Remembering loved ones past and present at weddings

Registering my first wedding in the Bolton Chapel of St. Mary's Old Basing. Photograph: Tarran Patterson
Registering my first wedding in the Bolton Chapel of St. Mary’s Old Basing. Photograph: Tarran Patterson

One of the joys of this summer is to have presided at my first weddings.

The first was the fulfilment of a prophesy, at least for me, as having a vision of me officiating at my first wedding had been one clergy friend’s encouragement for me to seek selection for ordination! I am most grateful to Tarran Patterson, the photographer on the occasion, for snapping the photo here as I completed the registers without me being aware of it at all, so that I have a visual memory of the occasion. We are blessed at Old Basing with room for official photographers to take a few photos during the ceremony without intruding into proceedings at all, and she managed to do that brilliantly, which was a gift to a rooky priest.

Today’s wedding was my last for this year. The bride will be ‘given away’ by her mother, as sadly her father died a few years ago, and is laid to rest in our churchyard. She asked to lay “his” button hole on his grave before she entered the church so he is included in the day, so I suggested that we not only do that, but we say a prayer as we do so. She, her sisters, and particularly her mother, seem very grateful for being able to ‘fill in the gap’ in this way.

Loved ones are always more acutely missed on such occasions, especially when they would have otherwise fulfilled a special role. At my first wedding the bride paused at a siblings side when coming down the isle to give them the flower token that their daughter would have carried, had she survived infancy. Another lovely touch that it was easy to enable, and we also remembered the child by name in the prayers when acknowledging other deceased loved ones, parents again.

When we rehearsed last night with this weeks couple, it was also decided that I would pray a blessing over the whole family, so that their children feel not only part of the occasion as bridesmaid and pageboys, but visibly included in God’s love in a special way too.

Needless to say there’s not a standard prayer in Common Worship for either circumstance (that I could find anyway, as this is not a blended family) so it was time to turn to and write my own. With a little encouragement from Rev’d Ally who confirmed my use of language fitted with the tradition of my serving parish (my incumbent being away), I shall be using these on Friday (as this blog post goes up).

A prayer at the graveside of a parent (in this case a father):
Gracious God
We remember at this special moment
the example of love that N shared with his family.
Understanding that he rests with your saints in your glorious presence,
but acknowledging his part in today in the symbol of this flower,
may each person here
know that N’s prayers, comfort and goodness are with them,
and that with Christ,
his love for them is never ending,
through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

A blessing for the family:
Father God,
as N and N stand before you with
A, B and C,
may they know your presence in their lives together,
experience patience, trust and truthfulness among each other,
and trust daily in the example of love that is in Jesus
that together they may live joyfully
through the power of the Holy Spirit,
that is at work in all our lives. Amen.

The Rev’d. Mrs.

From Ecclesiastical, our new Insurers... and my Diocese did the same!
From Ecclesiastical, our new Insurers!

Well, I’ve been a Reverend for nearly three weeks. How does it feel? A pretty good fit, like a comfortable new glove.

It’s a title that I have actually been increasingly looking forward to as ordination training progressed. There was no fear attached to it; it was something I knew would come with the calling – part of the deal. In the context of the parish I’m now ministering in, I suspect it will get well used, and I was more than happy to sign my first offering to the pew sheet as “Rev’d Rachel”.

This one's from the Church Times!
This one’s from the Church Times!

But I have discovered an unexpected emotional response, closely related to the use of the term Reverend. In many cases, on all sorts of post, I am no longer “Mrs.” and that I actually find quite distressing.

Let me go back in time, briefly, to a point a few years ago (no more than 10) when this then Editor of the Diocesan Mothers’ Union newsletter was gently chastised for not using the official and correct form of grammar for anyone who is ordained; it should be “The Rev’d. Mr./Mrs.” when the person is first referred to, and then plain “Mr.”or “Mrs.” thereafter in any extended text. I was careful to get this right from that point on.

