It was a lovely wedding. The bride was radiant, the groom was handsome, and the attendants were obviously thrilled to support their friends. Now it's time for the reception, and the wedding couple has honored you with the request that you offer the prayer before the meal -- that you say grace. There were prayers as part of the wedding service, but the prayer you have been asked to give is the prayer at the first meal the bride and groom are sharing as a married couple.
The Purpose of the Prayer
Prayers can be categorized as praise (worship of God), thanksgiving, intercession (asking for something specific) and confession. While there may be elements of praise, intercession and confession in the prayer at a meal, it is usually placed in the thanksgiving category. This is true whether the meal is an informal family dinner around the kitchen table or a formal wedding reception. At a wedding, the purpose of the prayer is primarily to thank God for the food and for those who prepared it. A related but secondary purpose is to thank God for the newly married couple and the community of friends and family who have gathered to support them.
Who is Listening?
Unlike leading grace at a family dinner, praying at a wedding reception is a public event, involving people you may not know. The bride and groom will have invited an assortment of people -- young and old family members, friends, coworkers, business associates and former classmates. This varied group likely are not all members of the same faith tradition. They likely do not share the same values and beliefs. Some may not even believe in God.
Your prayer should rise out of your own faith tradition, but you should avoid triumphalism -- the assumption that everyone does or should believe what you do. If it is a multicultural and multi-religious group, your prayer can acknowledge that.
Prepare in Advance
Compose the prayer in advance to be sure that you have included everything you want to. If possible, memorize it. You can keep the written version with you when you lead the prayer, but if you have memorized it, it will flow better and sound more natural.
If you are not accustomed to leading public worship, practice the prayer aloud in a large space, preferably the reception hall itself. Find out if you will have the use of a microphone, and if not practice pitching your voice so it will carry without shouting. Get someone to stand at the back of the hall and tell you whether they can hear you clearly. Be aware that when a room is filled with people, your voice will not carry as well as in an empty hall.
Things to Avoid
If you did not preside at the wedding, you may be tempted to cover everything you want to say to and about the couple. If it was a church wedding, remember that a wedding homily has already been preached and that prayers for the couple's married life have already been offered.
Do not evangelize. You have a "captive audience," but this is not a license to hold forth about your faith, your view of marriage, your concern about the high divorce rate or any other topic.
Keep your focus on giving thanks for the meal, and keep the prayer brief -- no more than two minutes.
A Sample Christian Prayer
The following is a sample of a prayer that could be offered from a Christian faith tradition at a reception with multi-faith guests.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for your love, which we have seen today reflected in [Jane] and [John]'s eyes. We have come from many places, many backgrounds, many beliefs, but [Jane] and [John] have drawn us together to share this meal together, their first meal as a married couple. We are grateful for love which seeks us and finds us. We are grateful for this meal. We pray your blessing upon those who prepared it and those who will serve it. We ask that you bless Jane and John and us as we celebrate tonight. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
A Sample Secular Prayer
Ground and source of all life, we stop and recall with gratitude the gift of life. We are grateful for the love of [Jane's] and [John's] parents, who raised them from childhood with care and concern, bringing them to this day. We are grateful for the example of [Jane] and [John's] love in their new commitment to one another. We express our gratitude to those who grew and harvested the food we will share today, those who prepared it and those who will serve it. We are grateful also to the wind and the rain, the sun and the earth, who provide not only this meal but all of our life on this planet. Let us take a moment of silence now in gratitude for life. [10 second pause] Amen.