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Taking Gift Registries To New (Spiritual) Plane

I have seen my share of etiquette goofs, but I have one story that should win a prize of some sort.    I wasn’t even a guest at this particular wedding (Praise Jesus).  Rather, I was attending a religious conference for young Catholic adults, and the keynote speaker at the conference used his own wedding as his subject matter.  Copies of his “Wedding Registry” were given as handouts.

For openers, the bride and groom decided they wanted a big wedding and to invite “everybody,” which would number more than 400 guests.  How do two hand-to-mouth lay ministers accomplish that?  Why, have a potluck wedding, of course.

But it was the registry that was the focal point.  Instead of traditional wedding gifts, the bride and groom announced they wanted all their guests to do good works instead.  The registry was homemade, with the introduction, “We will be accepting gifts from this registry only.  All gifts should be described in a wedding card and delivered at the wedding.  Thank you for respecting our wishes.”  Below was a list of things to do.  Sound nice?  Not quite…

For reasons I still can’t fathom, the bride and groom assigned *dollar values* to each item, ranging from $5 to $500,000, as means of demonstrating the value of the gift to them.  For example:

  • Donate blood:  $72
  • Support a single parent; i.e. food shopping, babysit:  $90
  • Pray for the terrorists, especially Osama bin Laden:  $1,250

And so on.  The most valued item on the registry was “Go to Confession” (a Catholic Sacrament), appraised at $500,000.  So what is wrong with this picture?  Several things:

If this bride and groom are only accepting “registry gifts,” what if Great-Aunt Edna *wants* to give her heirloom crystal as a wedding present? Are they going to refuse that too?

  • Just what criteria were they using to calculate these values?  A single pint of blood that can save the lives of up to three people is only worth $72, but “Go back to church/synagogue/mosque,” which may only benefit the doer is $300,000.
  • By making “Go to Confession” as their most valued gift, they are effectively shutting out that option to their non-Catholic guests.  Only in very dire circumstances will most priests hear confessions from non-Catholics.
  • The couple effectively took public credit for the hard work and good deeds of others.  The groom became visibly emotional during his conference keynote speech when he described receiving a note of gratitude from a stranger who had benefited from one of the “wedding gifts.”

Frankly, I felt sick watching this display.  To me, the whole thing just flew right in the face of our Christian faith:  “When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others.  Amen, I say to you, they have their reward.  But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms giving may be secret.  And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”  (Matt 6:2-4) Needless to say, I left as soon as possible. 12-16-08

I asked the submission author to mail me the “Wedding Registry” conference material handout and she did.  It was even more worse than she describes.    There are 56 service “gifts” you can choose from.  My favorites are…

  • Write a letter to your senator/congressional rep to lobby for legislature that supports morality and justice…$450
  • Defer the cost of 2 buses from New Jersey chartered to carry wedding guests (teens) to Pensacola…$2000
  • Cook for our potluck reception dinner…$250

But the submission author doesn’t even begin to cover the full extent of this “registry”.  After the 56 “gift items” there are two further sections, one titled, “Talents You Could Contribute to Wedding Mass” and the second, “Talents You Could Contribute to Our Reception”.

Wedding Mass Talents include instrumentalist, singers, flower arranging, transportation of wedding party, and even making homemade Eucharistic wine.

Receptions Talents include singing, cooking, reception coordinating, playing an instrument, teaching dancing, be the DJ, make the wedding cake, set up and clean up.

While the Gift Registry items could be interpreted as a good-hearted, well intentioned attempt to serve others, the inclusion of the request for gifts of labor to execute their version of what their wedding and reception should look like puts the registry way over the line for sheer “gimme-ness” sadly justified as religious duty.   From a Christian, Biblical perspective, the only required elements for a wedding is a groom, a bride, and an officiant (and a marriage license the government requires).  Two people are just as married in the eyes of God, the congregation and the law if they married quietly in the pastor’s office.   Having crossed the long-established etiquette line that one does not dictate to one’s guests how they are to bestow gifts upon you, it was an easy slippery slope to asking people to contribute labor for what appears to be a very large wedding.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Alexis November 16, 2009, 12:47 pm

    Self-righteous prigs. This is the sort of thing that gives religion a bad name.