And yet, having been ordained I find that almost everything is just written as “Rev” (popularised by a certain TV series perhaps), “Rev’d.” or “The Rev’d.”, often without the full stops or apostrophes. In some ways this doesn’t bother me; I’m not usually a pedant, or bothered about the modernisation of language when appropriate. And, I guess for gentleman who are married, who have never had an appropriate form of address to signify their marriage because they simply remain “Mr”, this perhaps isn’t such an issue.

The Rev'd. Mrs. and her Mr. on Ordination Day (photograph by our friend Stephen Usher)
The Rev’d. Mrs. and her Mr. on Ordination Day (photograph by our friend Stephen Usher)

But you see, I’m still a “Mrs.” and very proud of being so! I’ve enjoyed 22 years of marriage to a wonderful, long-suffering, man, who himself is very proud of having a “Reverend” Mrs. We think marriage is a fantastic institution that is part of our relationship with God, but suddenly any public celebration or declaration of this fact in the envelopes that arrive through my door is being hidden by the dominance of the “Rev” bit of who I now am.

Actually, what I’m really bothered by is not the lovely envelopes from friends that come addressed to the “Rev” they want to congratulate, but the envelopes from Christian institutions (like those shown above) that have also noted the change of status, but seem to think that the “Mrs” bit of me has been subsumed – she hasn’t, I’m still someone’s wife, and very proud and delighted to be so!

[Is it me? Or have other married women had a similar reaction to their ordination?]

My stoles and stories: Ordination and Ordinary

My ordination stole,  made from my wedding dress, with a design by myself and Deborah Ireland who brought it to life.
My ordination stole, made from my wedding dress, with a design by myself and Deborah Ireland who brought it to life.

On Tuesday I collected a cardboard box that had been delivered to reception and took it to my room at college. There I tentatively unwrapped what will be my ordination (ivory/white) stole, and the green stole I might where when appropriate in ‘ordinary’ time.

Months before I had entrusted a series of scribbled ideas, my wedding dress, and a selection of photographs taken by myself, my husband and my father to the wonderful Deborah Ireland and given her, and her trusty sewing machine permission to create something wonderful.

My hands shook as I peeled back the tissue paper. Knowing my own story and being able to interpret it for others as I did in during the selection process is one thing. Giving my story, past and future, into the hands of another to re-present for me and for others in such a way that God might receive the glory, was quite another.

Deborah has done an amazing job, and now I await with excitement my purple (Lent and Advent) and red (Pentecost and Festivals) stoles. In the mean-time here are the first of my stoles and my stories:

Detail of the rams-head on my ordination stole - interpreted by Deborah Ireland from a photograph I took of a Swaledale lamb on a rain-soaked Swaledale last summer!
Detail of the rams-head on my ordination stole – interpreted by Deborah Ireland from a photograph I took of a Swaledale lamb on a rain-soaked Swaledale last summer!

My ivory silk wedding dress has been turned into my ordination stole. The image on the right (above) is one that I drew as part of my discernment process, and incorporates the silver St. David Cross (by Rhiannon of Tregaron) that my father gave me whilst I was at university, and a symbol of the Trinity. The ram lamb on the left, also makes reference to the sacrifice of Christ, but yes, there is also the a reminder of the sacrifices I must make, and a quirky nod in the direction of my lamb-like name and ‘handle’ or username 😉 The design incorporates wool from on old numnah from my mothers’ old riding tack! The wheat and the grapes speak of bread and wine, the celebration of Eucharist that I might one day celebrate as a priest.

The reverse of my ordination stole incorporates beadwork from my wedding dress and my prayers for each couple I might one day marry.
The reverse of my ordination stole incorporates beadwork from my wedding dress and my prayers for each couple I might one day marry.

But this ordination stole hides a secret. Clergy usually wear white stoles to officiate at weddings, and it was always my intention that this stole would include more than just the material of my wedding dress, and specifically make reference to my marriage and my hopes and prayers for those weddings I might celebrate with others. So on the reverse to be worn facing front when appropriate, is some of the bead-work from that same wedding dress, entwined rings for entwined lives, and a celtic cross emphasising Christ’s place within them.

