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Marriage Measure: a path too wide — or too narrow?

by
01 March 2007

Weddings

Brides of Christ: Sister Elizabeth Anne CSMV, and Sister Anita Catherine Smith OHP follow the debate

Brides of Christ: Sister Elizabeth Anne CSMV, and Sister Anita Catherine Smith OHP follow the debate

THE draft Church of England Marriage Measure returned to the floor of the Synod for revision on Tuesday afternoon.

Introducing the debate, Geoffrey Tattersall (Manchester) reminded the Synod that last July some had questioned whether there was any need for a Measure at all. Others considered that the qualifying connections had been too widely drawn. There was also a query whether cathedrals should be included.

All these had been considered by the revision committee. Revised qualifications included having been enrolled on the church electoral roll in the previous 12 years. Baptism, but not necessarily confirmation, was a qualifying connection. Residence in the parish must be for no less than 12 months; but the qualification of habitual attendance at public worship remained unamended.

Attending school in the parish was no longer accepted, nor was the fact that others were resident in the parish, except for parents, adoptive parents, “and persons who have undertaken the care and upbringing of the person seeking to establish a qualifying connection”. As for cathedrals, after considerable discussion it had been decided that they should continue to be excluded from the Measure.

Debbie Sutton (Portsmouth) had been delighted when the Measure seemed to be widening the Church’s mission to the world, but the amended draft appeared to have gone backwards. Many people were now engaged in encouraging church weddings among people with no previous church connection. But the Measure seemed to be making the Church more insular and baffling. She suggested that there should be a number of pilot studies in parishes, because parish clergy were best-placed to monitor progress and discover best practice.

Jim Cheeseman (Rochester) said that a couple had come into his church saying that they had been touring local churches, and had decided that this was the one they wanted to be married in. They were met with “Come and join us,” and were now on the electoral roll. He thought that the Synod was trying to defend the Measure as though it was the battle of Waterloo. The Church needed to listen more.

“A farrago of nonsense” was the opinion of the Measure from the Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent. The revision system had let the Synod down, he said. The revision committee had listened to everybody, and had tried to respond to every suggestion. The result was “a pile of regulations that are completely inoperable”. The Synod made law and expected the clergy to get on with it. It was codswallop to expect them to summon an electoral-roll officer of 12 years previously to see if one of the couple had been listed. The Synod was talking about the mission of the Church, and few enough people wanted to be married in church any more. “We should be making it as easy as possible.”

He said that there were two alternatives: to take the Measure back for yet more revision, or “to scrap the lot, and let everyone be married by special licence, and ask the Archbishops to be more flexible about issuing them”.

Timothy Allen (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) said that the hope of the Synod had been that revised regulations could play a valuable part in the revival of the Christian ministry in this country, sweeping away the antiquated barriers to choosing a church marriage rather than a register-office ceremony. But the revised draft had emasculated those early hopes, and offered few and narrow pathways.

The pathway of the electoral roll was now very narrow; residence had been tightened up; attendance at a school in the parish as a qualification had been dropped; the pathway through parents and grandparents had been restricted, so that the chances that a couple could get married in the church of their choice, except through the complicated and expensive process of a special licence, was reduced.

The arguments against broadening the qualifications had been that they prevented the offering of adequate pastoral care, but no pastoral care was offered to those who had a register-office ceremony. Administrative problems could be overcome through trust and generosity.

The Revd Tim Stratford (Liverpool) said that both the church building and the presence of family and friends added to the significance of the “deep words of love and commitment” that the couple spoke to each other in public for the first time. “Weddings really are transformative.” There should be only two tests: the availability of an inspiring building, and being able to be in the presence of friends and family. These tests should be the measure of what the revision of the marriage regulations offered.

The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd John Gladwin, said that when the debate on changing the regulations had first come to the Synod, the mood had been that it should “open the whole thing up”. “The vast majority of people in this country want to see God’s blessing on their marriage.” But they found it difficult to access this through the Church. “Let’s take away these complex regulations, and do something simple and straightforward.”

The Revd Mark Sowerby (Ripon & Leeds) said that the Harrogate Ladies’ College was located in his parish. He was not sure whether the residents of the college would be eligible to be married in his church, although he was willing to conduct their weddings.

The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd John Gladwin, said that when the debate on changing the regulations had first come to the Synod, the mood had been that it should “open the whole thing up”. “The vast majority of people in this country want to see God’s blessing on their marriage.” But they found it difficult to access this through the Church. “Let’s take away these complex regulations, and do something simple and straightforward.”

The Revd Mark Sowerby (Ripon & Leeds) said that the Harrogate Ladies’ College was located in his parish. He was not sure whether the residents of the college would be eligible to be married in his church, although he was willing to conduct their weddings.

Alison Ruoff (London) said that the Measure offered couples a chance to come back to the Church and understand the meaning of commitment, but she expressed concerns about remarriage in church if the grounds were enlarged for couples and they “shopped around” for an incumbent. The Church should not fall into the trap of allowing marriage “for any old reason”: she asked the House of Bishops to produce clear guidelines in order not to bring the Church into disrepute.

The Synod took note of the report, and went on to debate amendments.

An amendment moved by Gavin Oldham (Oxford) sought to extend the connection beyond the parish, and include “any parish within the deanery to which that parish belongs”. The deanery was an important element of the local church and local communion, and was able to provide flexibility where a parish was unavailable or unsuitable. The amendment was lost by 117 votes to 89.

The Revd Dr John Hartley (Bradford) moved an amendment that sought to remove references to baptism and confirmation, so as not to discriminate against those, for example, who had had a thanksgiving for the birth of a child. It was a big subject, which the Synod deliberated should perhaps be sent back to the revision committee. The amendment was postponed until the other amendments had been considered.

Two other amendments fell.

Two successive amendments moved by the Revd Sue Booys (Oxford) sought to extend the qualifying connection to include persons whose parents and grandparents had been married in the parish.

The Bishop of Lincoln, Dr John Saxbee, supported the general thrust of the amendment, but was “a bit uneasy” that the C of E would be enshrining discrimination against those whose parents had never been married.

The Archdeacon of Tonbridge, the Ven. Clive Mansell (Rochester), spoke of the importance of “our church”, and “our family church”.

David Jones (Salisbury) said that no young people lived in the united benefice where he was, but their parents did, and the churchyard was full of the same family names. The situation at present was that “Every single wedding has to go to Archbishop’s licence by some fiddle or another.” Just welcome people, he urged.

Ms Booys’s amendment relating to parents was carried on a show of hands. The second, relating to grandparents, needed a count. It was carried by 152 to 67.

The debate ran out of time and was adjourned.

 

The debate ran out of time and was adjourned.

 

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