Comments: pre-General Synod press reports and blogs

I cannot remember when reading the banns was ever formally required in Australia. However, throughout 22 years as Rector in a more or less working class parish, I asked couples to come and hear their banns (with prayer for the couple) normally at three successive simple Sunday Evensongs. Confirmee lessons were also part of Evensong for a period each year. Regular men's dinners also followed Evensong (many men only ever attending then). Various special occasions - personal or civic or festal etc were also associated with Evensong. It thus survived as a weekly service (in addition to the morning's BCP Choral Communion or BCP Choral Matins and short Communion). Those being married were thus linked in a small but gentle way to the parish. (And in that church, we noted the teaching of the Prayer Book and the example of Jesus, and no child was ever refused baptism and no hurdles ever placed before the parents who brought children to our Baptismal services - late on Sunday mornings, very short BCP Matins followed by the Christening itself.) Over the years I have visited many C.of E, churches in England and Episcopalian in the USA and know many in my own Diocese of Sydney. Too many, I think, have been in one way or another unwelcoming though there are wonderful exceptions. But just as families can be welcomed for Baptism, reading the banns, with appropriate prayers, can provide one good way of welcoming couples to this Sacrament and indeed may help to encourage weddings in church. (High fees are one way of discouraging them!)

Posted by Chaplain Bunyan at Monday, 23 November 2015 at 12:54pm GMT

Maybe I'm missing something, but I cannot see the point of this motion.

Growing burden and legal complexity? I can only speak for myself, but, even with the changes regarding EU nationals, non-EU nationals, passports, etc, I really don't find it complicated at all. There are simple guidelines to follow, and if there's any doubt, a quick email to the Registrar clears it up.

Replacing it with universal civil preliminaries will, presumably, pass the responsibility for checking evidence of name, DOB, nationality, address, decree absolutes (where relevant), etc on to the district registrar. So I appreciate it may reduce the administrative burden for clergy who have a lot of church weddings.

But that is if you look at it as being a 'burden'. For me, it is a joy to go through these details with the couple. It helps me to get to know them better, if they are not regular churchgoers. It enables the ice to be broken at the wonderful/crazy question that I have to ask about if they are related or not! And, sometimes, it gives one or both permission to talk about pastoral situations (perhaps involving a previous marriage, or a family situation), which I can't imagine happening with the district registrar.

Then there is the argument about fees. Leave aside the fact that fees for banns cost less than giving a notice of marriage (at least in my area, where the fee is £35 per person plus a £10 booking fee). If we feel that charging a fee for banns is inappropriate, by all means remove that from the process, but that's no reason to get rid of banns completely.

How about the 'antiquated and out-of-date' argument? that's one way of looking at it. Another way is to say it is part of the tradition of the church and indeed, one of the unique aspects of having a church wedding. From my experience, couples (including those who aren't regular churchgoers) enjoy turning up for worship to hear their banns being read out. It's part of the experience of preparing for their wedding day and, for many, it's like a countdown to the big day.

There are so many good reasons to retain the reading of banns. And there are so many more important things for Synod to be discussing and acting on. I really hope this motion makes no progress.

Posted by Chris Routledge at Monday, 23 November 2015 at 1:45pm GMT

I'm with Chris on this. I cannot see the point of the motion.

Stephen Trott seems to be unaware that *We are already allowed* to marry couples after civil preliminaries!!

If a few people are finding the administration of Banns too challenging, they can already ask couples to get a Senior Registrar's Certificate instead... No need to make the whole church do the same... and waste time on debating and legislating for what is already on the books?

Posted by Rev David at Monday, 23 November 2015 at 9:12pm GMT

In his blog post, Stephen Croft explicitly links the Reform and Renewal program to facing up to the end of Christendom. If you accept this, it follows that clinging on with an ever more white-knuckled grip to the vestiges of that Christendom, such as the reading of banns, does not ultimately further the gospel. Yes, in giving it up you lose a small something, but you gain the opportunity to re-engage honestly and with integrity and maybe even enthusiasm. Comments on the previous post about 'nagging' people back to Christianity via the Lord's Prayer are related I think. Hoping to tap into people's feelings that they really ought to be in church more often or remember the prayers their grandparents knew by heart hardly seems the strategy of an organisation that really believes in the power of its message.

Of course, liberating the church from the comforting shackles of residual Christendom would also mean disestablishment, but maybe that's for Bishop Stephen's next post.

Reading of banns may have an evangelical value in some places, but it is also an archaic exercise in wishful thinking: publishing banns in parish churches is an ineffective way to perform the important legal preliminary of advertising a couple's intention to marry. I think it was in the Daily Mail report that a member of the Prayer Book society said they would be sad to see the tradition lapse. Enough said?

Secondly, and from a purely practical point of view, bishops such as Stephen must surely worry about the clergy who are failing to implement every new piece of legislation adequately. Some will do so, and earn the right to be indignant at the implication that they are not competent so to do. But I think many of us can imagine or may even know directly of bad practice that the very loose organisational structure of the Church of England allows to flourish. The stored up consequences of what would surely be seen by the outside world as failures of oversight are enough to give senior church leaders cause to act.