God’s creation represented in the wildlife that has formed part of my story

There is no such overt Christian imagery in my green stole, and yet I would say God is in everything represented there. Here is God’s creation as I have experienced and loved it throughout my life; each plant and animal represents an individual living organism with particular significance in my life. There is the oak that stands near the grave of my mother, aunt and grandparents; a Fallow buck, the animal that I have watched with my father from earliest memory; the Red Kite, the bird that has followed my life since my university years, inspired my poetry and frequents my theology college; the trout I’ve caught with my father and the badger that frequents his back garden; the thistle flower and  Common Blue butterfly that frequents my regular walks with my husband, and flag iris and Demoiselle damselfly that we seek on our more watery walks; there is cow parsley, another reference to Minstead churchyard and our wedding, and bluebells from my childhood walks with Dad near Fritham now reprised in the copse near my current home.

So those are the stories, here are the stoles, and my prayer is that I will be able to use both in the years to come for God’s greater glory.

Cross-border funerals and bereavement care

DSCN1055cw(Lillies)Our parish churches and their ministers, have certain responsibilities. These include, as I understand it, the requirement to baptise, marry and bury those who request such ‘occasional offices’.

Whilst reflecting recently on my own past practice in taking funerals, I came a broader reflection on the way the Church of England approaches the care they offer at some funerals, which may simply be about the way my local patch has done things in the past, but may have a broader application. I’d welcome your thoughts:

It concerns what happens when a family from outside the parish approach a church requesting a funeral for a loved-one, because of some prior connection, most often previous residence and the fact a relative is already buried in the local churchyard or cemetery.

For other occasional offices, contact is also established in some form with the family’s local church. With baptisms, permission is typically sought from their local parish church, and in some cases baptism preparation may take place there. With weddings, assuming banns are required, formal contact is also required between the couple and the place, or places they live. There is also an encouragement through the wedding project to seek the prayer support of the parish you live in.

I am aware of no such tradition of missional contact with their parish of residence when families return to a community to have a relative buried; but do correct me if I’m wrong!

So, I’m wondering if, with the family’s approval, it would be helpful and good practice, to contact the local parish or minister of grieving relatives, so that further bereavement support could be provided by the wider church, especially since it could prove difficult for your own parish and it’s pastoral team to follow through with such work?

Otherwise, there may be a danger of leaving families isolated from other appropriate sources of Christian pastoral care, and as Christian ministers we may also be guilty of compromising our own missional capacity.

Is this something that the current research project started last year by the Archbishop’s Council could, or should, consider?

Wedding Admin – the wisdom of limited experience

Yep, me signing the registers on my wedding day!

Today I handed over the last of the administrative responsibilities I have accumulated over my recent years as a Reader at St Peter’s, Yateley: the administration of Banns of Marriage, reading of Banns, and writing of Banns Certificates, along with the writing of Marriage Registers and Certificates!

In preparation I made some extensive notes for my successor which I happened to tweet about yesterday. The Vicar’s Wife asked me for a copy and suggested I blog it!

So after our ‘hand-over’ session today, which our lovely vicar also wisely attended and added his wisdom to, below is a .pdf summary of what I’ve learnt, which I have hopefully de-localised so it might be of use to others.

Please note:
It is the accumulated ‘wisdom’ of several years undertaking administration connected with weddings at my local parish church, including those things I learnt during a year of vacancy during which I seemed to spend a lot of time talking to our Diocesan Registrar! However, this doesn’t make me an expert, so if you find you are told differently to any of what is attached by someone important and trustworthy, please trust them not me!

Click the link to download the .pdf How2-Banns,Marriages&Certificates-CofE

Oh the deep, deep love of Jesus! Ephesians 1:3-14 (an anniversary sermon)

Twenty years ago…
This sermon should be a lesson to me in checking rotas as it never got preached! There may be other lessons to be learnt too:

Oh the deep, deep love of Jesus!
Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free;
Rolling as a mighty ocean,
In its fulness over me.

