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The royal wedding and the modernising of the marriage service

05 May 2011


From the Revd Dave Appleby

Sir, — The royal wedding? My word! That was dull. What an impression the Church of England has just given two billion people: a Prayer Book service with all the thees and thous.

The build-up to the ceremony, which was the centrepiece of the day, was infectious even to a non-royalist. But the service was stuffy, with no opportunity in it to con­grat­ulate the couple. What a contrast as the celebration took place after the ceremony and outside the church.

Hmm. Maybe God is telling us something.

9 Springfield Road
Leicester LE2 3BB

From the Revd Steve Jarratt

Sir, — Much as I applaud the magnificent way in which West­minster Abbey managed the royal wedding, I cannot escape a sense of exasperation that once again an opportunity to present the Church in a more up-to-date way was missed.

At an occasion where an ob­viously modern young couple presented themselves for marriage, the language of the liturgy remained buried in the past. So the world witnesses a rather quaint and his­toric spectacle rather than the expression of vibrant and relevant faith.

Most clergy work hard at weddings to engage with the issues the couple are facing and try to help them be expressed in an accessible and contemporary way. Surely that could, and should, have happened for the Prince and his bride. One cannot help drawing the conclusion that Common Worship means something slightly different from its original intention.

3 Westfield Close, Wigginton
York YO32 2JG

From the Revd Michael Lewis

Sir, — It is very sad that the Common Worship wedding service was not the young Prince and his bride’s option. This service order can be a delightful mix of solemn com­mit­ment and relaxed informality, which seeks to reflect the day.

Instead, we get the archaic order that tells the world that all the real achievement in contemporary worship has been completely ignored in the Royal Peculiar.

15 Langley Street
Stoke-on-Trent ST4 6DX

From Mr N. J. Inkley

Sir, — Last Friday, two billion people heard the numinous glory of the Book of Common Prayer in Westminster Abbey. No one has said that they couldn’t understand it.

6 Knot Lane, Walton-le-Dale
Preston PR5 4BQ

From Canon Wealands Bell

Sir, — Two billion viewers, and what do they see on the altar table? More silver and gold than you can shake a stick at while waiting to be healed at the Beautiful Gate.

Couldn’t the plate be sold, and the money used to buy some more of those delicious copes?

23 The Close, Lichfield WS13 7LD

From the Revd Neil Patterson

Sir, — With all respect, may I suggest that it might have been wise for Canon Michael Smout (Letters, 28 April) to consult the marriage services of the Church before recommending their improvement? None of the services of 1662, 1928, Series 1, the Alternative Service Book, or Common Worship requires that the groom arrive first and await a bride brought in by her father; neither do they specify her attire.

The associated giving away was made optional in the ASB, and is discouraged in Common Worship by being hidden among the Notes as an optional extra. Common Worship also specifically suggests that the couple may enter together.

As fellow clergy will know, however, a great part of what happens at weddings is shaped by “tradition” — a phenomenon now largely mediated through the vast commercial wedding industry, and also by very public weddings such as that of last week.

I know that the communications department of this diocese, Here­ford, has found engaging with the wedding industry a much more productive experience than railing against it. In defence of the tradi­tional format, it may be fair to say that many couples view their mar­riage day as the point of no return (yes, even if there are already children), and so maybe the ritual separation from parents is more important than it looks.

The more serious issue is the scale of the modern wedding, with its reputed average price of £20,000 on entertaining friends and family for a single “perfect day”. There is much controversy today at the prospect of paying only a little more than that for a three-year degree course. But that is a problem not only about weddings, but one that lies deeper in the shape of our consumerist world, eager to spend and expend rather than conserve and give. Good Lord, deliver us.

Weston-under-Penyard Rectory
Herefordshire HR9 7QA

From the Revd Jean M. Mayland

Sir, — Canon Smout calls for an effort to update the marriage service. This is what we tried to do as a Liturgical Commission when working on the marriage service for the Alternative Service Book 1980.

I steered the service through the revision committee and the General Synod, and battled, on the one hand, against people such as the Revd Brian Brindley, who wanted every marriage service to be a nuptial mass, and, on the other, against people who wanted all women to promise to “obey”.

There is nothing in the service to say what the bride must wear, or who accompanies her down the aisle. The first rubric in the ASB states that “the bride and bride­groom stand before the priest.” It is the same in Common Worship. It is left to them how they get there, and an increasing number do walk in together.

We changed the order of the purposes of marriage and put first the commitment to lifelong friend­ship and support. In speaking of sex, we wrote of “delight and tenderness and the joy of bodily love”. When Fr Brindley mocked, and said that these words and the language provided for the exchange of rings sounded “like a women’s magazine”, I snapped back that I wanted it to be meaning­ful to ordinary women who read such magazines in the hairdressers.

The preface, which the priest reads out to the couple, speaks of the couple’s belonging to one an­other in marriage and beginning a new life together in the community, and that is true, however long they have lived together before the mar­riage.

Much of this did survive in Common Worship, but that wedding service makes one change that I believe to be disastrous. Fr Brindley wanted the service to be set within a communion service or at least the Ministry of the Word. We fought that, tooth and nail, and all he gained were rubrics and notes to permit the service to be arranged in that way if desired.

We did this partly because we were following the traditional struc­ture. Equally important, however, was concern for those to be married, especially those who were unfamiliar with church services. Common Worship changed this and set the first part of the service as Ministry of the Word, with provision for a communion service, but no pro­vision for the traditional pattern.

Many couples are nervous and scared, and more and more so, as they become increasingly unfamiliar with church buildings. Until they have “said their bit” and, preferably, signed the register, they are not going to relax. Only then will they be prepared to sit and listen to readings and an address and join in prayers before going out to the music they have chosen.

No rubric or note gives permis­sion for the Common Worship ser­vice to be conducted following the traditional pattern, but some of us do so for pastoral and historic reasons. This, I believe, needs to happen more and more.

Although the ASB preface sur­vives as an alternative, Common Worship gives a longer and less poetic preface. Bodily love is referred to in terms that are more coy and churchy. I never thought we got the prayers right in the ASB marriage service, but in Common Worship they are even worse. They are long-winded and filled with ecclesiastical gobbledygook.

We need to return to the tradi­tional structure and follow this up with simpler prayers and blessings. We need more of the language of women’s magazines and even of Hello! Dresses, fathers, and the giving-away language of news­paper reports are beyond our control, but there is much we can do with what we have.

4 Hackwood Glade
Hexham NE46 1AL

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