An increase in requests for Renewal of Marriage Vows services



As far as I am aware, usually in our parish we conduct one or two renewal of vows services a year. These are usually of what I would call the ‘traditional’ kind – a couple celebrating a significant anniversary – often members of the congregation. This year we have noticed a change – we have 6 Renewal of Vows ceremonies booked! And not all of them are of the ‘traditional’ sort.

Apart from the traditional celebration of anniversary kind of service these are some of the others that might be requested now:

  • a renewal of vows after some marital trouble – making a fresh start (for example, after infidelity)
  • the couple were married abroad and want to have a ceremony back home that more can attend
  • the couple want to celebrate their commitment to one another – and have a family get-together

I recently conducted a renewal of vows for a couple celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary. Their wedding had been on a beach abroad and not all the family had been able to go – at their renewal their children were present and the wider friends and family. The ceremony was arranged as a surprise by the husband as an anniversary gift for his wife and also provided the opportunity for a big family party. At the party afterwards I spoke to another couple who had had a renewal ceremony last year on their 15th anniversary. When I asked them why they’d decided to do it they said ‘well, so many of our friends are giving up too easily on their relationships. We wanted to show that we are still committed to one another.’

I think it is likely that we will see a surge in interest in Renewal of Vows services for a few reasons:

  • people are looking for opportunities to have family parties – often there feels a big gap, once christenings are done, between weddings and then funerals – it is nice to have a gathering that is celebratory and brings all the generations together
  • since the trend for people marrying abroad, more and more people might come to the decision to have a church-based renewal service to ‘fill the gap’ left by their secular ceremony on the beach with only a couple of friends present
  • celebrations of shorter anniversaries than the traditional (eg. 10 or 15 year anniversaries) are becoming more significant because the divorce rate is so high

You might be able to think of some other reasons as well.

It strikes me that we are extremely well placed in the Church of England to meet this new need – it’s a no-brainer! Celebrating lifelong commitment is something we should be doing. I think we could do more to encourage people to have a Renewal of Vows service.

Some questions I would pose are:

  • if you work in a church, have you seen an increase in requests for Renewal of Vows?
  • should we include renewal of vows services in our statistical returns to the Church of England (in the same way as we record other occasional offices)?
  • should there be some more liturgical resources available to meet these newer requests?

A confirmation course outline for adults


In 2014 I prepared two children for confirmation, in 2015 it was two adults that I was working with and so I needed to investigate what material was out there for adults. I was quite disappointed to discover that a lot of the courses and books available seemed incredibly dry and also not really designed for such an intimate setting as simply me and two other people meeting in my sitting room at home.

So I decided to create my own course which I will share the outline of with you here should you wish to use it yourself. This has been run for two years in a row now and is updated to reflect the most recent group’s sessions.

There is a great book for young people that is designed to give to them as a confirmation gift called Living your Confirmation by Paul Butler and Pete Maidment. This book uses the commitments made during the confirmation service as a structure and I decided to do the same with my confirmation course. I thought that it would make sense to explore what it is exactly that the candidates will commit to at their confirmation:

The bishop addresses each candidate by name

N, God has called you by name and made you his own.

He then lays his hand on the head of each, saying

Confirm, O Lord, your servant with your Holy Spirit.

Commitments made by the candidates:

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship,
in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?

With the help of God, I will.

Will you persevere in resisting evil,
and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

With the help of God, I will.

Will you proclaim by word and example
the good news of God in Christ?

With the help of God, I will.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all people,
loving your neighbour as yourself?

With the help of God, I will.

Will you acknowledge Christ’s authority over human society,
by prayer for the world and its leaders,
by defending the weak, and by seeking peace and justice?

With the help of God, I will.

May Christ dwell in your heart(s) through faith,
that you may be rooted and grounded in love
and bring forth the fruit of the Spirit.
All Amen.

So here is the course outline, I used videos from Youtube/Vimeo to introduce themes and generate conversation. The course worked as 6 sessions lasting roughly an hour/hour and a half (there was a final extra session but that was focused on preparing for the service and the logistics of receiving communion).

Session 1

God has called you by name and made you his own. In this session we looked at being known by God. I showed the YHWH film below first to introduce the concept of God and then we read Psalm 139 together, sharing our responses to it.


Session 2

Continuing in the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship. In this session we looked at the Bible, we shared how we felt about the bible, both positive and negative feelings towards it. Then we watched the introduction to the Bible from the Pilgrim course. Then we looked at some different translations of the bible – reading Psalm 23 in each version to compare them. We then watched David Suchet talking about reading the bible aloud. This started a conversation about listening to the bible being read in Church services.


Session 3

The breaking of bread and the prayers. In this session we explored the meaning of the Eucharist. We first watched a short film about the Passover and discussed its connection with the Eucharist. Then we watched a video about the Eucharist from Rt Rev’d Michael Curry and discussed how we felt about soon receiving communion and what it means to us and why it’s important.


