uncertainty is still forcing some couples to plan their wedding ceremony for another year or so out, Torrey is optimistic that as more people get vaccinated, the pandemic will likely be a thing of the past.
“We are finally starting to pick back up and go back to normal,” said Torrey.
Neil Weinstein, Director of Congregation Beth Israel down Old Orchard Beach, saw a similar increase in Jewish ceremonies for this year. In 2020, the synagogue had to close its doors.
“Our services were extremely limited, essentially open to just the local residents,” said Weinstein. “A lot of Jewish people come up from New York and New Jersey but couldn’t attend our services.”
Allowing services for local community members only, has been difficult for Weinstein. Typically, Jewish weddings have about 70 to100 guests along with various traditions. Everything became tampered by the state mandates. Limiting guests to roughly a dozen in attendance, all of which had to wear masks and social distance.
“Typically, Jewish people want to get married within their own synagogue in their community,” said Weinstein. “But we have had a number of people want to get married here because we can accommodate to outdoor services, being so close to the beach.”
With the uncertainty of the pandemic and travel restrictions, Weinstein said many people opted to stay in their home city for services. “Another major issue was catering,” said Weinstein. “A Lot of the kosher food that people want for their weddings is based out of Boston. So, catering was a major issue having to do with the pandemic.”
As of the end of June, restrictions have been lifted and the synagogue can hold full capacities. Weinstein said services have already been more productive than last year. He reported that Congregation Beth Israel is already set to double this year’s services.
“We already received four or five inquiries for wedding services,” said Weinstein. “Normally, Jewish people would want to get married in their own communities. But in this case, we’ve had people reach out to us and want to get married here.”
Weinstein said being on the beach has provided a huge service to people. Couples are wanting to have their wedding services take place still among all the traditions but have it taken place outdoors. For Jewish couples, having their traditions take place somewhere different and outdoors has been an attraction since the pandemic started.
“Many synagogues are still very limited and closed,” said Weinstein. “But for us, if you are Jewish orthodox you can get married here, outside on the beach.”
The shifts in guidelines over the past two years have been detrimental to the way couples are having to plan for their weddings, said Carolyn Mitchell, wedding coordinator for the Portland Peninsula & Island Parishes.
“The first restrictions really limited the capacity of guests,” said Mitchell. “Ten people was the most allowed in attendance. So, for most couples, they just immediately postponed it.”
She said, most couples wanted to just get married and didn’t care who witnessed it. But having to cap your guest list at 10, left little room special guests such as musicians. “Some just wanted to get married in the eyes of God,” said Mitchell.
Even with 50 people in a large cathedral, that felt small, said Mitchell. The guests were responsible for contact tracing if anything were to happen and her services were responsible for the spacing. Make certain that social distancing was enforced, marking off every other pew so families could be separated.
Since May 24, church services have been back to normal. Typically, wedding services are requested in advance to about six months prior, but now people want their weddings sooner rather than later.
However, some people are still concerned about the weariness of the new Delta variant spreading. This is surely giving a conscious reminder to guests that things could turn for the worst. But as of now, things are open.
“It wasn’t that there was a big bump this summer, those folks kept those plans and now since May 24, couples can now invite more guests,” said Mitchell. “I’ve also been receiving more calls for fall weddings. So, we definitely are seeing a few bumps upward.”