One thing I miss about not being the Rector of a large urban church is I don't get to do as many Weddings and Baptisms as I did before I retired. I really love weddings and baptisms. In my time in the Cluster, with the three small churches, I've done a handful of Baptisms and only one wedding. I did bless another marriage but a JP did the vows and signed the marriage license since the couple had divorces and didn't want to go through the rig-a-ma role (is that the way to spell it?) that Canon Law required to be re-married by a priest. I don't blame them. I've always resented having to explain to a bishop who didn't know the man and woman from Adam and Eve, why I should be able to be the celebrant at their marriage. I knew them, for goodness sake, why shouldn't I decide? (My problem with Authority showing its head....)
This year I did officiate at the marriage of Fred and Joe--the first same-sex marriage license I've been able to sign with the blessing of my church.
Those are two things I've never refused to do for people--weddings and baptisms. I know priests who put up road-blocks to people wanting to be married in the church or baptizing children of people who weren't active members. Not me. Throughout my priesthood, I've been 'Marrying Sam' and 'Baptizing Bob'.
There are two reasons for this: first, I really, really, truly believe in the 'objective reality' of the Sacraments. I'm Anglo-Catholic in my theology if not my liturgical style. Sacraments ARE 'outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace'--and REALITY, I would add to that. Sacraments are 'real'. Blessing two people wanting to become One as well and marking a child as 'Christ's own forever', means just what the words say. Who could deny that to anyone--the graces of God?
The second reason is a bit more skeptical: I am not only convinced that the church is basically irrelevant in 21st century America...I embrace that truth. I like living in a pre-Nicene era of Christianity where we are one of may possibilities. So, when anybody wants the church involved in their lives, I am over-joyed and set up no roadblocks (unless having a time to meet and talk together is a roadblock--no one in my ministry has ever balked at getting to know me and me getting to know them in a non-judgmental setting.)
I did a dozen or so weddings a year at St. John's and two or three times that many baptisms every year. So I had one class for the weddings in the year (5 sessions) and one morning long session 4 times a year for baptismal families.
Over those 20 years, 3 couples decided it wasn't time to get married because of the classes. I considered those major victories since the classes saved them a world of hurting later. One came back a year later and, I know, are still married. The other two never returned. God love them and bless them--they made the right choice.
Anyway, all this is prompted because in October I'll be the celebrate at the Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage. I met with the couple today.
I always tell people on first meeting: "I'm going to ask you a question and there is really only one wrong answer. The question is: 'why do you want to get married'?"
Over the years about 75% of the couples joined hands, looked into each others' eyes and said--one or both of them--"we're in love!"
And I've said, every time, "that's the one wrong answer.'
Which frees me to talk about 'love' as an 'emotion' that comes and goes and to suggest what 'makes a marriage' is commitment, not love. Commitment is something you 'create' out of nothing--not something you 'feel'. "Feelings", I've come to believe, are highly overrated reasons for actions. Hate is a feeling. Envy is a feeling. Guilt is a feeling. Jealousy is a feeling. I would suggest none of those 'feelings' can lead to any creative action. Neither can 'love'. Actions that are positive and life-giving and creative come, not from feelings (even feelings like compassion or empathy--which create actions that feel like 'pity' to the other person) but from 'commitments'--'saying so and meaning it and standing by it in spite of feelings...."
There were lots of reasons to like the couple I spent an hour with today--they're funny and kind and enjoy each others' company and smile a lot at each other. But the reason I really like them is how they answered the question "why do you want to get married?"
She said: "We want to spend our lives together." He said, "we want to move this relationship to a new level."
Sounds like commitment to me. Writ large. I love these two people. They are very different, but so are Bern and I. Really different. Maybe balance for each other.
And we're coming up on our 45th anniversary.
(The groom said, "you can't be married that long--you aren't that old." I told him we were babies. And we were....)
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