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church stops promoting marriage

Every March and September our local newspaper, the Press, publishes a liftout Wedding Directory (called “I do“) along with the daily newspaper. Twenty A3 pages very attractively present hints, lists, articles, venues, jewellery, dresses, cakes, flowers, etc. In every previous liftout there has been a church presence, an article, and/or parish or diocesan advertisements. As these have become fewer and fewer, I have always taken the effort to contact those who put them in, and commend them. This March edition … absolutely no church presence. No clerical collar, no alb or stole, not even a reference in the articles on “Keeping costs down” or “Beat the wedding stress”. 20 pages, 19 articles, 67 advertisements, not one – count them… – not one by any church. From any denomination.

The word “church” is not mentioned once in the 20 pages. There isn’t even an allusion to church in the article on “customs and traditions”.

With the Roman Catholic Church increasingly embroiled in the greatest scandal since the Middle Ages and it getting step by step closer to the pope himself, with the Anglican Church tearing itself apart with the question – are we going to let gay people be committed to each other in a way that heterosexuals regularly have difficulty maintaining? one might have thought that the opportunity to proclaim a positive message about sex and marriage would be grasped by the church with both hands… but NO we appear to be caught like a rabbit in the headlights impotent (oops!) to present ourselves to the secular public with anything positive to say.

Tell me the last time that you walked into a randomly selected parish church building and found an attractively presented brochure invitingly explaining how you can get married there.

And if you think that the church has abandoned promoting marriage via print and has moved into the 21st century and is doing this on the web, join me in searching google.co.nz using the words “marriage”, or “wedding”, or even “church wedding” and count the number of answers you get before you get to a church wedding page. [Oh yes the “church wedding” search looked hopeful, with the top hit being “Church of the Good Shepherd New Zealand wedding venue” – it’s actually for something called “the wedding company” (& check the price-tag)]

Further reflection: inexpensive wedding

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16 thoughts on “church stops promoting marriage”

  1. It might not be a matter of church promotion, can churches afford high add prices, and if a church places an add for marriage doesn’t it send a message to the people that by us marrying you, we will make a profit, so come to us. not just another “justice of the peace.” (after all these marriages aren’t blessed by God) so rather is it not a better strategy to pull the marriage propaganda…marriage isn’t something that’s marketable, sure it’s an economic relationship but marriage isn’t something that prosperous anymore…with nearly 50% of divorce rates….

    1. I disagree with you on several points, Lou (@frogsterlou).

      As I point out, churches used to place advertisements and articles in this liftout. If we can now no longer afford everything we used to do I would call for strategic reflection on where to put our priorities. If you are suggesting previously a parish could afford to place such an ad but can no longer – what about parishes sharing the cost of an ad. What about working ecumenically.

      Newspapers here are always looking for people to write articles, and in fact pay people whenever they produce one. I’m sure that the editor of the liftout would have been delighted to have been offered a well-written article from a church perspective. The church could even have waived the remuneration the editor normally would give.

      I am not convinced that a marriage outside a church is “not blessed by God” – I believe God is present wherever there is love.

      I would hope for a Christian community that sees marriage as something more than “an economic relationship”, in which there is teaching, modelling, and formation for marriage, in which there is support through the hard times which will come. It is a tragedy that Christian marriages appear to survive no differently to the 50% divorce rate you quote – but also wonder what is cause and what is effect: are we no longer prepared to proclaim positive marriage because we are not able to offer anything of value to a marriage, or are we not offering anything of value to marriage because we have lost our way in our ability to proclaim positive marriage.

  2. There could be some less-than-friendly factors at play. The ‘wedding industry’ is big business, and in leaner economic times the last thing those promoting venues, hotels and the like would want near their ad is someone pointing out that their local church will perform the wedding for a minimal sum – especially when the local church is often larger, more historic and more beautiful than their own pricey venue. It would not be the first time that advertisers have influenced editorial policy in a local newspaper!

    I do have a question on this issue… and that is whether the church should be seeking to perform marriage ceremonies for non-Christians. Christians will usually to talk to their parish priest about wedding arrangements without the need for adverts. Does it perhaps devalue all the rites of the church by agreeing to perform a ceremony in which it is surely known that the participants do not believe and agree with all the words that are spoken?

    1. Vincent, my own church’s position on this is that we only marry those who are church members, or catechumens – those preparing for baptism. A priest cannot celebrate the marriage of non-Christians.

  3. Thanks Bosco; that seems to me a good policy. I wonder then whether it is worthwhile advertising that one performs marriages in that case? The NZ situation may differ, but so far as I know “church members and catechumens” will usually approach their parish priest about marriage because it’s both natural and usual to do so.

