March 2020

Being part of the establishment

One of the features that raise most - understandable - ire about the Church of England being the Established Church is the fact that it entitles the church to have 26 of its bishops as members of the House of Lords. Actually the last vestige of any shade of justification for this was when the ban was lifted on clergy in the Church of England from sitting in the House of Commons - a distinction which we shared with members of the House of Lords, lunatics and undischarged bankrupts (a prize for anyone who can spot a link.) Actually one of my former students was, I think, the last Anglican clergy to renounce his orders to become an MP, which he has been since 2001.

There are, however, some less obvious advantages to being the established church. One is that anyone is entitled to be baptised - or have their children baptised - in their parish church; anyone is entitled to be married in their parish church, and anyone is entitled to have a funeral service and - if there is space - an interment at the parish church where they lived or died. And I think that that needs underlining, I find it surprising how often people ask me if they can have such a service in their own church.

Let me expand a little. Baptism - which to all practical extents is the same as christening - is a thing which I (and most clergy) would also allow to anyone who has been married in the church or has a family connection with it. With marriage, there are some limitations in that we are not allowed by law at present to conduct same-sex marriages, and, when it comes to the marriage of divorced people, that lies entirely as the discretion of the vicar. I have dealt with a number of requests here and have not turned down any. The Church of England a few years back extended the range of people entitled to be mailed in any particular parish church by adding a number of qualifications.

These are the rules:

You can marry in a Church of England church if you can show that one of you:

  • has at any time lived in the parish for a period of at least 6 months, or
  • was baptised (christened) in the parish concerned, or
  • is confirmed and your confirmation was entered in the register of confirmations for a church or chapel in the parish (this will usually be the case if you were prepared for confirmation in the parish), or
  • has at any time regularly gone to normal church services in the parish church for a period of at least 6 months

or

That one of your parents, at any time after you were born:

  • has lived in the parish for a period of at least 6 months, or
  • has regularly gone to normal church services in the parish church for a period of at least 6 months

or

That one of your parents or grandparents:

  • was married in the parish

Do note the last one in the first group. There is a number of really good wedding venues in this area, and people quite often ask, if they have having their wedding reception here, whether they can be married in church as well. My line is always that, if they can come to a service once a month for six months, there is no problem: and often they arrange meetings at the wedding venue to coincide with their attendance at church. And a number of couples who have travelled a distance to be married here still continue to come to worship after their marriage.

It should also be said that, with all the services, there is a huge scope to make them very individual. I find it really rewarding working with couples planning their wedding or with a family planning a funeral to devise a service which really suits and reflects the people concerned.. (And to remove one lingering misapprehension, brides have not been asked to promise to obey their husbands for decades!)

The established church welcomes people who want mark significant moments of their lives with church services. I am always more than happy to discuss with people what sort of service they want. It is your entitlement - just one advantage of having an established church.