Twenty years ago today, we sang those words at our wedding! It was a favourite from our time at the church in Aberystwyth through which we met. There, together with a fine music group, there were enough Welsh voices to carry the tune with just enough bass to make it sound like the the ‘mighty ocean’ of the Irish Sea, crashing against the rocky outcrop that lies a few yards from the door of that church.

O the deep, deep love of Jesus!
Spread his praise from shore to shore,
How he loveth, ever loveth,
Changeth never, nevermore.

There is a depth of passionate love for Christ in the words of that hymn which for me echo the passion in this hymn of praise that opens the Epistle to the Ephesians. The writer, probably St. Paul, was so caught up in his praise for God, experienced in and through Christ, that he wrote the whole of our reading this morning in one sentence of Greek! As we read and think on it today, let us as we do so give thanks for the work of Bible translators down the centuries, who have kept that incredibly uplifting emotion in the words, whilst making it just a little simpler to read and understand!

By my reckoning St Paul uses the phrase ‘In Christ’ (or its equivalents like ‘in him, or ‘in the One’) at least eight times in this one sentence of passage. He is reminding the Ephesian Christians and us that God, in and through Jesus Christ has chosen us to be His people: we are adopted, we are redeemed, our sins are forgiven. He makes known His plans for us and all creation, He offers us His inheritance and marks us as holy by the presence of His very self in the Holy Spirit.

As Christians we are not simply stating we believe in some historical facts about a man called Jesus, living in first century Palestine. Neither are we paying a membership fee towards some pressure group that requires us to believe in the fact of his virgin birth, or resurrection from the dead, in order to carry out its aims and objects. Instead we are responding to the fact that deep within us, we know there were no lengths, no costs that God would not bear, no amount of time used that God would not [willingly give], to express His love for us. THESE are the things that inspire us to love Him too. Being Christian is living and loving in the light of these actions of a loving God, in and through Christ Jesus.

St. Paul writes to the Ephesians that we are “destined for adoption.” He uses that phrase quite deliberately because it describes the intimate love of God the Father, who aches with love. He recognizes that His family is not complete. He already has children but there are others still missing out from experiencing the love and care not just of any family but His family. Adoption is about bringing together a disparate family of ages, genders, races and sexes, all bound together, all encompassed by His love.

When Graham and I got married, there was in a very real sense an ‘adoption’ by our individual families of a new member. Since that day, where one or other sets of parents have done something for their child by birth, they have done it for the both of us. When my mother became ill and then died 15 years ago, Graham’s parents were a tower of strength, good common sense, and practical support. My father as you have probably noticed, is there for all of us when the logistics of family life get too complicated, and enables to achieve more than we could without him. To them all, we respond not just with a sense of gratitude, but with a profound and deep love that goes far beyond a sense of repaying a debt for what has been done for us, and is instead a witness to this sense of belonging as one family by adoption, or in our case, marriage.

Adoption here[in this passage of Ephesians] is a belief that we are supposed to belong to God, [not just owe him something] and that God has claimed us as his own. Our way to God is through Christ’s death and resurrection. It sounds beyond belief, but it is really grace — we have been forgiven and brought back to God and this is what Paul means as he writes… using this phrase ‘in Christ.’

As adopted children ‘in Christ’, every experience is reframed, from our most bracing joys and cherished achievements to our besetting temptations, our most anguished regrets, and our most wounding losses. “In Christ” we are joined to the power and presence of God Himself and no longer have to make our way in the world alone without hope or meaning. “In Christ” we are knit to others who will cry over our dead with us even as they help us sing hymns of resurrection. At the same time, being “in Christ” is no sentimental togetherness. You’ve heard the expression ‘blood is thicker than water’ to describe family ties – Christ’s blood shed on the cross is eternally thicker, for through it, we are bound together with each other and with Him. But like all family relationships this means sticking with each other, supporting one another in love through the good and not so good alike.

