A member of our congregation recently went to a COVID-19 shutdown wedding. A priest himself, here he reflects not only on the wedding, but on his sadness regarding the restrictions of church law. As we look towards IDAHOBIT this Sunday 17 May, I thought it was timely for us to read his story. Names have been changed to protect those involved.
I went to a wedding on Friday. By live video link, of course, along with maybe three hundred other people. It was a wonderfully joyful experience. My very dear friend Matthew’s son, Dan, was married to his partner of more than nine years.
The couple had chosen to move their wedding forward, and indeed, needed special permission to have it without the usual one month’s notice. They had intended to get married next year. Permission was granted because Matthew is dying. He probably has only months, perhaps only weeks, to live. But at the moment he is feeling relatively well, and Dan and his partner wanted him to be at the wedding when he was as well as he could be.
It was a very moving service. After the welcome we heard stories of the couple’s love and care for each other and how it has grown over the years. We heard of why they were choosing to get married and their hopes for the future. We also heard of some of those annoying little habits, those things we choose to overlook in a relationship. Well, mostly.
Matthew, a priest of the Anglican Church, read the story of the Wedding at Cana. His wife, Miriam, also a priest, gave the homily on celebrating life and love. The wedding vows the couple had written were exchanged. There was much laughter and many tears shed by the couple, Matthew and Miriam, and those of us watching as they made their promises to each other. Matthew then put on his father’s, Dan’s grandfather’s, priestly stole, joined the couple’s hands together, wrapped the stole around the joined hands in the old Anglican tradition symbolising the binding of the relationship, and pronounced the wedding blessing:
‘God the Father lovingly enfold you,
God the Son grace your home and table,
God the Holy Spirit crown you with joy and peace.
The Lord bless you and keep you in eternal life.’
After the documents were signed Miriam led the prayers and Matthew said a blessing for us all. Then the champagne began to flow, at least for the permitted five present, as well as Matthew’s and Miriam’s two younger sons who were behind the cameras (and in another room).
I felt greatly privileged to be able to witness this wedding and to add my ‘amen’ to the blessing and the prayers. It was an honour to be invited to share in this very intimate experience of two people committing themselves in love to each other.
There was only one thing missing. Neither Matthew nor Miriam, both ‘religious’ marriage celebrants, were permitted by the current rules of the Anglican Church to actually conduct the wedding as they had hoped. Dan was marrying Steve. They are a ‘same-sex’ couple. A civil celebrant performed the marriage ‘according to the laws of the Commonwealth of Australia’.
But Matthew could well be open for censure. He had some sensitivity about that and asked us not to spread the news of this wedding too widely. He didn’t want the church hierarchy get wind of it. His act in wearing the stole, the symbol of his ordination and his authority in the Anglican Church, and pronouncing a blessing would be seen by some, perhaps even many, in the church, as ‘illegal’ according to the church’s law. How sad, that God’s amazingly extravagant blessing, so freely and generously given, should be restricted by church law. How sad that blessing should be denied. Matthew, perhaps with a touch of gallows humour, says, ‘Well, what can they do to me?’
I find it very hard to imagine that God was doing anything other than rejoicing in the day and in the love these two people had for each other and the commitment they were making to each other, just as we all, who were privileged to witness it, rejoiced.
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