4.2.14

What to do with marriage?


www.yourchurchwedding.org

Marriage is a hot topic at the moment in the Church of England in the wake of the Pilling Report. The church is to engage in facilitated conversation for two years or more so that it can consider gay marriage. The House of Bishops said on Monday 27th January that they 'recognise the very significant change in social attitudes to sexuality in the United Kingdom in recent years.' They have also said that 'No change to the Church of England’s teaching on marriage is proposed or envisaged.' 

For Church of England clergy then, normal day-today process must be followed regarding marriage as has happened for centuries in the Church. 


St Paul is interested in marriage. In the letter to Corinth, he says:

Because of the current pressures on us from all sides, I think it would probably be best to stay just as you are. Are you married? Stay married. Are you unmarried? Don’t get married. But there’s certainly no sin in getting married, whether you’re a virgin or not. All I am saying is that when you marry, you take on additional stress in an already stressful time, and I want to spare you if possible. (1 Cor 7:28)

For Christians, marriage is a metaphor for Christ and the Church: a great mystery, Paul describes. In the end the bridegroom, Christ, is united with his spotless bride, the Church, in the book of Revelation!

The serious stuff!
Marriage is a public affair and anyone can attend a wedding. It is an open ceremony. You can not prevent anyone attending but someone can be asked to leave if they are disrupting a service. If there is an objection being raised to a wedding, the couple and the objector and witnesses for the minister should be taken into the vestry and the ceremony has to be stopped. It is only when there are objections that destroy the legal validity of the marriage that these objections have to be taken seriously. 

A marriage is witnessed and there has to be a minimum of two people who go on to sign the register. There is no technical bar on age to witnesses but they need to be able to testify to the wedding later and understand what they are doing. Registers are the official document that needs careful handling at a Wedding. Marginal corrections can be made before the wedding but processes have to be gone through if mistakes occur after the register has been signed. Best to concentrate then, when filling them in!

The proclamation of marriage has to have occurred before 6pm so that in suitable light you are more suitably a witness (you can see what you are doing!) You have to marry people in a church building unless there are extreme pastoral reasons to marry someone in a hospital, for example. 

Who can get married?
You can get married if you have not been baptised! There's a myth to blow out of the water. 
Everyone has an automatic entitlement to get married in their Parish church. You have to have a qualifying connection either by living in the Parish for at least 6 months or worshipping there for the same amount of time AND/OR having been baptised and/or confirmed in the Parish. (Attending for a six month period is a qualifier for being added to the electoral role. Whether ministers expect weekly attendance for that period is up to the individual conscience of the minister.) You are also qualified if your parents have fulfilled the first qualifier or if your parents/grandparents were married in the Parish.  

A Superintendant's Registrar Certificate can be produced as evidence of the validity of the future marriage. If someone is terminally ill, this situation might arise. 

There is also an Archbishop's Special Licence that can be granted for people wanting to marry in a particularly special place. The licence is granted to the minister who is performing the marriage. 

Common Licences need to be applied for, for Non-EEA people. The registrar is there to give advice. This is to guard against sham weddings. 

Is there a time when people can be refused marriage?
It is up to the individual conscience of the minister whether they marry a divorced person whose spouse is still living. A minister can similarly decline to make his church available to a couple wanting to be married by another minister on the premise if there has been divorce. A minister marrying divorced people needs to have seen a Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute. Your conscience considers case by case situations so you have to think through the differences between different divorced people presenting themselves for marriage. You have to be prepared to support your thinking because there may be some divorced people you are prepared to marry and some that you are not. For example, if there have been numerous failed marriages there might be cause for hesitation. 

The conscience clause can not be enacted against dissolved Civil Partnerships or same sex marriages. Same sex church marriages are not currently legal for the Church of England. 

Banns? Banns must be read before a wedding so that objections can be raised - 'Home banns' for the church in which the couple are to be married and 'Away banns' in the church where the couple are worshipping or living near. 

Christian marriage
The more sacramental your theology the more impetus you will put on the couple, the couple are the ministers of the sacrament. The priest in a Catholic church will sit to the side of the couple. Anglican ministers consider themselves the official witness and we ask for God's blessing on the couple. We witness and bless what the couple do. In Anglican theology, then, there is a similar emphasis on the couple. 

State marriages are valid marriages. The church of England is the established church. From a legal point of view you are married whether it be in a church or a registry office. It is important then for the church to make its wedding services distinctive so that there is something distinctive about a Christian marriage. 

To this point in time, there are rubrics to follow and there must be a Bible reading and there should be a sermon. How will the church go about maintaining Christian distinctiveness is perhaps a question clergy have to ask themselves. 



At the same time, this is an opportunity the church has to connect with people, really connect, to not exclude people who do not describe their grapplings with the divine in theological language. The church's language has to change. There are still a thousand weddings a week and so this is something that people are really wanting. The opportunity for the church is huge. For this occasional office, people are coming to the church: the bride and groom, extensive families and friendship networks, businesses like florists and photographers and drivers. For many people, they are returning to church or have never been to church before. It is such an opportunity to present the church as full of normal people ... we are connected and we are celebrating with you. 

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