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February 2014

Welcome to my 2nd blog.

I hope you enjoyed my 1st – I was reading about blogs recently and was reminded they should not be so much a broadcast as a dialogue, so do respond to these blogs as you feel led.

January has Epiphany when we think of the Wise Men bringing their precious gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh and how as a church we have a responsibility to treasure our ‘Gold’ and all that God has given us, to worship and focus on him as Frankincense was used for worship as the prayers that go up to heaven and the Myrrh that reminds us of suffering and pain in a needy world that so needs the Good News of what Jesus is and brings into this world.

February contains St Valentine’s day – probably the most famous and yet most unsubstantiated of the Saints!  Indeed he doesn’t even appear anymore on the church’s calendar!  And yet he is remembered as showing great love to many people and having been martyred by being shot through the heart by arrows, hence the imagery of love hearts and arrows and association with lovers and relationship.  And so ‘love is in the air’ in February!

As I reflect on nearly 25 years of Ordained Ministry and all the Weddings and Baptisms I have done I have thought much on the privilege of being part of these special personal and intimate events in individual’s lives, initially usually complete strangers whom I have got to know over the planning of Weddings and Baptisms, and the insights I gain by talking with them and their varying and changing views and attitudes to marriage, families and relationships especially over nearly ¼ of a century.

When I first worked in the Sales Office of a factory over 30 years ago I remember the surprise around when one of the new girls in the office moved in with her boyfriend who worked in the yard.  No-one it seemed to me ever would think of living with their partner (even their fiancé) until they were married, although we know it has always been so in some situations. And certainly I don’t remember anyone in the office or factory having children before they were married.  But again, this has always happened albeit usually unintentionally.

When I was first ordained I think all our Baptism enquiries were from married couples with just one or two exceptions, and practically all the couples who came to be married were usually still living in their respective parents’ home.

But something huge has changed, in that most Baptism enquiries now come from couples who aren’t (yet!) married and most couples coming for marriage have been living together for some time, often with children.

I wonder what has led to this huge social change in attitudes?  Some of it is mobility where people move away to work or university and meet someone and want to live together.  The common reason expounded is the ‘try before you buy’ one running along the lines of ‘how can you commit yourself to marry someone and promise to be with them for the rest of your life if you’ve haven’t experienced living with them, already?’  And yet all the evidence seems to show that relationship and marriage break-up continues to increase in our society, and especially that those who live together are more likely to separate after marriage than those who have not lived together before they are married.  And I ask how can this be?

Well I think society is certainly obsessed with relationships and having children is seen as a badge of maturity and as a right.  The baptism by many seems to be a mark of ‘we are a family now’ and a marriage might follow some years hence when we are settled and can afford it and our children can be a part of it as page boys, flowers girls, bridesmaids or even ushers.  Interestingly most couples still have this desire for marriage eventually but sadly many never quite get there due to financial restraints and pressures of work, children and maybe now aged and retired parents who no longer have the means to support, help pay for or assist in the planning and preparation of the ‘big day’ or weekend or longer as it has become.

Most of us are expected to be in a relationship, and if you chose to share a home with anyone other than one person of the opposite sex you are immediately seen as different and unusual, unless you are a group of students!

But also as the marriage service tells us marriage is something that should not be entered into ‘lightly or selfishly, but reverently and responsibly’ (and in the old words ‘after serious thought’).  I have to say that hearing how many couples have met so very young and moved in together even in their mid-teens I cannot see how this can be done in a detached and thoughtful way.  The old idea of ‘courting’ when a man and woman began ‘walking out together’ and after a while it was obviously tested to see whether they were so committed they would continue to make time to travel to see each other, or whether it became just too much of a bind, was a good test of a long term relationship.  It is difficult for this objective reflection to happen with someone that you are living with and intimate with and with whom you have already had children.

I guess some of you reading this may see it as a rant from a sheltered middle aged cleric.  But as well as meeting a lot of wedding and baptism couples, I also meet a lot of people scarred by the pain of break-up of relationships of their own, their parents, their children, their wider families, friends or acquaintances.

God made us for relationships.  He made us different as men and women to complement each other.  God gave us marriage as a sign of a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman.  It isn’t for everybody, but it still seems to be for the majority, but it isn’t something we should feel pressured into because it is the norm.

Love is all around us and long may it be so.  But intimate relationships and especially children that flow from such need to follow much objective reflection and serious thought before being entered into.

I guess I will get plenty of response to what I have written this month.  I rather hope I do!

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