Originally created 08/02/97

`More love than offering'



Every wedding ceremony the Rev. Gene Swinson conducts is one of a kind.

"I write a personal ceremony for each couple," said the pastor of GraceWay Church, who averages five to 15 weddings a year.

Besides the wedding and the rehearsal, he spends about six weeks in counseling with the bridal pair over a four- to six-month period, he said. "I use videos, workbooks and do discussion time with the couple."

"It's a pretty good bit of time," he said. And the couple usually show their appreciation with a love offering, though he says he doesn't worry about.

"It is more love than offering," the Baptist minister said.

If he goes out of town for a funeral, people will sometimes take care of expenses, he said.

Ministers never bill for their services for weddings, funerals or baptisms, nor do rabbis for bar mitzvahs. Many people, though, show their appreciation with gifts that generally range from $25 to $100, say several area religious leaders.

The Rev. Coy Hinton, pastor of Aldersgate United Methodist Church, spends at least four sessions with a couple before planning wedding details. "It is most important dealing with the relationship," said the minister, who performs about one wedding a month.

He does not set a fee. "The couple gives what they are able to do," he said. "That's not important to me."

In the Catholic church, a priest cannot charge for the services of the sacraments, such as marriage or baptism, said the Rev. Allan McDonald, pastor of the Catholic Church of the Most Holy Trinity.

He requires couples to go to a marriage-preparation course called pre-Cana and a pre-Cana workshop. He said he meets with the couples three or four times before the event.

If someone wants to give a gift, it is up to the individual. "I usually get between $25 and $50, sometimes more," said the Rev. McDonald.

"It's a gift, not a payment," said Edna Stewart, co-owner of B&B Cloth Shop, who directs weddings for close friends.

A lot of couples don't know they should give a gift to the minister or don't know how much or who to ask, she said. She and her son, photographer Richard Stewart, came up with a workbook, Weddings Should Be Fun, to prepare wedding couples and families for the event.

"If wedding consultants would get more involved with the weddings, they would take a lot of pressure off the bride and groom," said Ms. Stewart.

While a minister's presence seems an integral part of a wedding, few take it for granted. "Most grooms realize it is their responsibility to give a gratuity to the minister," said Marion White, director of fashion at J.B. White Stores.

James Woo, a wedding coordinator at Amie's on Peach Orchard Road, makes a point of reminding grooms about the love offering. "I've never had them forget," he said, though he's seen weddings held up while someone had to go back to get the license or had to

lend his ring to a forgetful groom.

Ms. Stewart recommends putting the check in an envelope with the license. "The best man usually pays the minister at the time he gets him to sign (the license)," said Ms. Stewart.

Mr. Woo and Ms. White said the rehearsal dinner could also be a time to show personal thanks to the minister.

"The amount ranges from $50 to $100," said Mr. Woo.

That was the same figure Ms. Stewart and Ms. White suggested, with the average being $75.

No set amount is expected for Jewish life cycle events at a synagogue, but they must be members first, said Mike Pousman, executive director of the Augusta Jewish Federation.

For a bar mitzvah, for example, the candidate would have to be educated about the meaning of the service, he said.

"Often there is a gift made to celebrate the event, maybe $100," he said. The money is given to a discretionary fund for charitable purposes, and not put in the rabbi's pocket, said Mr. Pousman.