This month’s chaplaincy article is by Sam van Leer, Groningen Chaplain
One the special, unexpected delights of ministering in Groningen, a university city whose population is therefore comparatively young, is that we of Grace Church have experienced many weddings in the last year. In fact, since the summer of 2015, we have had a total of 6 member-couples getting married (4 in greater Groningen, one in England and one in Romania), and there are more in the diary already for next year.
Members of our congregation come from every continent, and even our Dutch members hail from different regions of the country. Yet, perhaps surprisingly, when it comes to the wedding sealed in the Church, before God, most prefer the trusted Anglican forms. The Anglican liturgy, rooted in the 16th century Book of Common Prayer, but now with contemporary local variants throughout the worldwide Anglican Communion, uses a time-honored, familiar language that strikes a balance between Word and Sacrament in a way that couples from a variety of church backgrounds find appealing.
For many, it would not feel like an authentic wedding if they did not join hands before the altar, look into each other’s eyes, and repeat these words to each other:
I, (Name), take you, (Name), to be my wife/husband,
to have and to hold from this day forward;
for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer,
in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish,
till death us do part; according to God’s holy law.
In the presence of God I make this vow.
These vows are the center-piece of the wedding ceremony. Holy Matrimony is the blessing of a union between a man and woman, who openly acknowledge the presence and grace of God in their lives, and give themselves to each other, so long as they both shall live. Or, as the pastoral introduction to our liturgy puts it: ‘For Christians, marriage is an invitation to share life together in the spirit of Jesus Christ. It is based upon a solemn, public and life-long covenant between a man and a woman, declared and celebrated in the presence of God and before witnesses.’ While weddings are celebrated by an ordained priest in liturgical vestments, they are sealed by the vows and not — contrary to popular belief — by the blessing, or the exchanging of rings, however customary these have become.
Though all our weddings follow the Anglican liturgy, so that the wording of declarations, vows, and blessings remains constant (though sometimes translated into Dutch or other languages), the Bible readings and hymns chosen vary widely from couple to couple.
Musically, there is usually a mix between classic hymns and contemporary praise songs, played on a variety of instruments.
One point I do emphasize as I prepare couples for weddings, is that though much time and attention is devoted to planning the ‘big day’ of the wedding itself, a marriage is for a lifetime. So in the weeks and months before a wedding, I meet with couples to talk about bigger questions of faith, enduring love, life’s priorities, dealing with conflict and making time for each other.
And naturally, after the wedding, I and our church community always remain available to support our newlyweds.