By The Right Reverend Jackie Searle, Bishop of Crediton
I love the beauty of a church wedding. The traditional moments and the personal touches, the familiar words with the individuality of each couple. There is a beautiful moment in the service that always moves me, after the bride and groom have exchanged their vows and made their promises, where the vicar takes their hands and wraps them in the priestly stole and declares that they are husband and wife. It symbolises that their great love for each other, all that has just been promised and declared, is held in the even greater love of God.
A wedding in church gives this holy and spiritual dimension. It’s there from the declaration of God’s love at the beginning, through the particular words of the service and in the prayers and blessings. The gift of love from above is celebrated with thanksgiving and gratitude.
The heart of any wedding service or ceremony is love. The love of two people who are committing themselves – all they have and all they are – to one another for the rest of their lives. For those getting married in church there is this further divine dimension. As a vicar I loved taking weddings, they were such joyful occasions, and each one so different.
By the time you reach the wedding day, there is often a great bond that has grown between the couple and the priest from the first meeting, where you talk though practicalities and setting the date, through to the wedding rehearsal and the big day itself. As vicar you want to do your absolute best for each couple, to make their wedding truly personal and wonderful.
By the time I left my parish of nine years I had married well over 100 couples, many of whom had formed a relationship with me and with the church, often coming back for special services, bringing children to be christened, and sometimes seeking solace after tragedy or loss.
Church is not only a venue for a special day. It is a special place in the midst of the community, one that has usually stood for many centuries, witnessing the joys and sorrows of its people, being the place of prayer and blessing. Church is also more than a building. It is a community. A community that will welcome, love, pray and care.
Two words most come to mind when describing a church wedding: Relationship and Blessing.
Relationship – your relationship – is at the heart of the service. Your names are spoken repeatedly as you enter into this holy commitment. Also, in the sealing of your relationship with each other, you are from then on related to this church – your names in the register, a sense of belonging, the church welcoming you today and always there for you in the future.
The blessing element of a wedding is also really important. I sometimes think this is a basic human longing – to be blessed, to know ourselves loved and blessed by God. Blessing does not mean ‘everything will go smoothly’, ‘nothing bad will ever happen’. But blessing, Christian blessing, is a deep faith that God is with us and wants good for us.
One of my favourite blessings is this: ‘The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face shine on you, the Lord be gracious to you and give you peace.’
With this or other words at the end of the service the couple are sent out with the blessing of God, now and forevermore. To which the congregation of family and friends are invited to respond with a loud and heartfelt.