A pastoral fantasy – or could it happen?

Nov 22, 2018 by

By Andrew Symes,  Church of England Newspaper.

“So pleased you can be here at last after all the difficulty of arranging a meeting”, said John as he ushered the young couple into his book-lined study. He followed them carrying the tea tray.  “Now, how do you like it? Milk? Sugar?”

After a few sips and some small talk, John decided to turn to business. “It’s wonderful that you want to get married in church. We get… fewer of these requests nowadays. I got your forms – many thanks. We can look at dates and so on in a minute, but first, where have you got to in your planning for the big day?”

“Well actually…” began Hannah, looking at Mark, who nodded and smiled as if to say she could express it better than him, “we don’t just want to talk about the day. We want to talk about the rest of our life together.”

The Vicar was taken by surprise and his mind started working furiously. They had never come to church, and contacted the office via the website. He’d assumed that they were just another cohabiting couple, recently moved into a newbuild together in the parish, but unusual because of a) wanting to formalise their relationship and b) going for the tradition of a church service rather than the fancy Country Park Hotel, or even, Vegas. He had been preparing himself for the usual awkwardness of having to introduce something spiritual into the conversation. But it was they who initiated going beyond the admin.

A wash of relief flooded over John as he remembered he had a few copies of a Church of England booklet on “Getting married in church”, with lots of pictures, some helpful guidance on planning, and, yes, a bit at the end about married life after the wedding. “Here”, he said, after he’d taken one from his bookshelf and surrepticiously wiped the dust off the top.

“Thanks”, said Mark nervously, “we’ve seen this online. It’s OK, but, oh dear, we might as well come clean. When we started thinking about marriage in church, we felt guilty that we didn’t know much about it. We knew a church isn’t just there for weddings and funerals. There are Sunday services. But why? And that sort of went together with our thinking about the wedding. Why? What does it mean? A party with friends and family, a sort of symbol that we’re grown up? Or is there something more?”

“And then”, chimed in Hannah, “I’ve been thinking, is marriage a prison for me as a woman, stopping me fulfilling my potential? Is the idea of having a family with children a false idol, when so many of my friends are free to stay out late and travel and stuff? And so this may sound really weird and nerdy, but we started looking at the words of the wedding service…”

“Ah”, said John, reaching for his battered copy of “Common Worship Pastoral Services”.

“Er, no, not that one, the small one”, offered Mark apologetically. “I think one of those royal weddings had something to do with it…we found her mum’s old Prayer Book that she got for confirmation. I’d always thought that the wedding service was something you had to get through. All a bit excruciating…with a Rowan Atkinson-type vicar – no offence!”

“Mark!” laughed Hannah. “I do apologise, John. Anyway, when we looked at the words, we just thought they’re amazing. Its only a few years ago that I left uni, and there it was just assumed that marriage is patriarchal, about entrenching male control of property and gender inequality, masked by the myth of the romantic happy ending. And Christianity! That was just assumed to be nerdy at best, and backward and dangerous at worst.”

“My younger brother’s at uni now”, chimed in Mark. His lot are so far removed from anything to do with church, they wouldn’t even know that Christians are supposed to be bigots.”

Hannah continued: “So there’s this amazing message, about men and women putting the other first, coming together in partnership, being a kind of picture for how God works with human beings. It’s about being fruitful, about the future. And that bit about the wedding at Cana – and it’s water into wine. To me that’s hope – and we’d never heard about it – we had to Google it!”

“It’s been so successfully erased and forgotten, like that film the Book of Eli when that cool dude protects the bible from the baddies  – have you seen it John?” asked Mark.

By now the Vicar’s eyes were wide as saucers, his jaw was actually hanging open, and he had to consciously snap it shut. The Holy Spirit working in a secular young couple; the gospel through the old Marriage Service? Impossible, surely incredible?

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