Official Stance on Divorce:
"Due to human sin and brokenness, in some cases, the marital relationship may have to be dissolved."
(from The Lutheran Book of Worship Occasional Services)
"One of the tasks of the church is to recognize the reality that one in two families deal with the consequences of separation and divorce. How can the church nurture families in transition?"
(from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America website)
Solutions to a failed marriage focus on righting the spouses' relationships with God even though their own marital relationship is over. "Through this service," writes Molldrem, "the church can speak a clear word of God's blessing to divorced Christians who seek it."
When? After the civil divorce is complete, and following at least two sessions of pastoral counseling.
Who Participates? Preferably the couple, or one of the spouses alone, with family and friends if desired.
Where? In the sanctuary, before the altar. Molldrem notes, "The power of the ritual is grounded in the place in which it is done.This is where the marriage was blessed; this is where the [individuals] return to receive God's blessing." He points out that it need not be the altar where they were married. Its symbolic presence is sufficient reminder, he says, "that they are standing before God in holy space." Candles are provided, a large "marriage candle," along with one or two individual candles.
The pastor begins with personalized prayers for hope, wholeness, wisdom and strength. "We have had hopes and dreams that now elude us.We feel scattered and pulled apart. We are in need of an encouraging word, a new vision, a fresh start."
The central marriage candle is lit, and those assembled acknowledge the sanctity and pure intentions of the marriage, and also that those intentions have met with failure, bitterness, and despair.
The couple kneel and individually ask God's forgiveness for not accomplishing their intentions in marriage. "I ask for forgiveness so that I can be renewed in faith and hope and love. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with your free spirit." When they have demonstrated their contrition and desire to shed despair, the pastor offers forgiveness: "What God has forgiven, let no one doubt; what God has set aside, let no one bring up again."
The service continues with psalm reading. Molldrem suggests Psalm 103, which offers hope during dark times-"For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward them that fear Him"-and Psalm 116, with its message of gratitude to God for delivering our "feet from stumbling."
Following psalm readings, the couple or others present can share meditations. During pastoral counseling sessions prior to the service, the pastor could help the couple create individualized prayers, perhaps asking God to help them overcome the effects of divorce and find wholeness as single people.
Now, with the pastor looking on, the couple begin the Reaffirmation of Kindness. Extending a hand of friendship to one another, they apologize and vow to right past wrongs: "I will treat you with kindness from this day forward.I will desire your well-being as a fellow child of God." If they have children, the pastor calls them forward, acknowledging the pain of this transition for them, and asking them, too, to accept that "with God's help all things are possible"-even finding happiness after divorce.
Finally, the pastor blesses the couple. This is done first together, acknowledging any children they may have: "Parenthood remains a link between husband and wife, even though they separate. Guide them.that in the love of each parent the children may know the joy of family."
Then the marriage candle is extinguished, and the pastor offers each the hope that he or she may begin to "explore new ways as to how [to] be a blessing to the fellowship of this congregation." The couple and their children are blessed, and are dismissed with the promise of God's tender care.
Word to the Wise:
According to Molldrem, the hardest part of this ritual is the Reaffirmation of Kindness. Yet he says, "At the same time, [it is] the most significant and healing." Participants have told him again and again, "This is so difficult to do, but so important to do." He emphasizes pastoral counseling before a divorce ritual, and says he usually walks through the ceremony beforehand to "[explain] what is being expressed and [address] any questions or concerns" ahead of time.