Session 4

Resisting evil and repenting and returning to the Lord. In this session I read from the book Unapologetic by Francis Spufford where he talks about sin being “the human propensity to f*** things up”. We then watched a clip from the film The Mission and discussed sin and forgiveness.


(note, I actually showed a longer clip direct from a DVD)

Session 5

Proclaiming the good news and serving Christ in others. Praying for the world and seeking Justice. In this session we talked about Mission and Evangelism – sharing our faith. We began by watching a short film about the Trinity and I spoke about the Missio Dei – the constant sending out of God’s spirit into the world. We watched a talk given by Nadia Bolz-Weber which is part sermon part testimony. We then watched Rev’d Stephanie Spellars talking about being a missionary. We finished this session by reading the prayer of Teresa of Avila (Christ has no body but yours…).


Session 6

Praying for the world and seeking Justice.

In this session we looked at the four core texts of the faith: The Lord’s Prayer, the Summary of the Law, The Apostles’ Creed and the Beatitudes.

We watched this film which is an updated version of the Beatitudes written by Nadia Bolz-Weber (made into a film by Fr Simon Rundell):

We then spoke about prayer and personal prayer and I introduced the group to the concept of Ignatian Examen and we used this recording:

We’re a step closer to women bishops in the Church of England


Today the General Synod voted through proposals for how women bishops could be introduced into the Church of England. Here’s my attempt to explain what it means.

The package of proposals was put together by a select group of people from every side of the debate. They proposed agreement on 5 key documents:

  • The measure – ie. statement that women can be consecrated bishops in the Church of England
  • Amending Canon – “The amending canon provides for the admission of women to the episcopate. It does so by amending Canon C 2 to say that “A man or a woman may be consecrated to the office of  bishop”, thereby avoiding the need to insert a new Canon C 2A making special provision for  the consecration of women alone.”
  • Resolution of disputes procedure (to allow PCCs – church councils – to bring grievances) – to include an ombudsman to be set up
  • House of Bishops declaration on the ministry of bishops and priests
  • Report of the Steering Committee

women bishopsAnd it is moving on with this that the synod voted on with 378 votes for, eight against and 25 abstentions. These proposals will be worked through in more detail now that they have been agreed on in principle with a possible vote by Synod to make them a reality at the end of 2014.

This means that the majority of people (even if they are in opposition to women’s ordination) feel that the proposals could be ‘workable’ and ‘lived with’. This is a major step forward since the impasse last November.

I’m still amazed that it is so difficult to understand the press releases that come out of the Church of England about these issues – it’s taken me some time to put this article together and I’m still not 100% sure I’ve got the details right!

Here are some comments from elsewhere on the web:

Sam Jones The Guardian Church of England approves female bishops plan
John Bingham The Telegraph Church of England votes overwhelmingly for women bishops
Liz Dodds The Tablet Revitalised CofE Synod clears major hurdle in passing women bishops legislation
BBC News Church of England synod vote ‘paves way’ for female bishops
Madeleine Davies and Gavin Drake Church Times Synod endorses new women-bishops package

Claire Maxim‘s blog All Change

As an aside I thought it was delightful that also today an article was released about the restoration of the Priscilla Catacombs frescos that depict early women leaders in the church! It’s also wonderful that this vote has come the day after St Hild’s day – a great example of a woman leader of the church in England if ever we knew one!

Is baptism the new wedding? Responses to reports that by 2016 most children will be born outside of marriage

By National Library of Ireland on The Commons (Christening Day Uploaded by russavia) [see page for license], via Wikimedia Commons

The BBC reported today that the majority of babies born in three years’ time will have parents who are not married. This is a trend I noticed two years ago when we ran our first Wedding Fayre at Pudsey Parish Church. Incidentally, this triggered an idea for the presentation I needed to give at my BAP (Bishops’ Advisory Panel) for selection for ordained ministry. I thought I would share my presentation here as it explores what this new trend might mean for the church – and especially the Church of England.

By National Library of Ireland on The Commons (Christening Day Uploaded by russavia) [see page for license], via Wikimedia Commons

Is baptism the new wedding?

Last year (2011) at our church we ran a Wedding Fayre. The idea came from a member of the congregation who is a local florist and wanted to help us to find a way in which we could make better connections with the local community. It happened to be the 5th anniversary of the reordering of the church interior and seemed like a good way to celebrate that. So in running the Fayre we were both supporting local businesses who exhibited their services and promoting getting married in church. I was on the door welcoming people in. Something happened that surprised me but shouldn’t have. The vast majority of couples coming through the doors arrived with their children. As we were planning the event, I and I think the rest of the team, was imagining young couples in their twenties and thirties and we provided facilities for that demographic. We didn’t factor in children! We realised that when we run the Fayre again this year (2012) that we’ll need to provide a crèche and some other facilities for children.

What happened on that day is perhaps symptomatic of the church’s response to societal change. We can go about in our own church bubble completely unaware of the changes around us. As I said, I was surprised by the number of children coming in but I shouldn’t have been, really. Traditionally, couples who had decided to stay together first got married, then moved in together, then got a mortgage and only then had children. An awful lot of people are now reversing that model – without any controversy – couples move in together first, then perhaps get a mortgage, then have children and then get married – perhaps some years later.

