COUPLES who have a right to marry in a church in one parish of a benefice may gain the right to marry in one of the other parishes of the same benefice. After a debate on Tuesday morning, the General Synod voted to ask for legislation to be drafted.
Introducing the motion, from his diocesan synod, the Bishop of Ripon & Leeds, the Rt Revd John Packer, said that weddings were at the heart of the Church’s pastoral ministry. The legislation, he said, should extend to benefices held in plurality, and give the right to be married in an adjacent parish when the church in one’s own parish was being repaired.
The Archdeacon of Lincoln, the Ven. Tim Barker (Lincoln) said that the legislation would make “a huge difference”. He was “glad we resisted a free-for-all” when the changes were first introduced, but there had been consequences, including the one that the Synod was debating. In the more rural parts of Lincoln diocese, there were multi-benefice cures that were “very good examples of co-operation and collaboration”. He hoped that the legislation “will be drawn up as widely as it possibly can” to encourage flexibility in mission.
Canon Tony Walker (Southwell & Nottingham) said that the legislation would not compel the bishops to allow all the churches in a benefice to marry anyone with a qualifying connection in the benefice. Otherwise, it would, in cases such as one benefice that had 27 parish churches, be “a nightmare”. The change was necessary because, as in one case, a builder might unexpectedly fill the intended church with scaffolding, and there would be an urgent need to transfer the wedding to an adjoining parish.
David Jones (Salisbury) said that in his wife’s benefice everyone was worried about the Archbishop’s special licence, and he paid tribute to those who issued them for their courtesy and helpfulness, but it was, nevertheless, an irritant.
For instance, in that benefice, one of two sisters might stay at home “to milk the cows while the other goes to London because there are not enough cows to milk”. But the one who stayed at home could choose from a range of churches of different sizes, while the one who had moved to London could choose her church only through an Archbishop’s licence.
The Dean of the Arches and Master of the Faculty Office, the Rt Worshipful Charles George, said that the Office published a marriage guide to which most clergy “turn when knotty problems arise”. A new edition, with a yellow cover, would be sent, free, to most clergy at the end of July. The issue that the Synod was discussing was not “an unforeseen consequence of the Marriage Measure”, he said.
He and the former Dean of the Arches both took a different view from Church House’s Legal Office’s advice on this matter. They both believed that the issue “can and should now be read in the light of the extension to entitlement. We considered it was not necessary for the Marriage Measure expressly to change this. . .
“An amendment will be costly, time-consuming, and resource-consuming. I don’t believe the amendment is necessary.” On the other hand, he could not dispute that the amendment would bring the advantage of clarity to the issue.
The Archdeacon of Bournemouth, the Ven. Adrian Harbidge (Winchester), said: “I want us to be a Church that says ‘Yes’.” The first question those who sought to wed asked of him had been: “‘Are we allowed to throw confetti?’ Not only did we say ‘Yes’: we actually sold confetti.”
Recently, his sister-in-law, who was divorced, wanted to be married in a college chapel. He said to her that he knew a man who could fix it, “and he did”. The licence came through; then she fell ill, and the licence had to be moved to a hospice; then it had to be moved to the same day, and the licence was arranged within the hour.
“We married her at ten o’clock, and we were drinking champagne at six p.m. when she died.” His sister-in-law’s family now think that the Archbishop of Canterbury “is the best Archbishop there has ever been — because we are a Church that says ‘Yes’”.
The Bishop of Tonbridge (Rochester), Dr Brian Castle, supported the clarification of the law, but not the unnecessary expenditure of resources.
Bishop Packer, responding to the debate, said that, given the different views that lawyers had taken on the matter, a “short and sharp clarification” was required from the legal department.
The motion was carried overwhelmingly. It read:
That this Synod request the Archbishops’ Council to introduce legislation which would enable the Bishop to give directions allowing those who have a “qualifying connection” with a particular parish (under the Church of England Marriage Measure 2008) to marry in any church within the benefice of which that parish forms a part.