Weddings and related thoughts

Assistant Rector's House, July 1996

Weddings are much on my mind at the moment. I am writing this in the middle of June. A few days ago we were guests at the wedding of a young friend; we attended her christening in the same church 25 years ago, and it was delightful and enjoyable to renew relationships which have gone different ways since then. In a few day's time our eldest son will be married. I am sure that this will be even more extra specially joyful and wonderful and we are greatly looking forward to it. There is a feeling of enormous hope within the words and the celebrations at a wedding which make it possible to believe that love and friendship and trust will endure.

The counter-balance to all this happiness and hope and anticipation is the prevailing publicity about the new Family Law Bill. The statistics of breakdown are depressing and for most of us the statistics have only too human a face - they refer to ourselves, to members of our family, to friends at work or in our church congregation. We human beings have a great capacity for not living out our deepest aspirations - not only in marriage but in all the relationships in which we engage. Individually our intentions are true and idealistic; we sometimes feel that if only we were 'an island' it would be so much easier to be perfect. How often do we think 'I could be a really nice person all the time, if it weren't for my husband / wife / child / parents / next door neighbour / colleague . . . . . This is not an option open to us; life is lived within various frameworks of relatedness.

Weddings offer the opportunity for us all to explore and rethink what it means to live in any human relationship. Two things are emphasised more within the modern marriage service. One is the necessity of mutuality - mutuality of regard, of giving and of commitment - whilst upholding the need to preserve each person's identity and integrity within the mutuality. The other is that the couple are 'beginning a new life together in the community' Not only is no man (or woman) 'an island' but neither is any pairing to be seen in isolation. Every human bonding is conducted within the context of a society. The way we handle our conflicts, sorrows and joys affects those around us and ripples out into society; the way society supports us (or doesn't) in its culture, ethical stance, community life, this affects how we handle the intimate details of our lives.

When these two elements are missing - the permission to be oneself within a mutual commitment to sharing - and the presence of a supportive community - then things can and do go wrong. As I have thought about the meaning of the marriage service preparatory to conducting Christopher and Mary's wedding, I have become very aware of the profound message it contains for us all.

We cannot control the actions of other people much less the whole attitude of society. But we can recognise our own need to explore what it means to be human in the light of God's intention for us to live lives of mutual self-giving in community. And we can put aside any tendency to cynicism and affirm and celebrate that the ideal is possible, and place our trust in God that by his grace it is achievable.

Eileen McLean


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St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 5th July 1997