Viv Groskop recounts the story of how a rigid vicar drove her out of her parish church on the day of her wedding.
The vicar, the Rev. Stephen Bould is leaving the Church of England for the Roman Catholic Church and wants to take the bulk of his congregation with him.
Groskup says that Bould’s rigid attitude sent her running down the aisle after her wedding never to return. She wonders if there is room in the Church for people in search of ritual, community and a open mind and heart but whose spirituality is not set in stone.
While she is writing in the context of the Church of England, her story and her questions are worth pondering in our pastoral experience.
I would not describe myself as a religious person but I do have some sort of faith. I grew up singing in the choir in the church where I got married (sorry, blessed). Over the years, though, any belief I once had has dwindled away to next to nothing because there is no way to express it casually or on a part-time basis. You’re not that welcome at church services unless you want to become a regular member of the congregation – and you’re not that welcome at your own wedding if the person you want to marry is divorced.
Around the time I got married I convinced myself that the Church of England’s stance on remarriage was impressive: I told myself that I approved of the fact that my husband’s first marriage wasn’t going to be swept under the carpet; that the church had more respect for marriage than to pretend it doesn’t matter how many times you do it. But over time I’ve changed my mind.
Ten years on I’m disillusioned for the opposite reasons to the angry Anglicans. I would like to see the Church of England be more inclusive not only towards women priests but towards people like me – people who rarely attend church, often question their faith, but who are, essentially, supportive of the church. It’s not as if you’d ever be turned away from a service, but there is a clear message on high days and holidays. Always the hopeful raised eyebrow: are you coming back on a regular basis or not? How serious are you? In today’s Christian Britain you are either atheist or God Squad. There’s no inbetween.
Those, like Bould, who look to Rome would say this is right. That if you want to marry in our church, you follow our rules. That there is no room for fellow travellers, you either believe or you don’t, the church is your life or it is not. But this is completely unrealistic in modern society. In any case, the church I grew up in was about more than religion: it was about community, ritual and a sense of belonging. Where can you go for those now?