August 2018

What is this thing called love?

I seem to be conducting a huge number of weddings at the moment, both here, and to the undisguised irritation of some of my clerical colleagues, overseas. And the week before writing this, i conducted a ‘mock’ wedding for the pupils of a local Primary School, to give them some idea of what a wedding is all about.

And that is a good question to raise. For there are all sorts of issues to do with wedding services which it is important for couples to think about when planning theirs. First and foremost, when I take a wedding, I do not actual marry the couple: they marry each other. Sand that makes it important that the services is what they want. yes, there have to be certain things that have to be in the service for religious and legal reasons, but that allows a great deal of scope for the service to be a personal one for the couple. Occasionally, though obviously not around here, I find there are attempts to take the service over: putting it bluntly, it usually means that the bride’s mother wants to recreate her own wedding day, and that is something I try to avoid. Equally, the couple might say some thing liken ‘Uncle Richard will be really offended if he is not asked to do a reading’ to which my reply would be ‘Is Uncle Richard getting married? If not, his sensitivities are his problem not anyone else’s’

There are issues to do with the choreography of weddings that, in my mind, raise issues. Traditionally - and those who know me well know that that is a word that sends all sorts of alarm signals going - traditionally,the bride has been led down the aisle by her father to the groom waiting to receive her at the front, like a customer waiting for his purchase at Argos. The symbolism of that seems to pass a lot of people by. But not everyone. I have conducted weddings in the last couple of years in which the bride and groom have walked down the aisle together, where the bride has been accompanied by her mother, where she has been accompanied by her son, and, remarkably, where a bride has been able to walk down the aisle on her own completely unaided.

I feel that a successful marriage is one where the partners are equal, and I and not sure that the ‘traditional’ way of beginning the service necessarily underlines that. Legally as well, there are patriarchal overtones: if a marriage takes place after 5.30pm, or if the bride when saying her vows has a veil over her face, then the groom can have the wedding annulled - and for the same reason in each case. Ponder that.

I am sometimes alarmed by the focus being put by the couple on getting married rather than being married. I have in the past talked with a couple anxious to fix a date, but, when I have casually asked when they are thinking of starting a family, have been faced two remarkably conflicting answers. That has prompted me to suggest that they go away and talk about the most important aspects of married life. And, in my book, that means commitment. For a couple getting married in church are making four very public commitments - to each other, to their families current and future, to society and to God. And each of those commitments have to work both ways. Both the bride and the groom make commitments to each other, really saying that from now on, their partner’s wishes, desires, feelings and emotions are more important than their own; they make commitments to their families, which are equally dynamic, for just as parents are committed to care for their children, so, as time goes by, things subtly change, and the children have to care for their parents: they make commitments to society in saying that their marriage will be a bedrock of society, but at the same time, society, in the form of those attending the wedding equally promise to support and uphold the married couple as they start their new life together: and while they make a commitment to God, so he equally makes one to them, for he wants them to be happy together and will always be there to help them - marriage can be, after all, a bit of a lonely place.

And those are sorts of things I hope that couples think about in preparation for their wedding - not focussing just on getting married but on being married - and it is good if they have these things in mind when planning their service. In connection with which, if you are planning to get married, do not even think about asking me to say ‘The bride and the groom may now kiss’ for I will merely tell you that, if you need permission to kiss each other, you are not ready to be married.

And finally, the reading. So often couples say to me that they don’t want 1 Corinthians 13 because everyone has it. To which I say that everyone has it for a very good reason. And it would be a good preparation for them if they read it very closely. And actually it is a good thing for all of us to do as well if we really want to get anywhere close to understanding what love really is.