One of the best things about 2014 is that, for some reason, there are many more weddings in my patch than for many years. I love weddings. Together with christenings and funerals they are part of what the Church calls the “occasional offices” – not because they happen from time to time but because they are special occasions, representing rites of passage for significant moments in our life journeys.
Now it’s true for many vicars that in most years they do more funerals than weddings or baptisms – hence my excitement, especially as there are lots of christenings too. It happens that in the last few weeks I’ve had several very different conversations and thoughts about weddings.
Just a while ago we brought together some of the couples who are getting married in the Dorchester team of churches for marriage preparation.
It was an opportunity for couples to take time out together and think about what it will mean intentionally to commit to one another for the rest of their lives – and a chance to forget the worries about invitation lists and table plans.
I’m always surprised and delighted by the warm reception this opportunity gets and what a privilege it is to give people some space to share hopes and dreams and lay the foundation for their marriage, which is a lifelong commitment rather than a day-long event.
Then, a conversation with an old school friend who, like me, was married in a church wedding over 30 years ago: She was angry about weddings, feeling that it was hypocritical to indulge in an expensive ceremony and party when the thing that matters is for a couple to be committed to one another. I asked if she hadn’t felt that being married had helped her through moments when keeping up the commitment had been difficult.
Her answer was an emphatic ‘no’ but I felt obliged to admit that there were times when those public promises made in front of friends and family had really helped me.
My third encounter with the marriage conversation was at secondhand, through reports of a chaplain whose Bishop has refused to give him a licence as a priest because he had married his gay partner.
This is a couple who reflect that commitment which my friend valued highly, that commitment which has helped me and the same commitment that 15 couples are making in Dorchester this year. We need, I suspect, in this country to do quite a bit of careful thinking about what a marriage is.
I’m in danger of being upset with my friend who doesn’t think marriage matters, but she is more disturbed by expensive weddings than the commitment of marriage. The nation and the Church differ about the way single sex couples who wish to marry are treated – they may marry in a civil service but not in church. The Churches are divided about whether gay couples may or even can marry. But I think none of us is confused that what really matters between any couple is the commitment to a permanent, faithful and stable relationship. God Bless all who are marrying this summer whoever and wherever that may be.
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