  • Rebecca November 16, 2009, 1:37 pm

    Wow. This one left me speechless. I can see where they started with good intentions, but if I got this my response would be that I was no longer interested in attending. Even without the “help with the labor at the wedding” section, I think the list would make me uncomfortable, but with it, I think I would just decline.

  • Audrey1962 November 16, 2009, 5:59 pm

    Wow. I am … speechless.

  • M. November 17, 2009, 3:51 am

    I was facedesking by the “pray for the terrorists” part, and then it got worse.

  • kategm December 3, 2009, 3:19 pm

    That…makes me ashamed to be a member of any religion, let alone Christianity, let alone Catholicism.
    Does it help if I said that I’ve never heard of anyone doing this so hopefully it will remain a very, very, VERY isolated incident?

    I mean…wow.

  • Claire January 6, 2010, 7:02 pm

    I’m surprised their parish priest didn’t intervene, at least with that “go to Confession” item–as the writer points out, that’s a sacrament; to arbitrarily decide that it’s worth a certain amount of money is deeply offensive.

  • Kate March 1, 2010, 8:03 pm

    Good grief. It’s such a LOVELY idea – do a good deed and let us know as a gift to us. The sounds beautiful. Then they managed to completely blow the whole thing with the execution.

  • Robin March 3, 2010, 5:12 pm

    I’m getting married this summer and we’re actually planning a registry that is all stuff people can do to help with the wedding, including doing things in a talent show at the reception, and also clean-up the next day. I don’t understand why other commenters think this is outrageous. Our friends are very community minded people and everyone we have talked to really likes this idea. They love us and have al asked to do things for the wedding such as make the cake or grow flowers so the registry is helpful to them to know what is needed. It makes them feel included and that they are part of the ceremony and reception.
    That said, we are paying for all the food and drink and no one is at all obligated to give a gift or any sort. What’s the big deal?

  • karmabottle April 26, 2010, 6:57 pm

    Well, Robin, since you asked.
    The problem with ideas like that is that everyone *thinks* their friends and family “don’t mind” or “think it is a great idea” or “really like our plan”. In reality, the friends and family just agreed to it because that is what the couple says they want, and the acquaintances don’t know how to decline without looking mean.
    Those small community minded tasks are really just tapping people for free labor and entertainment. If you figure a reception is to provide hospitality to guests, how can guests really experience hospitality when they are part of the work crew?
    The funny thing is that guests can see right through these “inclusive” tasks to what lies beneath: a bride and groom who are holding their hands out to avoid spending money.

  • Newgirl April 27, 2010, 10:37 am

    Karmabottle I’m going to have to disagree with that completely. One of the first people asked to help out at my wedding was my brother, who was asked to DJ. He is extremely blunt and open, especially with me, and I have absolutely no doubt that if he was in any way unwilling to help I would have heard about it immediately. Instead he not only agreed but talked about what parts he was looking forward to most every time I saw him up to the wedding.

    In addition my mother volunteered to make the cake and invitations and my MOH had volunteered to help with invitations and decorating on the day before I’d even had time to ask her to be a bridesmaid. (Although that is why I intended to ask her to be MOH, she loves doing things like that.) I had similar (and similarly enthusiastic) offers from many other people, to the point where I never had to ask anyone else to help out because the offer had already been made.

    It really does depend on the people involved and on the nature of the request. For some people and in some places weddings are still very much a community event, people expect, even assume, that they will be helping out because that’s the way it’s done. It would seem incredibly artificial and…strange to have a wedding where everything was done by hired professionals.

    It’s also important to bear in mind that in those situations the focus is very much on asking people (or accepting offers) because you appreciate their skills; because it would mean more coming from them that some random hired stranger. NOT because it’s cheaper or easier or allows you to have a wedding you could not otherwise have.

    However it does depend on location and social circle. Some people do things one way, others do it another and the only time I think it’s accurate to say it’s been done “wrong” is when someone attempts to cross the two with no regard for expectations or feelings.

    (And Robin I think a big part of the problem is that in this case specific monetary values were placed on the requests, which does make it look very much like the focus is on “this is how much you saved us!” and the fact that some of the most ‘valuable’ “gifts” completely exclude anyone who doesn’t follow his particular religion. Effectively if you don’t share his beliefs you can’t be as good of a guest as someone who does.)

