Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Do we refuse to marry people? And George Herbert.

This quite interesting comment was made in our weekly parish newsletter:

Sometimes unpopular things need to be said. It's not easy and very often I have to mull over
things for a while wondering whether or not I should say them. This weekend I am away as
part of the Engaged Encounter Team – a weekend course for couples wishing to marry in the
Church. So often I get requests for weddings at Trinity from couples who never come near the
Church – it's happened a number of times in recent weeks. It is perplexing to me as to why
the Church has no place in their lives and yet when couples decide to get married they want
a “Church wedding”. The reasons vary – “I want it to be like the movies” to “It‟s what my
mom really wants” or “It‟s my Gran's dream for me”. Sometimes couples do decide to come
back to Church after being married in the Church but, in my experience, these are not the
majority. I guess the real nagging question for me is who is actually being disingenuous:
Couples? Me? Both? I find weddings to be the most difficult part of my ministry because so
often integrity seems to be lacking. I believe that couples do mean what they say to each
other but I am, sadly, often sceptical about why they want to get married in the Church.
There are couples (and I am always grateful for them) who do take the religious side seriously
and truly want to live their marriage in midst of the Church community. Sadly, I cannot say
this for all and  sometimes am really tempted to advise them to forget about a Church
wedding and go to the registry office because it would be much more honest of them and me.
A few months ago I wrote a column for The Southern Cross on weddings (filed on their blog
page under “Southern Blogs”). It‟s a tough call but at one point have we sacrificed our
integrity and honesty?                                  - Fr Russell Pollitt SJ    

And there was a stronger note on marriage:

For those intending Marriage 
People wanting to get married should marry in their Parish Church  – i.e. the place they
regularly attend. Archdiocesan regulation stipulates that you have to see a priest at least 6
months before your proposed date of marriage. Couples wanting to get married in the Catholic
Church have to do the necessary preparation – an Engaged Encounter Weekend. Couples that
wish to get married in the Church should be practicing their faith: i.e. attending mass regularly
and be involved in the Parish community. Unfortunately we, at Holy Trinity, do not conduct
weddings at venues.

It's quite difficult, this one because, theoretically, it can be a means of reclaiming people for the Church even if it seldom is in practise.  I would have thought that erring on the side of leniency is best.  When I was in Bloemfontein I always remember the Administrator of the Cathedral preaching on an awareness of people's needs and how important it is to take a funeral because decency is expected and that means a priest or minister being present.  (He had just conducted a funeral at the crematorium when no other denomination would.)  If just one couple a year come to Mass on a regular basis as a result of being married in the church it is worthwhile.

A discussion amongst Anglicans on Ship of Fools brought up the topic of George Herbert, one of my favourite Anglican characters.  (another is Hensley Henson....some other time!)  I happened to mention that I found two verses from "The Elixir" very useful as prayers when driving!  Here it is...verses 1 & 3 are the ones I mean.  It appeared in his book "THe Temple" published in 1633 just after he died.  he was rector of Bemerton in Wiltshire for only three years before dying of tuberculosis but was renowned for his caring ministry, visiting the sick and taking them the Sacrament and the image I always have of him is of tolling the church bell so that the villagers would know that he was saying Mattins or Evensong and praying for them.

¶   The Elixir.

    TEach me, my God and King,
        In all things thee to see,
And what I do in any thing,
        To do it as for thee:

        Not rudely, as a beast,
        To runne into an action;
But still to make thee prepossest,
        And give it his perfection.

        A man that looks on glasse,
        On it may stay his eye;
Or if he pleaseth, through it passe,
        And then the heav’n espie.

        All may of thee partake:
        Nothing can be so mean,
Which with his tincture (for thy sake)
        Will not grow bright and clean.

        A servant with this clause
        Makes drudgerie divine:
Who sweeps a room, as for thy laws,
        Makes that and th’ action fine.

        This is the famous stone
        That turneth all to gold:
For that which God doth touch and own
        Cannot for lesse be told.


  1. I disagree with your priest. His views are terribly, dare I say it, sanctimonious. My children have no interest in church, but my daughter was married by her husband's mother's pastor. My granddaughter now has a great interest in God, as small children often do, encouraged by her grandmother's she wants to say grace before meals, and say a prayer before she sleeps, she loves the bible stories CD I sent.
    BUT and here churches need introspection and not to be sanctimonious as this priest was - how relevant is church in the lives of our children? I'm a woman, the Catholic church won't allow women priests, it is opposed to contraception, gay marriage - why should I support it? It reveres the Virgin but apparently not others like her.
    Before priests become holier than thou I would counsel that they look to their ministry, and look to the church & say, is it relevant in the lives of our parishioners. After all that was what Jesus was about He went TO the people, he did not demand that they come to him.
    Thank you for an interesting column Peter.

    1. "Sanctimonious" is defined as "Feigned piety or righteousness; hypocritical devoutness or high-mindedness." Come, Charlene, that hardly describes the impression of the writer. Quite the opposite, he's being honest and has a concern about people who maybe using the Church, himself or possibly the church building, as a backdrop to a rite of passage for personal rather than religious reasons....that's all. The same often applies to Baptisms when people make promises they may have no intention of keeping.

      I fail to see the relevance of women priests, gay marriage or contraception to the issue!