Churches in Sweden offering 'drop-in weddings' struggle to keep up with demand

Pastor Jerker Alsterlund pioneered in drop-in weddings in Sweden.(Facebook/Jerker Alsterlund)

Want to get married without the tedious preparations including sending invitations and hiring a caterer for your ceremony?

Go to Sweden where drop-in weddings—and baptism—are now common.

The idea of express weddings originated from Jerker Alsterlund, a pastor in Västerås, Stockholm, when he attended the Power Big Meet American car show in Sweden in 2008.

"A couple had asked me to marry them there, which I did," he says, according to the Christian Science Monitor. "But when I was there, another woman asked me if I could marry her and her partner, too. I said, 'that's not how it works; you have to be prepared.' But afterwards I realised that it's the church that's not prepared. And I realised that there are lots of couples like them."

Before coming back to the car show the following year, Alsterlund told car magazines that he would be offering drive-in nuptials, which resulted in 60 couples getting married, with the assistance of nine pastors.

"If they say that they love each other and want the church's blessing of their relationship, it's my obligation to marry them," he says.

Other pastors, including those from the Church of Sweden, followed suit and administered drop-in weddings in their churches. Drop-in baptisms soon came next.

Today, drop-in weddings and baptisms are offered in churches in every major city and smaller towns in Sweden.

For his idea, Alsterlund received the Church of Sweden's Innovator of the Year award.

"He has found formats that meet [Church of Sweden] members who don't belong to the parish core," according to the jury.

One day last April, 45 couples got married in a drop-in wedding ceremony in Lund.

"We've had drop-in baptism days before, with between four and 17 children baptised each time," said Josefin Andersson, a pastor at the cathedral. "We thought, if 20 couples turn up to get married, it's excellent. But then 45 couples turned up. We almost thought we'd not be able to accommodate all of them."

Each couple had a 20-minute pre-marriage talk with a pastor before doing their 20-minute wedding ceremony.

The Church of Sweden struggles with a small number of active members. And the drop-in weddings may help increase its membership.

"The church has to do something," said Magdalena Nordin, an assistant professor of sociology of religion at the University of Lund. "It keeps losing members. This way more people will get married in church, and will get baptised. And in a small intimate ceremony people pay more attention to what is being said, whereas a large ceremony means the couple is often very nervous because it's such a big social event."

Alsterlund said he get a lot of emails from couples and families.

"Around three quarters of them stay in touch. Many tell me about their parishes at home, what they think of the pastor. And many do get involved in their parishes," he said.

He said the drop-in weddings and baptisms serve as a way for the Church of Sweden to connect with the millions of its members who don't participate in church services.