Sunday, 12 October 2008

More Church Weddings?

My local newspaper, the Reading Evening Post, has recently appointed a Faith Reporter to work alongside the Health reporter and the Education reporter et al and it has made a difference to our reported news. Here is a recent example -

"Couples planning to tie the knot now have greater choice over church weddings, thanks to new rules that came into force yestersay. Before the Church of England's new Marriage Measure, brides and groom-to-be would often have their perfect day marred by not being able to get married in their parents' church or the one they grew up in if they themselves were not still members of the parish.

But now couples can get married in any Anglican church in the country as long as they can prove they have a link to it. Couples just need to prove that one of them was baptised or confirmed in the parish, has lived in the parish or attended church there for at least six months. They can also wed there if their parents or grandparents married there and if one of their parents attends the church or lives in the area.

The Bishop of Reading, Stephen cottrell, who spearheaded the national launch, said, 'People want to get married in church but often the laws we used to have reflected a different society. When our laws were first nmade we didn't live in a mobile society like we do now. People were born and lived and died in the same place but now we all move around a lot.

It wasn't impossible in the past for people to get married in a different church but it was very complicated. We're trying to make it easier for people now. Really it's common sense and it's what people want. It's part of the church wanting to offer a beter service to people. I wish it had happened 10 years ago.'

A special wedding breakfast took place at St. Laurence's Church, Friar Street, yesterday to launch the new law. Workers were treated to uplifting choruses from the Souls of Prophecy Gospel Choir who sang outside the church, while the bishop spoke to passers-by about the new law.

Around 120 vicars from Berkshire aslo visited Greyfriars Church, Friar Street, yesterday to learn about the changes the new law will bring. All vicars in England have to complete a legal refresher course to hear about the Marriage Measure.

The Church of England worked with wedding experts on the laws after a survey by the company found that more people would choose a church wedding if they knew one was possible. The study also found that 53 per cent of the general population think church weddings 'feel more proper'."

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Source: Reading Evening Post 2/10/08


PamBG said...

This is generally a good idea.

I wonder, though, whether pretty historical churches are going to be innundated with requests and how this might affect those other churches around them?

There is one of these 'pretty churches' in a deanery near here and the vicar already has a lot of requests. I can imagine that many people will want to get married in that church rather than the less attractive options a half a mile away?

(This won't actually affect my churches as no one wants to get married in them anyway! I'll have left here in July without doing a single wedding in one of my own churches.)

Olive Morgan said...

Such a pity that you won't have had a wedding in any of your churches!

I omitted a paragraph or two from the Reading Evening Post article in order to try to evoke comments like yours! The article included, "Father Nigel Hardcastle, vicar of St. Bartholomew'sChurch in Erleigh Road, reading, said while he welcomed the idea in principle, there would be 'teething problems'. He said, 'There might be a few churches that are so pretty that they get absolutely overwhelmed by requests. When people come to us and tell us that their parents once lived in the area for six months when they were babies, we are going to have to take their word for it. But on the whole the new measures are welcoming people and that has to be encouraged.'"

My reply to this would be -
What if a pretty church is overwhelmed by rquests? A genuine connection would need to be established first. If there are still too many ishing to be married in that church, why not go ahead with them, either by celebrating one after the other on Saturdays or by celebrating weddings on other days of the week - if necessary bringing other clergy in to help out? The wedding of my great-niece, that I reported on recently, took place on a Friday at their local Anglican church, thus allowing any guests who could not have leave from work to attend the evening reception - not quite the same but I heard no complaints. I'm sure no vicar woulld complain at an increase in genuine marriages at his church! The other vicars might, but perhaps they could go out of their way to beautify their less attractive churches to tempt couples to get married there!

PamBG said...

Olive - I mostly agree with you.

I'd point out that we are desperately, desperately short of ministers out here in the country. I certainly didn't realise this when I was living in London.

The Anglican churches around here are desperately short of ministers; a number of parishes have vacancies and are operating on one minister as it is. And most non-churched people in the countryside want an Anglican church funeral and an Anglican baptism.

An Anglican colleague in my area in an interregnum situation does four Sunday services, several private baptisms on a Sunday and at least two or three funerals a week. I don't know how he does it. And then people tell you not to work so hard, but how would he say 'no' to any of that?

The chap with the pretty church - who is well loved in the town and is a really lovely man - says that his greatest frustration with the weddings is that he can't seem to establish any way of making on-going contact with couples. He said that he often feels like just one of the many wedding service providers. I think we have to do these things out of love and the goodness of our hearts and hope that they plant seeds for sowing later.

I really feel that the general public don't understand the strain that churches are under in the country. Ten ladies over 75 can't do all the social services that people want from the church. We can't do it with half the clergy necessary and we can't do it with no money either. I'm astounded at the number of people who have grumbled about churches charging £6 an hour (barely pays for the heating in the winter) for meeting facilities 'When you get money from the government' - I wish!!!

It's probably not an issue for the Methodist Church since we are a membership society and have to cut our suit to fit our cloth. But I feel strongly that if society in general wants services from the Anglican church, if they want that big old listed building (thank God I don't have any of those!) available for their baptisms, weddings and funerals, then there better be some support from society. How can small elderly congregations be expected to stump up £100,000 for roof repairs on an old monster of an Anglican church - as is happening in one parish here?