Posted by Swithun at Tuesday, 24 November 2015 at 12:02am GMT

In his answer to question 39, the Archbishop of York seems to show that paragraph 18 of the so-called 'pastoral guidance' is empty rhetoric.

Paragraph 18 says that even if a candidate for bishop has disagreed with the Church's teachings regarding marriage and human sexuality, 'An issue could only arise as a result of the way in which that disagreement had been expressed.'

The Archbishop now tells us, however, that proponents and opponents of the church's teaching are not, after all, 'mirror images,' and that (despite paragraph 18) both the manner and content of a candidate's public statements may be considered.

This is what we have suspected all along. But legally, does the Archbishop's answer make a difference under the Equality Act?

Politically, of course, both Archbishops are still sitting on the fence. They are desperately hoping that they will not have to act in England's interests in a way that will offend the Global South. It's time for the Church of England to prove its leaders wrong.

Posted by Jeremy at Tuesday, 24 November 2015 at 1:13am GMT

Couldn't you avoid banns by a special license from the bishop anyway?

Posted by robert ian williams at Tuesday, 24 November 2015 at 6:16am GMT

Speaking as someone from an 'ugly on the outside' church, with no where for the pretty marriage pictures - and consequently no marriages. The £28 fee from the reading of the banns is our only marriage income. Stopping the banns would cost us in the region of £400+ per year. An insignificant amount to some, but to a poor parish its a lot to recoup through coffee mornings. Perhaps the ivory towers would reduce our parish share by a similar amount by their decision to cut off this income.

Posted by Henry Dee at Tuesday, 24 November 2015 at 12:23pm GMT

I have some serious reservations about the Reform and Renewal Programme that is being promoted by the leadership of the Church of England. I have never been a strong believer in grand strategies, feeling that they rarely achieve what they set out to accomplish. This particular strategy is particularly misguided in that it wants to try to hold back a large-scale social and cultural movement which is in the short to medium term unstoppable. I believe that the decline of the church and of much mainstream religion in Europe is historic. It is a long term social trend which cannot be altered by any short to medium term strategies. I believe that it will turn around eventually, as it has in the past, but that our tinkering will really make very little difference.

Although the strategy is dressed up in various ways it is essentially intended to try to halt the inexorable decline in churchgoing in this country that has been going on now for well over one hundred years. Although it is being presented as new and radical it is by no means the first project to attempt this. Many will remember, for example, the ill-fated ‘Decade of Evangelism’ in the 1990s which did little to dent the decline. Some churches are growing, but most, even on the evangelical wing, are declining at a lesser or greater rate. The Reform and Renewal Programme seems posited on the premise, “the church is in decline, lets try something to turn that around. How about the business model this time?” It is perhaps sad that the Church of England will not be around as it is now in a century’s time, but from a theological point of view that may not be the worst that could happen. A new form of Christian and church life may emerge just as valuable as what exists today. What is more, it is highly questionable that top down strategies are for the best in our church. Most of the historic achievements of the Church of England have been matters of private enterprise rather than centrally planned enterprises. The missionary societies and the great revivals of the past have come from below and not from above.

In the meantime our ‘strategy’ as Christians should surely be what it has always been, to worship and serve God faithfully in church and in the wider communities in which we are set.

Posted by Richard Franklin at Tuesday, 24 November 2015 at 12:46pm GMT

To 'worship and serve God faithfully in church and in the wider communities in which we are set' is indeed a strategy, though some may instinctively recoil from that terminology. Keeping on keeping on is the strategy of an incumbent institution with an ultra-long term horizon such as the Church in general and that of England in particular. It involves being cautious of passing fads and trends, operating rather intricate organisational structures where powers are balanced against each other to prevent particular interest groups or parties wielding too much power. The possibility of dynamism is sacrificed in favour of long term persistence. It also embodies Christian virtues of faithfulness and obedience.

Such strategies work remarkably well until … the day when they don't any more. When the ground shifts beyond a tipping point, critical mass has been lost, and the sums no longer add up, you are left with an institution that is incapable of any other strategy to avert disaster. As we approach Advent, I think our leaders are right to exercise the the Christian value of watchfulness, and try to face some hard questions sooner rather than later.

Posted by Swithun at Tuesday, 24 November 2015 at 9:37pm GMT

the letters 'R. and R.' used to mean something else. However, perhaps it is time for the Church of England to take note of the Franciscan Preacher at the General Synod's Opening service - by Relaxing its hold on the past, and Resting in the power of the Holy Spirit to clarify the future of Mission.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Wednesday, 25 November 2015 at 8:29am GMT

Thank you, Swithun, for your thoughtful and helpful contributions on this subject. On reflection I should not have used the word 'strategy' to describe faithful Christian worship and service. This is surely what Christians are about all the time and unconnected with the church in any particular institutional form. Sorry if the use the term strategy (intended to be ironical)in the last paragraph of my comment distracted from my more fundamental points in the first two!

Posted by Richard Franklin at Wednesday, 25 November 2015 at 9:21am GMT
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