I want to leave us this morning with two thoughts:

Firstly, think back on a hymn that has for you special memories. Look at the words. What was it about those words that made them so special to you? What expression of your faith in God do they encompass that is so important that you might want to share it with others, in a letter or other conversation, just as St Paul did with his hymn here in Ephesians?

Secondly, whatever stage of life we’re at, whatever our family circumstances, or any sense of loneliness that we might encounter, as we move into our future this day, let us remember that we are unified as a family ‘in Christ’ with those that not only here today, but who worship here day-by-day, week-by-week, year by year. As God has so freely given us such wealth in Christ, let us praise and glorify him for that, from the very depths of our being.

In the words of that favourite hymn of mine:

O the deep, deep love of Jesus!
Love of every love the best:
‘Tis an ocean vast of blessing,
‘Tis a haven sweet of rest.
O the deep, deep love of Jesus!
‘Tis a heaven of heavens to me;
And it lifts me up to glory,
For it lifts me up to Thee.

The hymn Oh the deep, deep love of Jesus (SOF 968) was written by Samuel Trevor Francis. (This version I’ve linked to is completely unlike how we used to sing it at St Mike’s, but lovely none the less!)
In writing this sermon I am indebted to one particular member of my new ‘clergy on Twitter’ family, Revd Simon Cutmore whose words I have used (with permission and shown in italics) liberally and adapted partially for use in this sermon. This is a first for me, but having mistakenly overloaded myself with sermons and important things to do this week, it was either borrow from elsewhere, or start letting people (and myself) down!

God’s worth in a Royal Wedding! Matt 28:16-20

Matthew 28:16-20 (this morning’s lectionary reading) got me thinking about worship – giving God worth. I’ve also been thinking about weddings again – I booked one in last night, and there’s this big wedding in London at the end of the week 🙂 So I wondered, how will God’s worth be shared through the Royal Wedding – and can we part of that?

Here’s my (short) sermon for this morning:

“When the disciples saw Jesus, they worshipped him; but some doubted.” (Matt 28:17)

I always remember to think about worship, the worship of God through the person of the resurrected of Jesus, as ‘giving God worth’. That way I’m reminded that worship is not just something that we do in church, in prayer or in song. As Christians we should be giving God worth with the whole of our lives, and recognising and proclaiming God’s worth where-ever we see it.

And we do that, despite or at least with, whatever doubts we may have, just as these remaining eleven disciples did. In this passage the worship of Jesus is mentioned before the doubts of the disciples. On that mountaintop, meeting with Jesus in obedience to his request, the disciples were in the presence of their one true God. God is fully revealed to them in, and as, Jesus himself. Jesus is the ruler of the world, as the result of the resurrection, completing the meaning of his birth as the Messiah. (with thanks to Tom Wright’s ‘Matthew for Everyone’ for the theology!)

We may struggle to get our heads round the idea of God as the three persons of the Trinity; the disciples as Jews were struggling at this stage with the revelation of a twofold divinity of God.

We may doubt sometimes that we are really seeing, or experiencing Jesus in our lives; the disciples, had watched, or run-away from, his crucifixion and knew for a certainty that he’d died and been buried in a tomb.

We may certainly doubt our ability or worthiness to stand in the presence of Jesus, but…Jesus is our risen Lord – and he has invited us to be in his presence, to recognise him wherever he might be revealed, and then to baptise, to teach and to be obedient whilst remembering that he is always with us.

There is something important about putting ourselves mentally and physically, in a place where we can recognise Jesus and see the worth and worship that others offer him, whatever the situation; high place, or low. It requires us to be obedient, not to the whims and fancies of the world, but to look carefully at that world so that we can see Jesus revealed as our Lord and God, quite often through the lives of others.