Why should people expect to turn up and pay £250 for their wedding, nothing for their 'christening', £150 for the funeral and think that somehow the church is going to magically be there when they need it? We will, of course, try our very best. But we seem to be the only organisation that is expected to provide time-consuming services using only a Fairy Liquid bottle and a bit of old string.

Rant over. ;-)

Olive Morgan said...

Phew! That heartfelt outburst knocked me off balance, Pam. I am not ordained, like you, so cannot share your experiences, but it seems to me that we all have to stand back and look at this new sitaution and see it as a possible harvest. We cannot see God's plan and, as you rightly say, seeds may be sown - even if the priest feels that he is just part of the wedding package sometimes.

My Minister here would tell you that the first time he was in a church was on his wedding day and what he heard then caused him to have a Damascus Road experience on his honeymoon. His story is a very powerful one!

'What then can we do?' is a question we need to ask, as our Christian forefathers have always asked. If this is a God-given opportunity, He will also supply the people and the strength to cope with His challenge.

First, where are the earnest, fervent prayers of the people to support the priests? Out of prayer come answers and God's powerful solutions and provision.

Then, this humble layperson can't help asking whether our clergy need to find new ways of working to meet this new challenge (and without too much overworking). On a secular level, Waitrose wouldn't deal with an extra heavy influx of customers by saying 'Don't come to us. Go to Sainsbury's. We haven't got the staff to cope with you yet. Perhaps in a few years' time we'll be glad to welcome you.' They would have a complete re-organisation, perhaps opening at different times, changing their stock to suit the new demand, reorganising their staff for maximum efficiency and whenever possible recruiting new staff.

Who knows, perhaps there are men and women who are faintly hearing God calling them to the Ministry who would be stimulated if they were really challenged to join forces and allow God to use them?

[Sorry, Pam! End of my rant!]

PamBG said...

Olive - we can all have our rants. And I don't think it's a question of lay and ordained.

I often get the feeling on the internet that when I say 'We really don't have the people' that it gets translated into 'I can't be bothered to empower lay people and we could do it really if we just put a bit of effort into it.' When the fact is that the church - in this part of the country, at least - really doesn't have the people.

To be honest, the more this bums-on-pews agenda gets pushed, the more genuinely convinced I am that it's the wrong emphasis. I have the strong feeling that we are trying to play the part of the Holy Spirit.

I honestly 'just' think it's my job to preach the gospel, to administer the sacraments and to pastor people. Yes, I agree that any pastoral service can be an opportunity to evangelise but I also think that desperately trying to use weddings and funerals to make new members is a non-starter.

I'm genuinely pleased for your minister's testimony, but my bet is that God was in charge of his conviction and conversion. And the Christian community was there, in faithfulness, to nurture him on the road to discipleship.

And I do think that the new laws about marriage are a good thing, because anything that makes the Church look authoritarian is incredibly unhelpful. But I agree it will cause 'teething problems'.

Olive Morgan said...

Oh dear! I'm afraid you've got the wrong idea if you think this is a 'bums-on-pews exercise, and that is cetainly not the way I work.
As I see it, it is a move to make the Anglican church more welcoming, and that is to be applauded. I didn't suggest, and I very much doubt that the Church of england thought, that this relaxation was a means to get 'bums on seats'.

PamBG said...

We're not doing a very good job of communicating, sorry Olive.

No, I don't think you're about bums on pews. It does often feel like what's coming down from the top is 'do more and more and more; think of lots of new initiatives'.

As a 'completer' I find the whole thing exhausting.

Olive Morgan said...

Yes, pam, your comments here and, on your own blog, 'I'm tired of blogging' gave me that impression. It can't be easy for your ministry this year as you prepare for your return 'home'. Also it can't be right for Ministers to be so over-stretched. I would like to think that a way could be found for Ministers to help each other ecumenically and for the laity to be inspired to share more of the burden. My Disciple course this week deals with the Jews in a very tough situation, needing rebuilding, and the question is asked 'What then CAN we do?' I have always found that wherever possible it is best o ignore the negative and emphasise the positive. You can be assured of my prayers.

PamBG said...

Olive - The 'ecumenical scene' here is actually very good, and the entire circuit is working more and more closely with various bits of the Church of England.

My brief views are that in both the C of E and Methodism lots of church buildings need to close. I'm very aware of the pastoral implications of that but I think it needs to be done if there is going to be any kind of vitality in the church.

If society in general wants the C of E for its rites of passage, then there should be some financial support from outside the church. I don't advocate that for the Methodist Church as I see us as a membership society that should stand or fall on our own recognizance.

I also think that, as a church, we have to accept the fact that the cultural climate has changed radically in the last 50 years and that our current climate of individualism and me-first-ism is not one that is good for churches or other voluntary societies.

That doesn't excuse us from not trying to spread the gospel, but I wish we would stop beating ourselves up over the fact that revival isn't breaking out all over.

The 'vibes' I get from the Methodist church top-down are that we have to be doing more new, more new, more new. And I think that most of my churches are doing great ministries and they can't do much more. Why is a 39-person church who runs a youth group for 50 young people in a poor area 'a failure'? Why can't we just say 'Well done! You're doing a fantastic job! Keep up the good work!' We might hold them up as a model for another congregation, but then we tell these people 'More new, more new, more new!'

The 'vibes' I get from society in general are 'The Church is after our money and don't do enough for us'. But as I said above, they want the church to magically be there for them when they need it without any resources. No other organisation is expected to do that.