Last week, the Church of England announced that it would be offering a new religious service for those interested in being married by the Church. It is a sort of “two-for-one offer,” a combined wedding and baptism.
Basically, it is a standard wedding ceremony, with a baptism attached. Obviously, this service was created especially for couples that have had children before their marriage, and provides a blessing of those children, and incorporates them into this newly sanctified union.
I’m not quite sure what I make of this. My inner (and very conservative) Episcopal matron is utterly scandalized by the very thought of this new-fangled “buy one, get one free” approach to liturgy. However, the more moderate realist side of me can see the benefits and advantages.
One clear benefit that would appease both sides of my thinking is that fact that this new ‘add-on baptism’ might just alleviate a few of those “one off” baptisms that routinely happen during regular church services.
(Oh-oh. Here comes the cranky Episcopal matron…)
As a regular church-goer, I find it truly annoying, nay, irksome even, that I am often forced to sit through a lengthy baptism service, that has been inserted into my normal Sunday service, for the sake an anonymous child that I will never know, and his or her equally anonymous parents (and godparents) all of whom I have never seen before, nor will I ever see again!
And of course, in the midst of this service, we, the congregation are called upon to promise our care and support of this child and his/her family through their lives. Well, I for one take such promises seriously. And I cannot fulfill such a promise to individuals who disappear before the holy water has even dried...
Baptisms, christenings, whatever one may call them, are serious business. Or should be. They should be more than just a family photo opportunity, or a chance to get your glad rags on and have a meal down the pub.
Likewise, the Church is more than just a “religious venue,” there just when you need it for a wedding or a christening. Oh, dear, oh, dear. From the sound of this, I think I would probably make one hellishly dreadful vicar!
Mercy, grace and compassion. That is what Rowan, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is suggesting. He believes that it is the Church’s mission to “meet people where they are.” If a couple, after being together and making a family together for donkey’s years, have finally decided to “make it official,” the church should meet them where they are, and provide a sacrament that also meets their circumstances. Ultimately, this can be nothing but a good thing.
I had a very interesting conversation about all of this with the Vicar’s wife recently, when she came for tea last Friday.
Mrs. Vicar and I sat in the garden, had tea and some chocolate brownies I’d made especially. I really like Mrs. Vicar. She’s one cool lady. Loving, warm and gentle, but solid, sensible and down-to-earth. She is every bit what you’d expect an English vicar’s wife to be.
Over tea and brownies, we discussed the new development’s pros and cons. My question is how the Church can be so open on one hand, to couples with kids, and not so in other circumstances, i.e., second marriages.
I have written previously about how the Church of England has, as I see it, a rather ad hoc, ‘each parish/vicar as it/they will’ policy toward marrying couples wherein one or more of the partners has been married before.
In other words, some vicars will perform weddings for second-timers, some won’t. It’s just luck of the draw. Which can be a double-whammy, as there are additional rules that state that you can only have your wedding celebrated in the parish in which you live, have lived, or have had some previous familial association.
So from the get go, you are starting out with a rather limited playing field. For example, there is a lovely, lovely little 19th C. church in Wasperton, the village next to Barford. I had thought briefly of the D.E.B. and I having our wedding there, but I found out very quickly that my choices were St. Peter’s, here in Barford, or St. Peter’s, here in Barford.
So, we had the wedding at St. Peter’s, here in Barford. And I’m very glad we did. It was a perfect day and it all happened in exactly the right and perfect place. We were very lucky, in more than just the weather. Our Vicar is a gem. A real diamond. All I can say is, thank goodness he’s not a cranky, old Episcopalian battle-axe like me!
My tea-time conversation with Mrs. Vicar took an interesting turn. Before I knew it, I had confessed to some floundering faith I have been experiencing recently:
“Things have been going so well,” I found myself saying. “I’m happier than I have ever been in my life. I’m a bit worried that I may be too happy, and so I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. Sometimes, I feel like I can’t really trust God completely.”
(At this point, my internal ‘Southern Episcopal matron’ rose from her seat, swooned and fainted from shock…)
Mrs. Vicar beamed her cheeky, cheery smile at me. “It does feel that way sometimes, doesn’t it?” she said, her eyes sparkling in the sunlight. “But you must know, you can always trust God. It doesn’t mean that we can’t question or even get angry sometimes. But always trust.”
She then shared with me a recent story of a very stormy time in her life when both she and the Vicar were seriously, seriously ill. “Even in those darkest hours, I knew God was there.” She said.
Mrs. Vicar’s words gave me such an incredible sense of peace and grace. Maybe this was just another example of the importance of faith meeting people where they are.