It is sometimes difficult for us to recognise God’s worth close up to ourselves, in what we do, or in what our church does. It’s easier when it’s set at a little distance from us, but in such a way that we can’t avoid it – like the risen Lord on a mountaintop!

You’ve probably noticed there’s a wedding at the end of the week – a rather big one. There is plenty of hype: media outlets clamouring for the first or best interview for their programme. Even the Christian media and comment systems on the internet, have been questioning this, that and the other detail of the wedding. This has included the motivation for Kate’s recent Confirmation. Rather than doubting her sincerity or motivation (without knowing what it really was), shouldn’t we celebrate that she wished to re-affirm for herself the baptismal vows others had taken, and that it formed part of their preparation to get married?! If a couple are taking God’s place in their personal lives and marriage that seriously, surely that’s a good thing?

Wouldn’t it be good to acknowledge the precedence being given to God by William and Katherine at their wedding? It’s not like God is the uninvited guest – they are getting married in his presence, so it’s his mountaintop they’re climbing to – he’s the host! In this single event, God, through Jesus, will surely be proclaimed and worshipped as the creator of the world, full of grace and truth. As well as the setting at Westminster Abbey, Jesus will be revealed in the liturgy and music, the symbolism and the vows that William and Kate will make. Among the pomp and circumstance, the two billion people who watch the wedding will also be in a position to recognise Jesus.

As Christians it is our responsibility, on the mountain top of razzmatazz that will be the Royal Wedding, to emphasise God’s role, and Jesus’ worth in it. I’m sure that since he’s preaching at the wedding Bishop Richard Chartres (Bishop of London) will make a significant nod in God’s direction. But as Jesus’ disciples shouldn’t we should also be ready to make the most of the opportunity to do the same. What we say in conversation with our friends and neighbours, could (though I hesitate to suggest it) make more difference to the faith of a nation (and the world) than what a bishop says – because our words won’t get manipulated by the media!

We might have doubts about the fuss being made about a wedding, and we don’t really know about the degree of Will and Kate’s faith and trust in God – it is not our business to. We might even have doubts about the security of our own faith or ability to witness to it. But, whatever we think of the rest of the hype, which many of us will wish to ignore, if we watch the ceremony closely, shouldn’t we look out for the positive things it says about the person of Jesus – and then talk about these, rather than simply moaning about whatever disastrous coverage the media give us, or passing comment on a dress?

In this Easter Week, let us not dumb-down the resurrection of Jesus, by editing his presence out of the Royal Wedding, or ignore him by ignoring the opportunities to share the gospel that the wedding presents us with. We have been commissioned by Jesus to make real in the world the authority he already has, to make disciples of all nations, so let’s recognise it when we have the chance and give it worth wherever we see it.

How can God’s “Big Love” get through the admin of weddings?

Marriage Regulations hit the clergy

The regulations surrounding marriage have been in our news and blogosphere recently courtesy of the Churchmouse.

The existing rules, as exercised in my patch of the Diocese of Winchester have also filled a significant chunk on my ‘ministry’ during our vacancy. So today, when I noticed MUF had posted his own excellent cartoon on the subject, I thought I’d round up a few of the things I’ve learnt and note them down, as well as reflect a bit on all the admin involved.
Admin. Something I know I’m good with but prone to taking your eye off the ministerial ball. The important thing is probably to hold God in the conversation spaces (whether electronic, phone or personal) that exist around the various things that need doing to get a couple married – something I know I’ve tended to lose sight of in the endless round of ‘sorting out’ the little difficulties that come up. God, I’m afraid has often not got much of a mention. The Diocesan Registrar’s Office, a wonderfully helpful and responsive resource we share with Salisbury Diocese, has got lots of mention. I’ve possibly turned to them more often that to God. Sad, but necessarily true.
I’m not a vicar, not ordained, and haven’t therefore been to ‘vicar school’. However, from working with our neighbouring vicar (who is also our Surrogate – someone who acts on behalf of the Bishop with regard to swearing affidavits for  Common Licenses), I’m not sure how much of the legal stuff they teach at ‘vicar school’. If a training incumbent hasn’t had certain experiences of a ‘wedding nature’ then they simply don’t know where problems might occur, and therefore can’t teach their curates/ordinands/admin support what needs to be understood.

