I married a lovely couple on Saturday. I don’t do many weddings any more now that I am a bishop and not consistently in any one parish but still do the occasional wedding for family and friends. The couple – Sarah and Curtis – got in touch with me a few months ago after seeing me in an old family picture from my Labrador days nearly 30 years ago. The picture was of a (rather younger) priest with Curtis’ family when I baptized his sister. That’s my connection with Curtis; my connection with Sarah comes through my wife who has been a close friend and colleague of her mother for more than 30 years now.
Sarah, Curtis and I consulted by e-mail and met over the summer and decided on the Church of the Good Shepherd in Mount Pearl for the ceremony. Like most weddings it was one of those rare gatherings of family and friends from all over who came to share in their joy. Prayers were offered, vows were exchanged, rings were given, documents were signed, and a blessing was bestowed. And at the end of the celebration the young couple was presented as husband and wife for the very first time. This evening Kathy and I joined with a huge and lively crowd of revelers for the reception where the good wishes for this couple continued. A funny thing happened on the way to the reception: Kathy was standing at the back of the church and some of the guests were chatting about the ceremony. Not knowing whom she was, one of them was heard to say, “Buddy did alright, that bishop!”
I love weddings. And I am grateful to Sarah and Curtis for the privilege of being part of their life in this way. Weddings for me today are one of the ways I remain grounded pastorally in everyday life. When I was a parish priest I always took the time if at all possible to get to know the couples I married over the years (and there have been hundreds) and many times the relationship formed around their marriage became a deeper and lasting friendship in the years that followed. I’ve seen a few changes over my three decades of weddings: there are fewer church weddings than there once were with more people choosing non-religious ceremonies, and even church weddings can now be performed outside of the building, receptions have gotten simpler with less formalities and fewer speeches, and the average age of those being married for the first time has gotten older.
I have often told those I marry that their decision to get married won’t really change their relationship because I assume that relationship must be pretty good anyway if they are seeking the permanency that the exchange of vows implies. Those vows we use in the church still contain the words “till death do us part” (BCP) or “for the rest of our lives” (BAS) in all of the conditions and challenges of life (richer and poorer, sickness and health and so on). The Church teaches that marriage is holy and a way of life blessed by God.
It’s been over 30 years now for Kathy and me. Over those years we have shared many things both joyful and painful. We have welcomed new life in our children and we have said good-bye to loved ones in death. We have known health and we have known sickness. There have been many changes of towns and parishes and a great many hellos and farewells along the way. Christian Marriage always comes with a side helping of forgiveness and a constant awareness of God’s Grace.
Sarah and Curtis have reminded me of many good things today and I am grateful. I end with the blessing I gave to them this afternoon:
“O God, you have so consecrated the covenant of marriage that in it is represented the spiritual unity between Christ and his Church. Send therefore your blessing upon these your servants, that they may so love, honour, and cherish each other in faithfulness and patience, in wisdom and true godliness, that their home may be a haven of blessing and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.”