So much has been written recently about the decline in the significance of marriage, especially with the rise in popularity of the civil partnership, which has now been extended to heterosexual couples. As a wedding celebrant, however, I have to tell you that marriage is alive and well, thank you, and as valued as ever. It is just the way in which people are choosing to wed that has changed so much, and there are bound to be reactionary views when it feels as if one of the most sacred pillars of our society is threatened.
There are many reasons why a church, or faith wedding, is no longer the first choice of an increasing number of couples wanting to wed. Spiritual faith is in decline, and monotheistic religions can seem antiquated, prescriptive, narrow and irrelevant to this generation. Our contemporary multi-cultural society means that many couples are coming together from different traditions, and they would rather not highlight these differences by opting for one over the other. Others may choose a celebrant-led wedding for financial reasons, as the cost of the whole ‘white wedding’ business soars out of the compass of many couples’ reach. Even with a civil ceremony, conducted by a Registrar, people want something more personal, low-key and individual, than what is on offer with the package that often comes when this type of wedding is offered from a ‘bespoke’ wedding venue. Often, couples may come from previous marriages, and have found there is more freedom to express their commitment to each other in less formal ways. They may be in a same-sex partnership and wanting to have this celebrated by family and loved ones in a formal dedication of their love. Or it may have taken some years saving up, before a couple can finally have their special ceremony, by which time they may have a young family in tow.
All of these examples are reasons why more and more people are looking for something different, new and exciting, which is meaningful to them. They choose to separate the two aspects, legal and ceremonial from each other, by signing the wedding papers first at the registry office, thereby dispensing with the need for the Registrar to be present, and also, lifting the restrictions about where a ceremony can be held. Plans are afoot soon for marriages to be registered online, which is going to simplify the legal procedure even further.
And what I find, is, that this brings a great sense of freedom and depth to the ceremony itself. Those couples that choose a celebrant have already given a lot of thought to what they want, and they come to me with wonderful stories about their journey to this moment in their lives, often with complications, sometimes heartbreak and always, huge romance involved, along the way. They are passionate in their wish to express how important their wedding is to them, and it is refreshing to work in partnership with them. It is my job to find a way to help realise this commitment and sincerity in the ceremony that I write for them, for each one, an individually crafted piece of work, which reflects everything that has brought them to their wedding day.
It is true, that for many, this type of wedding feels novel and a little strange. But for our ever-changing world, we are simply re-inventing an ancient ritual to make it fit for our contemporary lives. Marriage matters as much as it ever did. Couples are still opting, by and large, to live together and raise families as part of the society in which we live. They want to celebrate their love for one another, surrounded by their family and friends, but they want to do it differently, and there is SO much more choice – they can truly own their day! A wedding may now have become a largely secular occasion, but from my own experience, I can see how powerful making your personal ceremony can be, and that lifting hearts and minds to a new dimension in this way, can be every bit as ‘spiritual’ an experience as the ways of the past. And, of course, your wedding day is only the beginning; the rest of your life is the marriage!