Last Saturday I had what was for me, a unique experience. I conducted a wedding and went to the reception simultaneously. Actually it was a service of dedication following a civil ceremony, but that doesn’t sound so good. This service took place in a marquee in Ade and Sarah’s garden. The guests, including me and my wife Annabelle, rocked up, were served Pimms, and after some chat in the garden, were all ushered to our places in the marquee. All the guests sat at their places at the tables, having taken their drinks with them. I went to the stage at the front and awaited the arrival, in procession from the back of the tent, of the bride and groom.
The service was a mixture of standard Christian and Church of England ingredients, including the official form of dedication, prayers and 1 Corinthians 13, and some less typical elements including a reading of some lyrics by Stevie Wonder and a rendition of the Beatles’ All You Need is Love sung by us all. At the end of the ceremony I retreated to my place at one of the tables and the bride and groom sang us a few songs. Dinner and more drink followed, there was more singing, and a good time was had by all.
Apart from the fact that this arrangement meant that the day was not, like so many weddings,composed of short periods of action punctuated by long periods of waiting around (the photographs are so often to blame) I was struck by how powerful the Christian words were in this very different context. Far from seeming out of place in a marquee in the garden, accompanied by Pimms and The Beatles, they were all the more serious, thought-provoking and poignant for the contrast. In church you expect to hear them, they are part of the furniture, they wash over you. Here they stood out – and people appreciated it – at least, many said they did. One person spoke of enjoying a relaxed occasion which nevertheless had gravitas.
Maybe we church people need to do a lot more of this. I confess to finding the standard Sunday morning church fare rather unengaging even when it is well done. It all feels rather predictable and not much to do with anything except itself. No doubt that is partly me, and no doubt that can be addressed in church. But maybe we can also re-connect with the world as it is by taking our words out into the world, by changing the context in which they are heard.
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