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‘Are you here for your banns?’ Marriage matters

28 July 2010


Sir, — The church where I am Director of Music has perhaps more than its fair share of weddings, being in an attractive rural setting near a large conurbation in the south of England. Couples, both sides of which reside elsewhere, can marry here where one has a “qualifying connection”. So I see a large through­put of families and guests.

Nick White’s interviewees (Features, 23 July) seemed, if ill at ease or even put off by the formality of the marriage service, at least observant and articulate in expres­sing their views. Many of the guests I see display no more sense of respect for the setting than one would expect in the waiting room of a register office. They seem not to feel that the place and the ceremony is “bigger” than they are. Our clergy bend over backwards to welcome them, and do not fit the cross-old-vicar stereotype.

The main point I would like to make is this, however. We charge increasingly large fees to couples for church weddings. Thanks to a very business-like PCC, my organist’s fee is £65, or £80 if the ceremony is recorded on video. A couple will receive not much change from £1000. I acknowledge that churches have to raise such revenue as they can (to pay people like me, for one thing); but the couple understand­ably feel like customers who have bought an experience and can there­fore expect to put a large amount of their own stamp on the ceremony. I feel that we may be getting the mes­sage wrong, for the best of reasons.

Marriage is a sacrament. If people presenting themselves for Christian marriage in the C of E are to under­stand this and accept the fact of the sacrament, surely one way to get this message across is greatly to reduce the amount they pay (includ­ing the the organist’s fee), while making the in­tro­ductory process more challenging.

Name & Address Supplied

From the Revd Martin Jewitt

Sir, — Now retired, I have not seen “Seven Heavenly Ways to Welcome Wedding Guests” (Features, 23 July).

Welcoming with a smile should go without question, as has been my habit as guests arrive at the door — and yet finding myself treated as totally invisible, even though fully robed. It became a fine art to change from bad temper when a bride hadn’t arrived half an hour, or an hour, after the service was booked, to recov­ering my love for the couple on this special day in their life once the bride had arrived.

I guess Nick White touches on the underlying issue, when he quotes a comment from one of his wedding guests: “from a purely business point of view — they’re the clientele: they’re using the church for their wedding.” Should we be working hard to maintain church weddings as a pastoral process, or accept the movement towards contract culture as reality?

12 Abbott Road, Folkestone
Kent CT20 1NG

From Lady Oppenheimer

Sir, — May I offer a slogan to en­cour­age Christian ministers conduct­ing weddings, to put them in a good frame of mind: Remember Cana. The ceremony that the Lord adorned and beautified with his pres­­ence would not have been a “Christian marriage”, and the bride and bridegroom were surely not baptised.

The minister is not marrying this man and woman, but witnessing, blessing, and helping them to celebrate the vows they are making to one another. Austin Farrer asked long ago “what is Christ’s concern at the weddings of his friends? We do not read that he laid down the law to them at that time, or told them their obligations — we read that he concerned himself with the supply of their wine” (A Celebration of Faith, 1970).

L’Aiguillon, Grouville, Jersey
Channel Islands JE3 9AP

From Mrs Christine Winter

Sir, — Two weeks ago, my daughter was married at St Audries Park, in Somerset, a beautiful venue that offered everything my daughter desired. She had paid £320 for the registrar to come and conduct the ceremony, believing she could have the wedding of her choice.

Before the ceremony, however, I was asked by one of the registrars to show the text of the poems to be read. It felt like an intrusion, but I complied. Apparently, they were being checked for any subversive words such as “God” or “heaven”.

I was then told to remove the “offending” words, which I felt was an insult to the 21st-century poet who wrote the sonnet, and therefore I refused to do so. Instead, I sug­gested that, if it was all right with them, the poem could be read after they had left the room. Ironically, the room was a former chapel, with stained-glass images of Jesus high up in the rafters. Just as well I didn’t point this out, as they may not have conducted the ceremony!

I felt extremely humiliated by this gross intrusion, and at such an emo­tional and important event in my daughter’s life.

I understand that a ceremony conducted by the registrar is not a “religious” ceremony — although some of the choices of vows were “I do solemnly declare” and “I take thee . . .”, taken directly from the Book of Com­mon Prayer. We were under the impression, however, that, as the letter included with the pack from Somerset Registration Services states, “the choice is yours” to “personalise your marriage ceremony”. This is incorrect. It should read: “the choice is only yours as long as you don’t mention God.”

My daughter did not have a choice, and she could not “person­alise the marriage”, and to pay £320 for the privilege of not doing so, quite frankly, is extortion. The law should be changed with regard to weddings at licensed venues.

114 South Street, Taunton
Somerset TA1 3AG

From Mrs E. Amphlett

Sir, — My husband and I are both in our mid-20s, and are both regular churchgoers. Whenever we are on holiday, we make a point of attend­ing the local Anglican church for the Sunday-morning service. I am get­ting increasingly frustrated, however, by the number of times we are greeted by the questions “Are you getting married?” or “Are you here for your banns?”

While I appreciate that this is the reason why many young couples attend church, I am beginning to resent the constant assumption that we must have an ulterior motive for being there; it would be nice to be welcomed occasionally as fellow and equal members of the Anglican community.

More importantly, however, I worry how, as so many people in the Church of England seem surprised that a young couple would want to attend church, the Church is going to be able to attract more people in their 20s and 30s to join the fold — something that it desperately needs.

The Garden Flat, Rowan House
Shortwood, Nailsworth
Gloucestershire GL6 0SJ

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