The Marriage Service [Edited]

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Last weekend I posted a very drunken Audioboo as I stood outside a beautiful estate house in the country, inside which one of my closest (and youngest) friends was dancing with his new bride. In this Audioboo I claimed that I would edit the Church of England Marriage Service to demonstrate how little of it I’d include in my own wedding ceremony.

As it turns out, the full Marriage Service is rather long, so I’ve selected a few excerpts to illustrate my point.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God,
and
the fellowship of the Holy Spirit
be with you.

[…]

Marriage is a gift of God in creation
through which husband and wife may know the grace of God.
It is given
that as [two people] grow together in love and trust,
they shall be united with one another in heart, body and mind,
as Christ is united with his bride, the Church.

The gift of marriage brings husband and wife two people together
in the delight and tenderness of sexual union
and joyful commitment to the end of their lives.
It is given as the foundation of family life
in which children [may be born and] nurtured
and in which each member of the family, in good times and in bad,
may find strength, companionship and comfort,
and grow to maturity in love.

[…]

N and N are now to enter this way of life.
They will each give their consent to the other
and make solemn vows,
and in token of this they will [each] give and receive a ring.
We pray with them that the Holy Spirit will guide and strengthen them,
that they may fulfill God’s purposes
for the whole of their earthly life together.

[…]

N, will you take N to be your [wife]?
Will you love her, comfort her, honour and protect her,
and, forsaking all others,
be faithful to her as long as you both shall live?

He: I will.

N, will you take N to be your husband?
Will you love him, comfort him, honour and protect him,
and, forsaking all others,
be faithful to him as long as you both shall live?

She: I will.

Will you, the families and friends of N and N,
support and uphold them in their marriage
now and in the years to come?

Congregation: We will.

And so on and so forth. (Just so you know, these are by no means the most holy passages.)

By this point you may have guessed, I am something of a cynic when it comes to holy matrimony. And yes, I am a child of (wonderfully amicable) divorce. But actually, most of my problems with the marriage ceremony stem from my discomfort with the idea of God, my support of all unions (regardless of gender or numbers), and my enjoyment of non-monogamy. Although I would like to point out that many of the phrases I kept after my edits are not just passages I could tolerate, but passages I really quite like; especially “they will each give their consent to the other”. Having the word ‘consent’ right there in the marriage vows pleases me greatly.

But yes, I find the idea of being blessed by God and promising to forsake all others, rather jarring.

I also have a problem with the end of the declarations, where the minister calls on the congregation to “support and uphold [the couple] in their marriage”. It’s not my wedding, and I feel that my support, as a friend, should be implicit. I don’t need to promise my friendship before God.

Perhaps, at this point, I’m just being picky; and I will confess that there’s a good chance this is all simply demonstrative of how uncomfortable I am with the idea of signing my name to a life-long commitment.

But I still think it’s odd that two young, well educated, progressive, non-religious people would keep things like “Marriage is a gift of God in creation through which husband and wife may know the grace of God” but walk back down the aisle to the sultry tones of David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’. It’s odd, the parts of tradition we are willing to subvert in order to serve our own tastes, and the parts we’ll keep in the name of sentimentality.

Don’t get me wrong, these are all very personal responses; I do respect the choice of others to commit in this way. All I’m saying is I felt significantly more comfortable at my Aunt’s wedding last year; at fifty-four, marrying for the second time, she chose to sign her name in a registry office, and find her loving support in the speeches of friends and family, rather than a man of God.

And that’s it really; I don’t have a problem with marriage, or long-term relationships; I just don’t like the wedding ceremony. Marriage is a rather archaic institution, and I have doubts about whether people give enough thought to the specific terms used in the service. Because if there’s one thing you should really think about before you do it…

Meanwhile, I am still giggling at the idea of beginning a wedding service with the words “the fellowship be with you.” It’s almost worth getting married.

2 thoughts on “The Marriage Service [Edited]”

  1. Curious Muse says:

    It is the use of a religious establishment as a wedding venue which, now other beautiful places are available, is entirely unnecessary. It seems to me as disrespectful as the knee-jerk Christenings that happen to babies of non-religious friends. I think the C of E, in my experience, are happy to take any crumbs no matter how hypocritical simply because the fees they get for hosting weddings help with the fund for the Church roof. So they are complicit in the disrespect. I find both distasteful. But there does seem to be a lingering “hedge your bets” attitude to both ceremonies. The conditioning runs deep.
    I took secular wedding vows and the decision was taken to clarify what name any future children would take. Our son had a rip-roaring 1st birthday party. A number of older relatives bought him bibles, oddly.

    1. Harper Eliot says:

      Gosh! I really don’t know many 1-year-olds who’ve been given Bibles. A somewhat strange gift from anyone, I should think.

      But yeah – what really troubles me about, well almost everything, is the apparent lack of thought that goes into such actions. How hard is it to read through the marriage service and give it some thoughts before you commit your life to someone else?

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