Waving the banner
"I HOPE you don't mind me asking, and I don't mean to be funny,"
said the rather tired and nonplussed lady, trailing her daughter, a
bride-to-be, in her wake, "but what are you doing here?"
And, indeed, well she might have asked.
I had just spent an agreeable afternoon as an exhibitor at a
wedding fair; or, more accurately, bearing in mind that I was
dressed in a festal cope embellished with more gold embroidery than
a Ruritanian vice-admiral, I think I had been more of an exhibit.
We had been involved in a roadshow put on by our intrepid
communications officer Lisa Williamson, as part of our diocese's
ongoing response to the national "Wedding Project" initiative - and
it was a real eye-opener.
It was Sunday, and, having just led my Lenten services in the
morning, I trotted off to the neighbouring Brighton and Hove Albion
AMEX football stadium complete with alb, stole, and aforementioned
cope, packing in addition a big banner and two gilded
floor-standing candlesticks (as you do).
Realising that I was going to have to park miles away, I
abandoned the candlesticks in the car, and, laden with the banner,
staggered over to the venue, located Lisa, and began to tout for
I HAD expected the dress and suit stalls, the catering, and the
marquees, but I was unprepared for the sheer variety of other
things: wedding singers who will compose a marriage song for you;
poets who will write the best man's speech in verse; novelty fancy
dress for the photos; Italian ice-cream vendors with bacon-flavour
ices; bridal massage and aromatherapy; exotic party-favours; and
cakes ranging from traditional triple-tiered in royal white icing
to novelty studded-bondage theme in glazed chocolate marzipan.
The other stallholders seemed genuinely pleased to see me as I
wandered round, and wanted to engage in conversation. One was
interested in debating same-sex marriage; another wanted to talk
about his own church experiences. Most were intrigued to know why
we were there, and were glad that we were participating.
Some of the exhibitors were offering linked packages: for
example, marquee plus decor plus catering. They would have been
only too happy to link up with local churches, too, and I think we
are missing a trick. Admittedly, I do not think that many of my
bridal couples in downtown Moulsecoomb would stretch to £25 a head
for a marquee in the rectory garden, but it is food for
ABOVE all, though, it was meeting the couples that was fun. Some
were there in an advanced stage of nuptial preparation, looking for
final tweaking ideas; others were only just starting, with the
potential enormity of the task (and potentially eye-watering cost)
just dawning on them.
"Hello! Are you thinking of a church wedding?" was my breezy
opening gambit, and it was gratifying how many smiled and said:
"Yes, it's all booked, and our vicar's lovely." Those ones got a
There were a quite a few responses along the lines of: "We
didn't think we could/We're not that religious/I'm divorced; so I
can't, can I?/I was never baptised," all of which we chatted about.
Such couples went off happily clutching our rather nifty
information packs, looking hopeful.
A really fruitful approach, I found, was directed at those who
were getting married abroad. I brightly suggested that they
consider a church blessing when they got home, for all those
friends and family who could not get to the wedding itself; and
generally the bride's eyes lit up when she realised that she could
wear her dress twice.
During the whole afternoon, only a couple of times did I get:
"Church wedding? Us? No way!", which was gratifying in this
increasingly secular age.
Coping with success
WE DULY dismantled our stall at 3 p.m., and I started off home.
It was at that point, in the walkway by the door to the West Stand,
as I was struggling along in my cope with the dismantled banner in
my arms, that the mother and daughter I mentioned before, clearly
late and having missed most of the event, challenged me.
I told them that I was a local vicar, but was here representing
the wider Church of England, telling people how to go about getting
married in church. The bride was reluctant to approach her parish,
and I reassured her that she would be welcome, and that a church
wedding could be for her. I gave her the pack, and she went off
looking happy, saying: "Do you know? I think I will."
The next fair is in the autumn; so count me in. The only thing
is, next time it won't just be with a banner and a couple of
candlesticks - I'll be going for a whole pop-up church. Anyone got
a free-standing stained-glass window?
The Revd John Wall is Team Rector in the Moulsecoomb Team
Ministry in Brighton.