Thursday, 2 October 2008

Church Weddings: a whole lotta love?

It was good to see a write up of our recent Bucks clergy day put on by the weddings project in the Church Times, and an account of the experience on Tim Norwood’s blog. Professional market research in Bradford and Buckinghamshire revealed various facts we probably all suspected, but would do well to remember. It turns out that 75% of people think a church is the best place to get married, but they don’t do it, because they feel they don’t qualify, or would feel hypocritical. As the rules ease up on residence, some interesting facts emerged:
  1. The Social significance of marriage has changed fundamentally. 30 years ago, the wedding was where you began. If someone had been going steady with a girl for a couple of years by 19, like as not, her father came round and soon after the couple got engaged. Now the wedding is the pinnacle, not the base camp. You couple up, go on holiday, move in, get jobs, buy a house, have kids, then, if after all that you really want the relationship to be for keeps, you think about getting married, as an expression of highest commitment. It’s not, actually, a low view of marriage, but a very high one. You can challenge this sociological reality, and I’d certainly question whether it’s the only or the best way, but you can’t ignore it; not if you want to engage with real human beings.
  2. A large and increasing number of English people do, in fact, go into churches — 82% of them last year — but in their own way at their own times. Therefore as big a challenge as getting them in is working out how to treat them when they get there. Why do so many people find our churches more spiritual when we’re not there! Cynicism about people’s motives is a bad start. “They’re mainly interested in the building” turns out to be the case for 3% of couples. What about the other 97%? And, come to that, why be sarcastic about the 3%?
  3. Bagging people up into generic groups, especially in the early stages of a relationship, is foolish. Imagine you went to the surgery about a breast lump, and they said “lots of people in this surgery have breast lumps, so we see them all together on the second Tuesday of the month at 6·30, when it's convenient to us.” For most wedding couples, their wedding is profoundly significant personally, and they resent having it turned into an institutional convenience product by the church, or anyone else.
  4. Relationships drive everything. People are not idiots. If meeting their vicar feels like going ten rounds with Basil Fawlty, an authoritarian guardian of the sacred who appears to be having some kind of breakdown, they will draw their own conclusions. Where, however, as is usually the case, they find someone who is open, focussed and friendly, that’s fine. Biggest disappointments, say the marketers, were that so few churches follow up the relationship established on the day, and, interesting one, a slight disappointment that some vicars didn’t open up more about God and the vows during meetings.
  5. What is a Good Wedding? The punters say they are hoping for three things in their church wedding — that it will be:
    Proper — a real traditional wedding, not Mickey Mouse, with deep roots
    Special — personal for them, good humoured, recognising their hopes and humanity, joyfully engaged with the real people there
    Holy — carrying some sense of God, not a production line or School Assembly
I wonder how these principles translate into other things we do in Church?

2 comments:

Steve said...

After drawing at 100 weddings each year I think I may qualify to have a view on this, I am drawing at 4 this weekend alone. The Church is missing the boat by not allowing weddings to take place regardless of having to become a church person to qualify. Marriage in a church is a good way to show everyone that the church is there for all. Like Alpha, that seeks to help people find a safe place to ask questions about faith, a wedding in a church should be a safe place where people feel they can come and allow the church to be a part of their lives, if only for one day. I think this is more important than the topic of female Bishops and gay clergy. I can just imagine God in Heaven saying to the Bishops when they arrive, "So you spent all that time arguing over female and gay clergy and yet, thousands of people who wanted my blessing in my house were turned away because they didn't make it on a Sunday.... ????" It is a sobering thought eh?

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

I'm 100% with you, Steve. As someone who had 50-80 weddings a year in my last parish, I aways used to find it powerful when couples had the reading from John 2 with the last words: "This wedding was the first of the signs by which Jesus made himself known and led his disciples to believe in him..."

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