  • livvy April 27, 2010, 4:21 pm

    There is a huge huge difference between volunteering and being asked to volunteer. The two are actually opposites. In the same way that asking for a particular gift negates the whole concept of a gift.
    A gift I choose or a service I choose to volunteer is something I want to do; a specific gift or service requested of me is something is a demand forced upon me.

  • Me April 28, 2010, 2:00 am

    Livvy, you took the words right out of my mouth. MASSIVE difference between accepting help and telling people that their labour is their ‘gift’ to you, especially when you put a monetary value on that labour. Let’s just say the average wedding cake is $500. Would you ask the person who’s making your cake for a $500 gift? Of course you wouldn’t.

    Robin, I’m sorry, but you lost me when you mentioned asking your guests to help with clean up the next day. I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt, though, and assume that you’re asking family or close friends to help – please tell me you’re not expecting your guests to clean up while you and hubby sleep in and enjoy a nice brunch.

  • nkkingston April 28, 2010, 3:21 am

    livvy: by that logic, though, all wedding lists are poor etiquette, since you’re asking for gifts rather than accepting what you might be given.

    Personally, I wouldn’t mind a help-out list, as long as it was clear you could choose to do so or not. I’d rather have a wedding jusdt with friends and family than with friends, family, and hired professionals. Assigning monetary values, and extending it to religion-specific requests is going too far though. There’s a difference between “we’d love it if rather than getting us a gift you’d donate something to the charity of your choice” and “donate $40 to the charity of our choice”. Equally “we invite all musicians to bring instruments to the reception for a bit of a knees up” and “playing music at our reception, $75” are worlds apart.

  • livvy April 28, 2010, 9:20 am

    @ nkkingston: any direct request for gifts, assistance, etc. is rude. Some people do believe that all registries are rude. I don’t think so – as long as they’re not advertised. The advertisement of gifts or any other needs/desires/etc. is what makes it rude – as the advertiser is then overtly stating that a gift is EXPECTED and REQUIRED.
    A registry is supposed to be a convenience to the gifter, not the recipient. It’s supposed to allow someone who wishes to give something to forgo calling the host/hostess/giftee to ask what they might like, which is, at best, awkward for both parties. The hosts of any party or event (other than a charity event) are the ones who are supposed to be giving a gift – the gift of their hospitality. The gift of your company (or at least your timely response to the invitation) should be the only expectation.

    Any dist

  • Newgirl April 30, 2010, 10:17 am

    Livvy I’m curious; I agree that a registry is fine as long as it’s not advertised but if that’s the case I can’t understand how it saves guests from having to call the host or future recipient as they’d still have to get in touch to find out where they’re registered. Unless guests are expected to travel around every likely store in the area to ask if they have a registry for the couple.

    (I’m also inclined to think that if you’re invited to a wedding you should know at least one of the people involved well enough that calling to speak to them is not a chore, but that’s a whole other topic.)

  • Michelle Prieur June 14, 2010, 12:18 am

    Robin, the problem is “making a registry.” A registry is not a list of ways for other people to do what they shouldn’t be expected to do as guests. By all means, when someone offers to help, take them up on it with something small. you DO NOT create a list of things that other people should do to make your wedding nice. It is your responsibility as the host, not the guests.

  • essie August 20, 2010, 2:07 pm

    “livvy: by that logic, though, all wedding lists are poor etiquette, since you’re asking for gifts rather than accepting what you might be given.”

    DING! DING! DING! DING! DING! DING! Got it in one, nkkingston! Congratulations!

  • honesttogoodness November 15, 2010, 3:14 pm

    Not sure if this is bad etiquette… honestly, I think it is. If I were invited to this wedding, and had recieved such an invitation, I would have done as much on it as I could have… in my own way. I’m a Wiccan. So, I couldn’t go to Confession. I COULD, however, host my own Confession with my Goddess. I COULD write a letter to a Senator supporting something that I consider “moral” but they may not.

    Yeah. Definately not good etiquette. But isn’t it fun to think about?

  • Mrs. Matteson June 12, 2011, 8:10 am

    While this couple obviously went overboard with the concept(assigning dollar values, etc.), I think that the concept of using volunteer labor is employed by many tight-knit faith communities to allow weddings to be more affordable and yet accommodate family and friends. When my parents got married, church ladies catered a simple reception with finger sandwiches, punch and cake. More recently, I have seen churches pull together a simple wedding in a week for new believers who are living together but have not yet married.

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