On the pilgrim way: “Marriage – what a bold commitment!”
It is a long time since I was a guest at a traditional English wedding. Our own children have not had traditional weddings: One daughter was married in blue and walked down the “sort-of” aisle in the community church on the arm of her husband-to-be; the other daughter was married in green in a registry office and we all processed round the walls of Chester afterwards; our son’s third marriage was a pagan handfasting in his back garden. So I was looking forward to our nephew, Daniel’s, wedding almost as an interesting period piece.
It had all the elements of a picture-book wedding, and yet nothing was token. The service took place in a picturesque village church where the bride’s mother was on the cleaning rota and her father mowed the lawn. One friend had written a poem for the occasion and another sang “Make me a channel of your peace”. For fun, the couple drove to the hotel in a classic little car lent to them by one of the guests. The gift at each of our places at the meal was a little jar of jam – the fruit grown by the groom (a fruit farmer) and the jam made by the bride. The best man’s speech did, it is true, tell of Dan’s sporting and drinking youth, but ended with a touching tribute to his friendship. They are an older couple – 41 and 39 – marrying for the first time; the clear delight of all their friends was lovely to see.
The plain speaking of the wedding service struck me as quite startling. There we all were – dressed up, lots of big hats, a buzz of excitement – and into that drop the words “for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part”. What a bold commitment! Pictures flashed through my mind – of M, whose husband mostly no longer knows her; of R and L, in a care home together, she nearly blind, he bed-ridden, yet they say an evening prayer together. As I wiped away a tear, I noticed Dan’s mother doing the same. But the bride and groom’s faces were radiant as they said “I do.”
The plain speaking of the service and the genuineness of the whole occasion seemed to open something up in the guests as well as the couple. Our reticent, non-religious son-in-law recalled his own wedding, still surprised that he had actually made an unplanned speech openly expressing his delight and even astonishment at being married. I was particularly moved by Dan’s speech. He is a reserved, almost taciturn, man’s man kind of bloke, but he felt able, in the presence of 120 people, to be truly vulnerable and say, with great feeling, that Catherine had made him happier than he had ever been.
Formal or informal, traditional or trendy, it is what comes from the heart that counts – and perhaps I needed to be reminded of that.
Sheila Maxey is book reviews editor for Reform
This article was published in the November 2014 edition of Reform.