Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Weddings - A consumer fest?

Discussing the number of weddings that some of the clergy have, and the associated stresses, I am beginning to think that I might need to be happy that I occupy (as a colleague with a splendid church building once called it) a 'tiddly little place!' This, combined with the fact that (as another colleague put it) 'It's not pretty!' all adds up to us having very few - in fact almost none (I've done one wedding in the place since I started here`!).

It's true that the building we occupy is not large (we have but the one room) but that merely means that everything we have is used to the full. There are no rooms reserved for 'best' here - what we have is versatile and pretty well utilised (eucharist - room change - tea. coffee and lunch - room changes again and .....) all the time as we do services, social stuff, community stuff, kid's club, support groups, stuff for then older folk, crafts, courses and more besides in the one room (we have no choice).

Add to the one room aspect of the building the fact that it's not a 'proper' church building and you will understand why we don't get people asking to get married here. See for yourself:


In fact a few years back, one of our near neighbours decided to get married and they did so in the wonderful building that houses the parish church. Another couple just up the road from us decided to get married in the pretty little village church building round the corner and this is the pattern for those who decide on a church wedding (a small number in a growing market in that we have some 30% of the wedding business these days). They want the pretty buildings for their big day and that's fair enough, after all they want a good backdrop for the photo's and stuff.

My 'problem' comes in the fact that all too often people will tell me that I should do the wedding in their church if they come from my patch because of the 'pastoral engagement' and it is here that I will find that my real struggle begins.

After all, it's a fair (empirically sound) assumption that those who marry in St Blogspots will also have their sprogs baptised in the same place, as they assume it's 'their church' - an assumption that is not supported by attendance or any semblance of relationship with the church (meaning the people) or the clergy but is based purely upon it having been the venue for a wedding. In fact they may even come to the same building when death comes a knocking on that same assumption.

And this is good - but it means that those who have the attractive, wedding rich church buildings have to realise that they also have the privilege (and duty) of engaging and building relationships with the couple, introducing them to Jesus, the Christ, and continuing that relationship (as best they may) once the wedding day has passed. They, having become 'in loco parentis' to the emerging family have a duty to pastor and pray for them. They are happy to collect the cash and do the deed, but there is much, much, much* more to it than that.

If we provide a building without discharging our duty then as much as this is wrong, that is your choice, but having provided the venue - you need to also provide the pastoral and spiritual input that goes with it in the before, during and after phases.

I have spoken to a few couples (seven of them to be accurate) with the result that 100% of the population 'enjoyed' the day but were not minded to be engaged with Church again on a regular basis. The reasons for this were that they regarded what they had was not spiritual but all about the venue and that they 'weren't religious' but wanted a nicer building than ............ (names omitted to avoid venue wars!). They didn't want 'church' and even though. 'The service was nice and the Vicar made us laugh,' it wasn't what they wanted after the event. 'But it was a nice day!'

Having been brought up with the understanding that the occasional offices (AKA: hatch, match and dispatch) were a source of engagement and potential growth. My experience is that this is not the case (we don't do many baptisms or funerals outside of those with whom we have relationships or are perhaps members) but find that we grow quite consistently through real engagement and the making of friendships.

I've written this to clarify some of the issues that came up in a conversation with a colleague who thought that, as they had a popular building, the local clergy should come and take the services for those 'from their patch'. At first I wasn't sure about it, but having given it some time (and thought) I have to say, 'Nah, crack on with it!' (or perhaps that should be, 'No thanks old bean, you carry on doing them in your building - you book them, you cook them!'). Your wanting to advertise and attract people to your buildings for weddings is a great thing to be doing - and if you are successful at it (and enjoy the wedding fayres and the conjugal/matrimonial consumer fests) - crack on and reap the blessings that are to be found within it.

As for me, I'll stick to funerals - something I find much more rewarding pastorally and more effective evangelistically!

Happy Daze

*sorry rampant Police Academy gene issues this morning


The Rector said...

