It was a great privilege for me to preside at the wedding of Ben and Kathryn in May, combined in the same service with a blessing of the new family they were forming and the baptism of two of their children. Both the wedding and the baptisms were my first as a minister so this complex and weighty service felt like a great responsibility and a real challenge.
I was blessed that Ben and Kathryn were very clear about what they were doing and why and about the importance of the occasion and what it meant. We worked closely together in developing an order of service that would give proper attention to the unique significance of each of its three parts while maintaining its integrity as a single event. I learnt a lot from both the preparation and from the day and am grateful to the couple for allowing me to walk with them through it.
Family and marriage have changed a great deal in the last 50 years. Many of those who marry today have lived together before they do so and it is not at all unusual for them already to have children. Some in the churches are profoundly uncomfortable with these developments but his does not alter their reality. In my view we have to accept and adapt to the realities of modern life if we are not to become entirely irrelevant.
It might help if we remembered that for many hundreds of years almost all marriages were arrangement between individuals and their families that did not require the prior permission of or any ceremony organised by either the Church or the civil authorities. Those married could then appeal to these authorities if things went wrong. This is not unlike the contemporary situation where cohabiting couple are acquiring increasing rights and responsibilities towards one another, making their relationships more akin to marriage.
This makes the formal celebration of a marriage in church, at least potentially, a more rather than a less meaningful occasion, since it must be deliberately chosen. This was certainly so in this case. Its combination with a blessing of the family and of the baptisms of Oliver and Emma made it a beautiful celebration of the presence of God in our everyday lives and of the ways in which the love that binds families together is intimately bound up with the love of God.