The setting was all you’d hope for: formal rooms at a London botanical garden, sunshine in May (a bonus), and family and friends gathered to celebrate with bride and groom.
I was invited to lead the Blessings Service, following after the Civil Ceremony, which was performed with appropriate dignity. Papers were signed, and the couple was duly pronounced man and wife – legally.
Civil law is of value in its demands of responsibility, and its enshrining of rights. But it seems utterly powerless in its ability to stop the rampancy of another civil right – divorce. And the words of commitment spoken at the Ceremony are as enduring (in many cases – not all) as the couple’s moral integrity, or failing that, for as long as ‘love’ holds out.
However. The State has no mandate to sanctify or bless a marriage. In fact the question should be asked, when did the State arrogate to itself the right to even perform a marriage, or say it has the right to validate marriage, and that without the State’s authority a marriage doesn’t exist? This is the domain of the community and the church, of the gathering of God’s people to bless, and witness to, the commitments of the vows. Marriage is not a child of the State. It has been forcibly adopted.
And the State should be called to account for saying that no religious symbols or literature can be in the same room in which the Civil Ceremony takes place. What absurdity, and in the United Kingdom – a country with a profound and pervasive Christian heritage.
The Blessing Service, on the other hand, can be seen as either a ‘lovely’ add on, or something quite different. It is something quite different.
It is the main event. We, gathered in the sight of God, surrounded by believing family and friends, expectant of the presence and blessings of God, joyfully hear God’s word and promises, listen to and concur with vows of commitment and faith, vows that have a seriousness and vitality that pales those of a Civil Ceremony. We witnessed and rejoiced in their marriage in God’s eyes.
A Civil Ceremony is required by law; therefore it is right and proper. However it doesn’t seal, empower, nor sanctify a marriage. Only the presence of God can do that. The first may be required, but the second is utterly essential.