I want to say you're wrong but actually I have to say that whilst we do many weddings each year we rarely see them again after the event. They come, fulfill residency or attendance expectations and then vanish.

We do have an extremely pretty church and the lych gate photo is one of the selling points when we go to fairs and wedding shows.

Walks from the grave/altar no one was saved

Anonymous said...

i'm alright Jack?

So you don't attract weddings and so can sit back and do nothing to assist clergy who have many come to their churches?

Sound to me like you're happy to not do them whilst others of us have no time off on a Saturday because we have to.


TJK said...

Steady on. I think Vic has some interesting and valid points in his entry.

I do 20+ weddings and the new rules means that I don't know them before meet, fail to engage with them once we've met and never see them again after we've done the deed.

What I see is a cry for something that witnesses and engages with the couples and sows seeds and some honesty. For which I thank him.

Anonymous said...

Provocative and thoughtful


SoupD said...

Not doing weddings does not constitute having Saturday off. Vic is often busy with other ministerial engagement - as my children and I can testify! His training incumbent made it clear that, while Saturday might be a 'lighter' day, it was still part of the working week.
Working on a Saturday is also not restricted to clergy. Sorry Anonymous, but it goes with the job. Unfortunately, you can't complain at being required to fuffil the requirements of your profession,

Vic Van Den Bergh said...


go out and do stuff - come back to find all these!

Excellent - thanks for the comments :-)

Not being rude, smug or anything else - merely stating the situation and hoping, where wrong, to be engaged with to bring me into line or up to speed.

Hey Ho!

JonG said...

picked up an amusing little book a fortnight or so ago - "The Most Unreliable Bible Dictionary, Ever", by one Nigel Bayley. It is basically The Meaning of Liff with Biblical names instead.

It defines Priscilla and Aquila (ns.) as:
A recently engaged couple who have suddenly, and for no apparent reason, become regular attendees of your beautiful old church, with its extensive grounds set in picturesque countryside.

It is, as far as I can see, one of the prices of being the established Church in this country - not that that makes it right.

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

Indeed it is one of the prices - and I'd be happy to pay it if the merchandise had any real value, or even longevity, at the end of the day.

Problem is that it's a cheap and tacky ersatz product :-(

BG said...

Having been the guy with the pretty building - the problem becomes that you have no time to 'cook them' (your words). People (because of the, in my view, regrettable change of the CofE wedding rules in 2008) now have legal rights to get married in a wider number of parishes. The vicar has to comply, and my wedding numbers doubled in one year. That was not my choice, nor my wish.

Whereas, previously, the couple would have had to reside in the parish or attend for 6 months you had a chance to at least get to know them. Now, for those with 'pretty churches', you find yourself legally obliged to marry people who have no interest in the parish per se, let alone Christianity, but are simply using you as a service provider. And, if you don't provide, you get a call from the Archdeacon.

So, to be honest, I find your blogpost a bit smug. But, come back at me if you disagree.

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

No, not being smug (where do you get that from?) - just a bit fed up with the people who have the buildings and tell you haw many they have and then try to offload them on 'pastoral grounds'

For I, like you (and like you too), having had the pretty building and a Summer dance card that was full of weddings, I know the struggles (and if they call me and say 'I want to be somewhere on . . ., can you do one, the response is usually in the affirmative)

I agree with your comments about the wedding rules too - they leave us out on a limb at times with some extremely tenuous connections claimed - but the answer is to use the strength of all-member ministry and get others to do the preparation. The key is the preparation and the engagement with the church (meaning of course the people).

I am merely frustrated as the potential of being one of the crowd:
Reception venue manager
Person with the pretty building.

Many things but smug mate (perhaps because unlike the US - England dived ) - have you seen our building (and my ministry prospects)


BG said...

I found, unfortunately, that a great deal of the couples who had the right to be married in the parish under the new rules also lived well outside it - to the point that they were simply unwilling to come and engage with preparation beyond the meeting with me to plan their 'big day'. So, nice idea but in practice it never flew.

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

Agree - think we're singing from the same sheet - but if the only grounds to hold off on is preparedness, then I guess that that's where I would come from with matrimony too.

