The following Rector’s Letter requires a health warning in advance! Woe betide the church that preaches a limited vision of the ‘nuclear family’ as the only acceptable way to live. The Bible is full of examples of devout and holy single people, unmarried mothers, widows and those whose life-choices and relationships fall outside the socially accepted norms for marriage in a hundred and one different ways. Nevertheless, a political debate has been triggered in recent weeks that I feel compelled to comment upon from a Christian perspective.
My Dear Friends,
Bluntly, the current social and philosophical climate is anti-marriage. For shame! This denies people one of the best patterns of mutually-shared life that society has known and God has given. I got married more than twenty five years ago and it has been, without doubt, the wisest thing I have ever done (you will have to ask Liz if she feels quite as positive, but I hope so!) The vows I took, indeed the very institution itself, have shaped the way I have lived and caused me to prosper.
Two social trends become obvious at a cursory reading of our marriage registers: Firstly, fewer couples are marrying at all, and secondly, those that do are marrying much later. Even including civil marriages, these trends are relentless. But what the registers themselves don’t tell you is that many people don’t marry (perhaps even can’t marry) for financial reasons alone. Here are some of those compelling reasons:
1. Because a wedding costs so much! Typically £10,000-15,000 or more (and having paid for one recently I know that figure is painfully accurate!) Consequently, couples often face a hard choice: To have what they consider a ‘proper’ wedding or pay the deposit on a house; or perhaps to host a reception for family and friends and delay having a child. It can seem simply impossible to afford both.
2. Because of changes in taxation. Some might say, ‘Surely in matters of the heart people don’t change romantic relationship plans because of the tax laws?’ Oh really!? Don’t you remember when a marriage-related tax allowance meant that sensible couples very often scheduled their weddings in the tax year when most advantage was to be gained? It was just common sense.
3. Because a well-meaning but misguided social welfare system has made it advantageous for a young mother to live apart from the father of her child. Alarmist hearsay? Not a bit of it. I have personally known a couple with a child who were strongly advised to live apart and even omitted the father’s name from the birth certificate in order to secure and maximise benefits. I am not inclined to condemn them when literally thousands of pounds worth of benefits were at stake for a very young couple living right at the very bottom end of society. If the system had rather encouraged the stability of a marriage even slightly, wouldn’t their little girl be more likely to have her daddy still around in 15 years time? The negative knock-on effects for such families and the wider financial and social costs for society are just immense.
So apart from bleating to the politicians, what can be done? Well, I am going to include another option on our list of marriage fees: The zero-cost wedding!
If anyone wants the full works, bridesmaids, reception and posh frock, that is fine and good. That’s what we chose with our daughter and son-in-law last December and it was brilliant. Astbury Church will do you a fabulous job, and the scale of fees is available from our website. However, perhaps you know someone who hasn’t got married because the fuss is too much, the cost is too much or they just never quite got around to it before because it wasn’t the done thing? Well, if they are able to fulfil the normal legalities for marriage at Astbury, I will perform the ceremony for them without charge*. I will say the service in a quiet church before just the two legally required witnesses and they can leave after twenty minutes married in the sight of God and the world, and having made a life-long commitment that will stand them in good stead for their future. The statistics strongly and consistently suggest that they, and any children they have, will know a more prosperous, stable and happy life.
It may sound strange to many in our world but practical Christianity actually works! Try it and see.
_____________________________* For full details, apply to the Rector.
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