    In the English context to be married in the parish church is a legal right afforded even to Muslims – another painful legacy of continued establishment. In the RCC it is ‘severely frowned upon’ to get married other than by the church. Am I missing something about the NZ situation?

    (As an aside, I have long been of the opinion that weddings, just as baptisms, would be better performed during the regular Sunday service, in the presence of the whole congregation.)

    1. I’m not sure that you are missing anything about the NZ situation, Vincent. We have no established church or religion.

      Yes, I understand that Roman Catholics would need a dispensation in order not to be married by a priest or their marriage would not be regarded as valid, and that could be grounds for an annulment.

      It would be nice to think that it is “both natural and usual” for people to seek to be married by parish priest, just as I would hope that it is “both natural and usual” for church members to use all that the Christian tradition offers around the time of death. Your experience may be happily different, Vincent, but here I am aware that often communities and individuals have not always been so well formed. Unless people are regularly reminded and formed around what the Christian tradition offers at these significant moments on our life journey, the dominant secular culture can regularly begin to seep into people’s understanding and practices. Hence my question about pamphlets. One might complement that by asking how regularly is there preaching and teaching in one’s community around these things.

      As to your aside about marriage being celebrated in the regular Sunday service, I mention that in my post “inexpensive wedding“.

  4. At my church divorce seems to come up more than marriage. That is more than the marriage itself, not the state of being married. That makes sense if that time last longer but it kinda leaves out us singles.

    1. I’m not exactly sure what you are meaning here, Wayne. My own hope would be that the church is a place where all are welcome and included and find space for their particular life: single, married, divorced, etc. Is that what you mean?

  5. Two weeks ago I attended my first traditional Jewish wedding. It was held in the basement of a popular Italian restaurant. The female Rabbi, who is also a Yoga master, made a point of explaining each element involved in the ceremony and how there was little or no change from the way things were done 2 thousand years ago. The bride and groom however were different. The bride was African American and the groom was Jewish. Most of the audience was Jewish. Now why was this wedding held in the basement of a restaurant and not in a Synagogue or Church? The bride is converting afterall. I wondered at the time. And now I wonder even more. There are churches in my hometown that are literally dying. (because of the aversion to change) At the same time there is a progressive church building the biggest complex I have ever seen for worship in the same area. Why is one thriving and the other not? The thriving one also hosts more weddings than any of the others. What is the thriving, expanding church doing differently? Adapting to a changing world perhaps. Many times it is the “AD that is spread word of mouth” that carries the most weight.

    1. Thank you Lucy for your interesting story and reflection. As to your point: the “AD that is spread word of mouth” carries the most weight – I’m sure that is true. I hope I’m not being perceived as being either/or. I want the church to have a strong presence on the internet with websites and twitters and facebook pages, etc. I think we should be in print, on TV, and spreading by word of mouth. What I’m seeing is little to no TV presence, very weak internet presence, reduced print presence, and almost total reliance on spreading by word of mouth? & to spread by word of mouth, your church experience has to be pretty awesome – that also is not always the case 🙁

  6. At least in NZ if people wander into an Anglican church they might find a prayerbook with the marriage rite in it.

    In Australia there are two editions of ‘A Prayer Book for Australia’ (the defective (‘shorter’) and the heavy (the actual text)). Presumably all parishes provide their congregations with the defective edition which as about the same size as NZBP/HKMA yet has only about a third of the content. The marriage rite isn’t in it, so if a person were to wander into an Australian Anglican church thinking that they’d like to read through a prayerbook to see how the church solemnizes marriages then they’d be unable to.

    Still, given how much material is missing from the defective edition it’s no great surprise.

  7. >>Newspapers here are always looking for people to write articles, and in fact pay people whenever they produce one. I’m sure that the editor of the liftout would have been delighted to have been offered a well-written article from a church perspective. The church could even have waived the remuneration the editor normally would give.<<

    So why don't you write one? You have proved over and over on this site that you can write.

    1. Fair call, Robert (rwmg) – why don’t I write one? I guess that belonging to a community/the body of Christ, I’d hope that it’s not about one person trying to fix every gap that appears – I’d like to hope that others will take up the challenge of some of these things; I don’t think that it’s centrally about “being able to write” – we have hundreds of well-educated clergy and laypeople who shouldn’t feel too nervous about providing something for a newspaper – even a simple advertisement; I hope that posts like this aren’t seen solely about a local issue – this is an internationally read blog – I hope that by anchoring some points locally, people are translating ideas from here into their own context – it’s more than “simply solving a small local issue” – it’s, hopefully about providing some thoughts that others in their possibly-different context can find some echoes for. OK, end of excuses – cutting and running 🙂

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