The blog entry was a clarification for a conversation which boasted (now that was smug ) about how many weddings came through the door and then said that they expected clergy from the parishes the couples came from to 'do their duty' and marry them as some form of weird pastoral engagement.

Like you - unwillingness to engage was the bit that stuck in my throat - I did one for someone recently and when I did the rehearsal, the could asked if I could 'not do God'. My response was that of course that was an option - there was a perfectly good Registry Office in the next town

peak and troughs

BG said...

Sorry if there has been cross cultural mis-communication. There are days I think we'd be best off out of the 'nuptial-industrial complex'.

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

Been saying that for years - like Europe, register marriage and then, if that's who and what you are - off to a place for a service of blessing. As 70% now go to castles, stately homes and 'pretty' venues I'd like to think that the reason they come to us has something to do with God (even folk religion is a start I guess - look at the woman with the issue of blood) - but three of the seven said they chose church 'because it was cheaper!'


SD said...

He called you smug - ha, ha

BG said...

I did indeed!

SD said...

Marital feud, Brett.

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

Must have caught it from you

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

No, you are smug BECAUSE you caught me

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

Same thing (see - said you were smug [or was that smaug?) )

HG said...

I've been involved in a number of conversations this week about photography - specifically 'reportage' style (click-bunny/meerkat/look-at-me photographers), and the most challenging comments were along the lines of "the bride and groom have paid the church (often half of what they pay the photographer) so should be allowed to do what they want, and the grumpy vicar is being unfair to stop them" Mention God and the gulf gets even wider. And yet... many of the couples are looking for something deeper, but I don't have the resources to follow that up. Sigh...

BG said...

Don't get me started on wedding photographers... I came close to tossing one out once. I laid down the ground rules, and then he just blithely ignored them. I wound up banning his firm from the parish church.

HG said...

We've all experienced that one Brett, and not just churches but civil celebrants as well - some now ban all photographers. I'm adding manners to the list of stuff I talk about when a couple wants to book a service. The trouble is that people will say what they think we want to hear in order to get what they want, which is often a pretty (and cheap) backdrop.

Yet... in the midst, they are doing something quite profound, and it would be good to be able to do more to develop that with them.

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

Count a wedding photographer as a friend - be interesting to see his comments on this twist.

My biggest problems in this area have come in the shape of the 'videographer' (a word up there with 'summariser' in my book) and the relative who has offered to take photo's.

Other than that, my experience has been good - but I tell them that they can snap wherever and whatever as long as they don't get in the way or distract from the service.

Did have one photographer who crept up behind me and tried to re-arrange the rings I was praying over, as I was praying, because I, 'Hadn't got them in the right place!'. But as me dear old Mum used to say, 'God pays His debts,' for a couple of minutes later he fell down the pulpit steps, dropped his camera and, although hadn't realised it at the time, broke his ankle . Feel guilty every time I smile at him hobbling outside to take photo's after service (feeling guilty now!).

Photographers and others should be working with us, and vv, and more often than not have been good experience (like clergy . ).

HG said...

Just over 50% have been good - still the majority (just); the others have performed with various degrees of disrespect for previously agreed boundaries (not even sure they know how disruptive they are being). Mostly I just grin and get on with it because I don't want to spoil the day for the couple. But, there are huge assumptions made by all parties, and it is getting worse. So I now think it's time for a proper discussion with the photographic community about the prime purpose of a wedding, and I see that as an opportunity to talk about more important stuff with the couple as well.

HG said...

The photographer is the only person present who is paid to work and who is not expected to be taking an active part or interest in the service, being purely an observer and recorder. They have a genuinely different perspective.

RH said...

colleague once had videographer run backwards down aisle in front of bride as if on film set!

Anonymous said...

Recently had a new experience - a baptism with a profesional photographer booked all within the context of a normal morning service. Only found out on the day!

SP said...

I give them clear boundaries as I had one climb over the alter rail, all eyes on him and not the couple. :( but most are fine.