May there always be love: Songs of Praise, Weddings and Celebrating Marriage

Renewal of Vows MSW

Renewal of Vows PDF

On the 18th August this year the BBC Songs of Praise programme featured two weddings. Both were presented sensitively and carefully. What most impressed me about the presentation of both weddings was the way in which the programme carefully showed how both were not about the individual couples, but the celebration of the Christian communities of which the couples are a part. One, a United Reformed Church in Scotland and the other an Anglican parish on the diocese of Chester. What I thought was most interesting and most prophetic in the two weddings was the witness of the Anglican parish to Christian marriage by providing a low cost wedding.

In my work in education one of the areas I have struggled most with is effective Christian sex and relationships education. How do we encourage children to have a positive view of marriage, lifelong fidelity and monogamy without seeming to criticise or draw attention to the faults of, the reality of the lives of, many of their parents and family? I think one of the ways must be simply to celebrate good Christian marriages and avoid criticising others. When I was chaplain at St Luke’s School in Portsmouth we did this with the help of an organisation called Students Exploring Marriage. Christian couples would come in and talk to older groups of pupils about how they met, dated, decided to marry and so one. It was brilliant. Pupils loved talking to real people and being able to ask real questions, sometimes intimate but rarely inappropriate.

Often when working with young people in this area what is obvious is the confusion between weddings and marriage. The cultural baggage of weddings, the huge cost, the expectations are damaging the possibility of good marriages. Our wedding industry is a danger not a benefit to Christian marriage. Anything parishes can do to provide cheaper more communal weddings is for the good. In France and other places there seems to be a more down-to-earth attitude to weddings that gives them a much less charged quality. As well as helping couples have a cheaper wedding perhaps we could do more to create simpler wedding services? One of the best weddings I have attended was of friends in Brixton. After the registry office ceremony everyone got on a red London bus, along with its usual passengers, back to the bride’s mother’s house for a party in the garden.

It has been fascinating to see the development over my lifetime in public ministry of liturgical occasions for the bereaved, annual services for those who have been bereaved in the last year, All Souls Day services and so on. I wonder if we could do something similar with marriage?

Many religious communities renew their vows annually. Could we do an annual renewal of wedding vows in church?

A year or so ago my best friend from university and his wife asked me if they could renew their wedding vows in the little Oratory I have at home. I jumped at the chance and it took place yesterday. All very simple. Just seven of us including their daughter, my god-daughter. We are all communicant Anglicans and the wedding thirty years ago was within a Eucharist so there was no question that this would not be a Eucharist. I have posted the rite above.

The opening section (enriched with sprinkling with Holy Water), Collect and responses at the final blessing are from the New Zealand Prayer Book. The Preface, prayer over the gifts and post-communion prayer were from the Missal (Mass B for Marriage) and the renewal of vows the Common Worship provision. The sun shone, there were tears and hugs and it was very beautiful.

Perhaps every year might be too much? Perhaps doing this communally might lose some of the sense of specialness? But it would be good to make events such as this part of the regular life of congregations as a way of supporting, celebrating and encouraging Christian couples. Many parishes do this occasionally already but could it become more high profile in the way that ministry for the bereaved has in many places?

Of course we must be careful not to exclude those who are single by choice, circumstance, bereavement or whatever. But we don’t make things more inclusive by making less of our particularities but by celebrating our differences. When we are most ourselves others can most be themselves. The vocations to single living and celibacy are just as much threatened by our sexualised culture as is marriage, we need to support them all.

*

May God’s grace surround you and keep you all,

and so we pray

The peace of God

which is beyond our understanding

keep guard over your thoughts and hearts.

God keep you friends with one another,

forgiving one another in kindness.

May you follow Jesus in happiness or suffering.

May hope keep you joyful.

Stand firm in trouble.

Be strong in prayer.

May God make you compassionate and brave.

Above all,

may there always be love

to bind and keep you whole.

May almighty God bless you,

the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

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