So in summary, what have I learnt so far (and I’ve no way of knowing if these are local rules, national rules, or about to change, so don’t use me as a reference point – though feel free to comment!):

  • The Marriage Act applies to both the Church of England (CofE) and the Church of Wales, so a church of Wales priest can officiate as registrar at a wedding in the CofE (useful when you’re in vacancy and the bride wants her Godmother to officiate!)
  • Anyone getting married in the CofE who lives in Scotland will need to marry under a Common License because the Scottish legal system doesn’t understand or use the banns system. this one caught us out, but we’re sorted in time for the couple’s big day. Down here in the south I don’t suppose it is common to get a couple coming all this way to marry under a Qualifying Connection!
  • With a Common License, it is not the posh bit of paper that comes from the Diocesan Registrar that is important, it is the affidavit sworn in front of the appropriate person (our Surrogate in this case). If there is not time for the certificate to arrive before the wedding (as in the case of couples travelling from Scotland only 2 days before their wedding), then the officiating priest must make sure the Surrogate gives permission for the wedding to proceed. This is simple when the officiating priest and the surrogate are one and the same person – they only have to talk to themselves 🙂
  • The Qualifying Connection (or is it only the fact there is one?) must be written in Banns of Marriage book when they are read, even if it is not read out. This one caught me out – we haven’t had as many weddings in recent years and our Banns of Marriage book pre-dates the Marriage Measure.
  • Banns of Marriage must be read in a ‘main service’ in a ‘consecrated church’, and therefore can’t (only) be read in the school hall of the planted congregation at which a couple are known and in which they came to faith, nor in the 8am congregation at which a parent regularly worships!

Now here’s a question. Who can read Banns of Marriage?

Some clergy I’ve known let any service leader (ordained, licensed laity or simply with local responsibility) read the Banns at the appropriate part of the service. Yes, at the beginning of our vacancy I was told it could only be an authorised person (priest, read or churchwarden). Now, I’ve recently been told it doesn’t matter!

Our dais at St. Peters Yateley after a recent wedding

Which takes me back to the beginning and my comments about admin. We’re a big parish, serving a community of approximately 14,000 with only one priest (when they arrive). We have no SSMs. We have one retired priest, with a reducing role in Sunday ministry due to ill-health. Yet we have 5 active Sunday congregations.

One priest is not going to know all these rules and regulations they might need to know for the various scenarios of parish life. Most won’t even have the time to ask the Diocesan Registrar the answer to the bits they know they don’t know, and exchange the endless emails that are involved with calming the understandably confused nerves of your average bride and groom who are totally bemused by all this! Some parishes don’t have an administrator, or don’t have some dafty (like me) who has taken a sad interest in the whole thing. All this constant contact with couples does indeed build useful relationships, but I’m not sure that it’s really sharing the Gospel or God’s “Big Love”!! Nor is it helping to grow marriage ministry through our parish churches!

So my experiences of recent months mean I can only agree with the Churchmouse when he states that: 

There may be advantages to the Church in taking the administrative elements out of the Church and putt them into the common framework.

Surely it is more important to place our focus on God’s role in the life of the couples that we as ministers are drawn to have dealings with, and the sacramental nature of the wedding and marriage itself?

The ‘advantage’ Mouse speaks of must surely be not only the appropriate application on a case by case basis of the laws and regulations that are obviously necessary. Perhaps more importantly to the church’s mission, is the advantage of the continued sanity of our clergy and the space need for God’s “Big Love” to be recognised and responded to!

(I note that on 1st April the Diocese of Winchester provided new notes on the marriage of foreign nationals to all clergy and extended notes to the Surrogates of the diocese. My fear is that they will now be superseded by the new restrictions, before the ink is barely dry, or the clergy have had the time to read them!)

