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Wedding boogie debate

FARGO - The Rev. Stephen Current officiated at a church wedding with a dog as the ring bearer. He also has married barefoot couples.

"So, I'm pretty fluid," said the pastor at First Church of God in Grand Forks.

Fluid enough to allow a wedding party to dance down the church aisle to the altar?

Maybe. Maybe not.

The question was raised because of an Internet sensation, a YouTube video that has received more than 13 million views. It shows seven bridesmaids, five groomsmen, four ushers, the groom and the bride as they boogie, shimmy and jive their way down the aisle, choreographed with precision worthy of a Broadway musical. For added flavor, the groom does a somersault and a groomsman walks on his hands.

So, the question posed to Current and other local clergy was this: Would you allow this in your church? The results were divided. So was Current.

It would depend on the couple, their circumstances and their history, he said. As an example, he used the canine ring bearer.

"The couple trained rescue dogs and I did four tours of duty as a crisis counselor on Ground Zero, where they used rescue dogs," he said. "So, I understood how important it was to them. Some pastors wouldn't allow a dog in the sanctuary, but knowing how hard they worked to recover folks from 9/11, it seemed appropriate to me."

Pastors who approve of the entrance say that the Bible is full of celebratory dancing. Pastors who disapproved said dancing should be saved for the reception hall, not inside the sanctuary.

'Dignity is lacking'

The wedding attendants wore sunglasses and vigorously swiveled their hips, with the women pumping their bouquets to the music in the 5-minute processional. The June 20 wedding of 28-year-olds Jill Peterson and Kevin Heinz was held at a Lutheran church in St. Paul. The beaming bride, a long-time dancer, showed more modest moves in her unescorted trip down the aisle.

Current is one of many ministers in his family, so they had an online discussion about the online wedding entrance dance.

"We found it amusing, funny," he said. "I did not find it sacrilegious or indecent. It showed the joy they had of getting married."

But other clergy, including the Rev. Richard LaCorte of Holy Family Catholic Church, see it differently. LaCorte said he and staff members "marveled at the coordination" of the wedding party, but said it wasn't appropriate for a church setting.

"My view is that a wedding should be solemn, with the dancing coming later at the reception," he said.

"This really trivializes something that I don't think should be trivialized. Dignity is lacking in this. This stuff is not liturgical."

LaCorte said he doubts any priest in the Fargo Diocese would allow it, and "if one did, he'd be getting a phone call from the bishop later that day."

'Focus on God'

The Rev. Russell Whaley of Zion United Methodist said he wouldn't preside over such a wedding, adding that he's more of a traditionalist than his fellow mid-40s pastoral contemporaries.

"The thing that really jumps out at me is the music does not direct one's attention toward God," he said. "My theory is that if it's a worship service, even though it's the couples' day and a very joyous event, then the primary focus should be worshipping God through Jesus Christ. The music, the liturgy and the elements of the service should overtly respect that.

"It looked like a lot of fun, but I don't know how worshipful it was."

It's not that the dancing was too big of a spectacle and lacking in decorum, Whaley said. "I've visited many different church families and seen everything from the high Mass at a Catholic church to the charismatic congregations that can get pretty frenzied," he said. "But even in the most frenzied of situations, the focus is on God."

He doesn't have strict rules about the wedding party and the service structure. "I'm pretty agreeable for appearance and form because people are individuals, and the wedding should reflect who they are," he said. "One of my favorite sayings is that Jesus comes to live in your heart, not in your wardrobe.

"But the one thing I insist upon is that the focus is properly on God."

The Rev. Nathan Johnson of Freedom Church said he encourages couples to make their wedding personal, something reflective of themselves. So, as long as it isn't provocative or otherwise inappropriate, he would be open to a similar wedding entrance.

"Marriage is a celebration of people's love," he said. "Weddings are a time for celebration, and the Bible talks of dancing during celebrations.

"Yet, marriage is also a reverent time. At times, like during the vows, the ceremony needs to be serious."

Music is key issue

Clergy agree that music selection for weddings often is an issue. Most prefer not to use secular music. But if it is allowed, the lyrics come under close scrutiny.

"It's not the behavior of the dancing that bothers me, but the music might make a difference," said Tom Colenso, the pastor at University Lutheran. "My major concern is what is being said in the music."

The song in the St. Paul couple's wedding was "Forever" by R&B singer Chris Brown. The YouTube boogie wedding has done wonders for his song. "Forever" digital downloads went from fewer than 3,000 the week before the video hit YouTube to 50,000 the week after it was released. Sales of the album went up 130 percent, and the song cracked the iTunes Top 10.

Colenso said the lyrics likely would trouble some clergy because they're "more love-centered and not God-centered, although I don't see the two mutually exclusive." Disapproving clergy might say the song "is too much about Eros love and physical attraction rather than friendship love," he said.

"It's fair to say the words are a bit edgy, but as a married pastor, I didn't find them offensive. The words seem to fit a young couple being married."

Colenso didn't find the wedding entrance disrespectful to the church or God, but said some members of his congregation probably would.

"Although I'd be nervous about the reaction of others, if we have something as well-rehearsed and choreographed as this was, I'd say let's go ahead and have some fun," he said.

The Fargo Diocese has a song list for weddings, but exceptions can be made, LaCorte said.

Striking a balance

The Rev. Keith Becker of Hope Evangelical Covenant Church was OK with the dancing entrance. But he cautioned that other couples who undoubtedly will want to duplicate it may not be as successful in striking the correct tone.

"I believe it was honoring and not demeaning to the glory of the celebration," he said. "It shows beauty and love.

"My concern would be if it looks showy, trying to draw attention to themselves. Is it more a show than a glorify-God moment? It goes back to the heart of the individuals involved."

While there is risk in carte blanche approval of dancing processionals, the uninhibited dancing filled the pews with energy and reflected the moment.

"Some weddings have a somberness to them," Becker said. "We believe the wedding event is sacred, but that doesn't mean fun can't be a part of sacredness."

Current said he'd be reluctant to allow aisle-dancing to those who are merely "copycats." Instead, "they have to be doing it for the right reasons."

Clergy usually permit more deviations from the ceremony norm for weddings held outside the church building. But Current said that shouldn't matter.

"We don't believe that the church building itself is holy because we teach that to believe in Jesus Christ makes you a temple of God," he said. "You take God into you, not into the building."

Will it become fashionable?

Will dancing down the aisle -- or other stylish processions -- become tradition? Or will it be merely a fad?

Whaley remembers one out-of-the-box wedding in his hometown of Yankton, S.D., in the early 1970s, that didn't catch on.

"The bride walked down the aisle to the altar," he said. "She turned and whistled and then the groom came down.

"The town was aflame."