Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Wedding bells in a church of your choice

The Church of England moves in mysterious ways, that’s for certain. Apparently, they’ve finally come round to the idea (19 years too late, in my case) that they should allow people to get married in the church of their choice, not just the one that’s nearest to their current abode. This will be good news for some; and it means my very own Archbishop’s Special Licence will be a bit of national history, not just something for the family ‘archive’.

Church weddings have been going out of fashion for decades, but once the government ‘deregulated’ the marriage business in 1994 – leaving people free to celebrate their nuptials in, of all places, motorway service stations, hot-air balloons, and even the bottom of the sea – the C of E option looked even more dated.

Today, amid much rejoicing – i.e. the Bishop of Reading holding a special wedding breakfast accompanied by a gospel choir singing wedding favourites (deep joy!) – the C of E finally launched the Church of England Marriage Measure which means that you can get married outside your ‘home’ parish, providing the church of your choice has some sort of family connection.

And blow me, they’ve also launched a website dedicated to helping people get the church wedding of their dreams! There, you can read the “Seven steps to a heavenly wedding” (I kid you not); and meet a happy smiling and female vicar (via the magic of the interweb).

My, how things have changed since I walked down the aisle…

Neither of us were (are) church-goers; in fact Mr Ms_well.words is about as anti organised religion as it’s possible to get. But despite my atheism, I’m a former C of E head chorister, and I really wanted to have a wedding filled with good old-fashioned English psalmody. It didn’t turn out quite as I’d envisaged.

In 1989, we were living in London; my family in Yorkshire, his in Herts; and my aging granny too ill to travel but determined to get to the wedding one way or another.

The picturesque (and extremely popular) church near to my former home was fully booked, and in any case, wouldn’t marry us because we were not parishioners – in fact neither was my mother, it turned out. Once we investigated, we found out that her home was just over the parish boundary, and actually her local church was at the far end of her road; an old soot-blackened Victorian pile like so many others littering the City.

I’d read in a wedding magazine that it was possible to obtain an Archbishop's Special Licence to marry outside your own parish, so we contacted this local church to asked whether they would do the deed. I never did get to meet the vicar (a Curate dealt with our ‘case’), which is a shame because he later became rather famous in the national press for various misdemeanors! Plans went ahead over the phone, without us stepping foot in the actual building.

When I finally did go there, it was a bit of a shock. The grim and gritty (but authentic and definitely Northern) church outside had been stripped of its charm on the inside and ‘renovated’ to suit the Evangelicals who had moved in (complete with Sunday night ‘Rock’ events).

So, no angelic choir singing psalms; no vast organ pumping out Mendelssohn’s finest; no WEDDING BELLS…

By that time, we’d already gone to the trouble of getting the licence, signed and sealed by Archbishop R Runcie, so it was too late to change our minds. (Mr Ms_well.words had to go to Westminster Abbey in person to obtain it!)

Small wonder there was thunder and lightning during the Service…

Ever since, I’ve been meaning to get the Special Licence properly framed (instead of it being folded up in the bottom of a box of wedding snaps). Now it’s a piece of history, I’d better fish it out and put it somewhere safe.


Anonymous said...

I never realised that you couldn't! 11 years ago the OH and I were living near Guildford but we married in a village church in Derbyshire - granted my parents lived down the road and were Secretary and Treasurer of the PCC and the vicar had been for dinner a few times but I didn't realise such strings had been pulled. I'd definitely get the licence framed :-)

ms_well.words said...

They probably didn't need to pull any strings. I think many vicars turn a blind eye to the rule if your parents or other family members live and/or are active in the parish. I have no evidence to show, but I suspect this may be more common in villages where people tend to know each other better.

Of course, there is the option of fibbing, and I think many people do take this. As it turns out, my own mother did exactly that to get the church she wanted, saying she lived with her cousins in the parish of her choice. No one ever checked. [Her marriage didn't last, but I'm sure that's nothing to do with the fact that it started off with a porky!]

I have to say that bending the rules in this way is one of the things that most baffles me about regular church-goers (it's not such an issue for those of us in the BMD brigade*). I can only assume that people salve their consciences during confession.

ms_well.words said...

* BMD: births, marriages, deaths