From Canon Peter Rivett
Sir, — The Revd Professor Mary Seller (Letters, 11 September) had a particularly unfortunate experience of a recent wedding. We need to remember that these days the Church is but one provider in a "market" for the wedding "trade", which is big business.
We need, therefore, to take all enquiries seriously, as in this way many people will enter the church who would not otherwise do so. In our Team Ministry, where we hold some 15-20 weddings a year, we find that an open and friendly approach pays dividends. As a retired priest, I have the time to invite couples to my home to meet my wife and me for an informal chat, as well as the initial briefing they receive in groups in church. This has never been refused; nor has a rehearsal a few days before the wedding.
Before this preparation, couples will have received a pack suggesting biblical (and non-biblical) readings, and hymns or songs. Very often, they choose one of these, but couples often come up with their own suggestions. While we insist that one reading comes from the Bible, many choose another reading or poem of their own as well. Sometimes these are home-produced poems. It is their big day; so we normally accept them. With music, the position is similar. The only place where many have been exposed to Christian music is at school; so hymns and songs that they remember are often their choice. Again, many will also request music on CD. We have no objection to this.
I first came across applause or cheering at a wedding service in the early 1980s, when a priest introduced it as something that was done in the Canadian Church. Again, it is a way of helping people to feel comfortable in church, which for many is an unfamiliar and sometimes alien environment.
I explain that there is something that is not part of the official service, but that people have come to expect. "You may now kiss the bride." On occasion, I will say that this seems to be a bit sexist; but to say "You may now kiss the bridegroom" may come as a surprise to them. This will often raise a laugh. Again, enjoying their experience of church encourages people to return — not, we hope, for a second attempt at marriage, but perhaps for baptism, though in some cases that request will have preceded the wedding.
Our prayer is that through these positive experiences of church, they will come to encounter the loving welcome of Christ in their lives.
16 Birks Lane, Millhouse Green
Sheffield S36 9NB
From Revd David Russell
Sir, — I have experienced many of the ingredients to a wedding ceremony which the Revd Professor Mary Seller describes. Like her, I rejoice that couples do consider a place of worship for their wedding. What I endeavour to do at an early stage is to try to discern what, for them, is important about marriage and celebrating a wedding, and, using their language and terminology and reference points, show them how these values and views and desires probably already exist in scripture and in Christian tradition.
When they begin to realise that connection, then 1 Corinthians 13, for example, becomes a very powerful piece. I have no problem with secular readings, and will often draw on their meaning in an address alongside any scriptural material to validate the couple’s choice and reasoning. People often come to us without the cultural influence of liturgy, hymnody, and good old-fashioned churchgoing, but more often than not their values resonate easily with the wedding vows and the institution that Christian tradition describes.
If I can plant their celebration in the presence of God, and reflect their values back with the language of my faith, adding the message of hope that our gospel proclaims, then I believe that this opens the way for God to touch them, and, in that, the mystery of faith in God becomes part of their day as well.
And if a CD recording of ol’ blue eyes serenades their exit, so be it. He did it his way, they did it their way, and I did it my way. Somewhere along the line, God’s way draws all that together, and a marriage is solemnised.
The Rectory, 75 High Street
Wickwar, Gloucestershire GL12 8NP