Doing my bit for the Armed Forces – launching new project

Ever since my involvement in a Royal Marine Funeral last summer, I have found myself consistently finding little bits of my life and work linked to supporting our Armed Forces.

A couple of weeks ago whilst listening to local army padres, I was able to give my Deanery Chapter advanced warning of a project that has been launched this week by the Armed Forces Christian Union and Mothers’ Union in the Diocese of Winchester (for whom I’m proud to be Head of Marketing and webmistress.)

Today I’ve been able to get all the web and social media announcements out, and I’d be selling this pilot project short if I didn’t mention it here and link to it. So please go and discover for yourself how and why we’re providing funding for Armed Forces Relationship Counselling.

Sadly at present it’s only for those with connections to the Diocese of Winchester, but by providing funding for professional relationship counselling over several sessions (much more useful that the single session the MOD fund) we’re hoping that we can show the project is worthwhile and works well, so that Mothers’ Union members in other Diocese around the country can pick up on the idea.

My prayer now is that a few people in need will take advantage of what we are offering in this project and that they will find the counselling they receive will bring their relationships to a better place. To apply for this counselling please follow this link

What’s so special?

Today I found myself needing to write what would normally be the “vicar’s letter” for a local magazine, except that we don’t currently have a vicar, and I’m not even ordained! However, it has felt important to maintain these slots in the printed material that falls through people’s doors and sits on pub counters, despite our state of ‘vacancy’, and December seemed to be my turn. It’s not like we’ve stopped our mission and ministry as a church just because we haven’t got a priest – far from it!

If any of you have read Bishop Nick’s post on the coverage this week of the forthcoming royal wedding (should that be capitalised?), you may have spotted in the comments that though I am all in favour of marriage, weddings and our monarchy, and wish Prince William and Kate all the very best for their future together, I really can’t face the endless news coverage, and am glad that I don’t read a daily newspaper (and haven’t yet opened this weeks Church Times where I bet it get’s at least one column!)

So I feel a little ill-at-ease with myself because when writing my “not the vicar’s” slot today, I found myself mentioning… yep, the royal wedding! It was simply that it sprang to mind as something special that people would know about, whether they react positively to it, or negatively. However, I’m still not convinced as to whether it helps or hinders the point I’m making – so I’ll let you decide, and perhaps I’ll even see you at Christmas!

What’s so special?

If something is ‘special’ it has some distinguishing qualities that makes it unusual or important, or it is held in high regard. A royal wedding for example could be described as a ‘special occasion’ because it doesn’t happen that often and involves people who we admire or find interesting or inspiring. This is what encourages people to focus their attention on it.

When an event happens annually, like a birthday or anniversary, which perhaps we celebrate in roughly similar ways each year, the ‘specialness’ of the occasion can start to fade, especially when tight budgets or a lack of imagination means the occasion can almost slip by, un-noticed.

The lights, tinsel and music in our shops and streets make it hard not to notice it will soon be Christmas. But possibly we can’t afford as many presents this year, and the electricity may be too expensive to run the outdoor lights, so how are we going to make the annual event of Christmas special in 2010?

I’d like to suggest you make Christmas special this year by finding out about the people involved. Find out why Christians are inspired by Jesus’ birth to celebrate it every year. Discover the distinguishing qualities of the baby in the manger that brings shepherds, wise men and millions of Christians together each year to worship him.

If you want to make Christmas 2010 special by encountering the real story of Jesus, please join us for one of these popular services!

Outdoor Nativity – Saturday 18th December 5.00pm Meet between the “White Lion” and the “Dog and Partridge” to encounter our “live” nativity

Christmas Eve Crib Services at 3:00 pm, 4:15pm, and 5:30 pm in St. Peter’s Church

Midnight Communion Service 11.30pm Christmas Eve in St. Peter’s Church with the Bishop of Basingstoke

Christmas Day Family Celebration with Communion 10.00am in St. Peter’s Church