There is a parallel trend in that baptism parties are becoming more and more elaborate – in some ways you might say that baptism is the new wedding. People are sealing their relationship by having children, rather than by getting married, and want to celebrate that. You can see it in a lot of the baptisms at our church – people are dressed as if they’re going to a wedding and you hear that the family has booked a function room for a big party.

If we approach this in a sensitive way, this cultural shift could be a real opportunity for the church and more importantly for the Kingdom of God. I had a conversation on Twitter with a priest friend of mine and he told me that recently he did a baptism with a surprise wedding in it, and a wedding with a surprise baptism! Two sacraments for the price of one! These were examples of people wanting to involve their children in some way with their wedding day and bring the whole family into Church together – perhaps we’ll see more of these kind of requests.

How should the church respond to this change in the way people are starting families?

  • One response or idea I had was that we offer marriage preparation classes for couples, should we offer family marriage preparation? Should we be talking to children of couples about what it means that their mum and dad are getting married?
  • The second thought, is should we be making a more deliberate connection for these families between marriage and baptism?

Morning Prayer Lent Wednesday, 27 February 2013 George Herbert, Priest, Poet, 1633 [Lesser Festival]


Chapel of St Mary the Less, St John's College DurhamI led morning prayer for the first time this morning at St John’s College Chapel of St Mary the Less.
Today the church remembers the priest and poet George Herbert who died on this day in 1633. He wrote many hymns, some of which we still sing today such as Let all the world in every corner sing. So in tribute today I began and ended this morning’s prayer with two verses from his poem Mattens:

I Cannot ope mine eyes,
But thou art ready there to catch
My morning-soul and sacrifice:
Then we must needs for that day make a match.

My God, what is a heart?
Silver, or gold, or precious stone,
Or starre, or rainbow, or a part
Of all these things, or all of them in one?

My God, what is a heart?
That thou shouldst it so eye, and wooe,
Powring upon it all thy art,
As if that thou hadst nothing els to do?

Indeed mans whole estate
Amounts (and richly) to serve thee:
He did not heav’n and earth create,
Yet studies them, not him by whom they be.

Teach me thy love to know;
That this new light, which now I see,
May both the work and workman show:
Then by a sunne-beam I will climbe to thee.

Women bishops – @maggidawn book review and some personal reflections


I haven’t yet shared any personal perspective on the women bishops debate in the Church of England. Having now read Maggi Dawn’s excellent short book on her reflections – both theological and personal – it feels a good time to share some of my own thoughts. What follows is a review of the book with my own reflections. Click on the image below to buy the book direct from the publisher (don’t give your money to nasty Amazon!)

Like the wideness of the sea. Women Bishops and the Church of England by Maggi DawnHow did we get here?

The first part of the book is a great description and analysis of the history of the ordination of women in the Church of England. I, like Maggi, felt a sense of call to the priesthood before women were able to be priested in the Church of England. When I was 10 years old I used to imagine running my own church – I’ve only since, after going through the selection process realised that this is quite unusual! Then, I remember the euphoria in the early nineties when women were admitted to the priesthood and I showed an interest by interviewing Sheila in my home parish who was one of the first women priests for a school project at the age of 15/16. Apparently I said to my mother at the time ‘this could be a career option for me now’.

Maggi refers to the excellent article by Sarah Coakley entitled ‘Has the Church of England lost its reason?’ which I think is one of the best theological analyses of the situation you can read. By way of an update, here is the consultation document published yesterday on the next steps in the women bishops process following the ‘no’ vote in November 2012.

Theological analysis

I think Maggi’s book is unique in approaching the theological issues involved in this impasse in the church by focusing on the theology of waiting. She highlights, very helpfully, that encouraging people to ‘wait on God’ can be used as a way of silencing opponents:

‘Calling on the church to wait, if that is simply a means of buying time and pacifying justifiable anger, is a mistaken and even destructive use of a spiritual discipline.’ p.37

The book then goes on to explore biblical examples which show that sometimes it is more that God is waiting for us than us waiting for Him to act.

I was relieved to read the section about anger. It is hard for British people, I think, to express anger – particularly in a Christian context. We just don’t know how to do it. The Church of England has been paralysed by a culture of niceness these last few years. Maggi draws on the work of Beckford and writes:

‘A polite and patient spirituality will create a church that waits for heaven, but only a spirituality that dares to get angry and overthrow some moneylenders’ tables will be able to inaugurate the Kingdom of God on earth.’ p.37

Personal response

I was horrified to read of the sexism Maggi experienced when she was first ordained and indeed throughout her ministry here in England. I want to take the opportunity to thank all the women clergy in the Church of England for being pioneers and being the ones to put up with so much over the last 20 years – without you I wouldn’t be where I am now, training to be a priest.

I always thought that by the time I was ordained deacon (which, God willing, will be in 2014) that women would be able to be consecrated as bishops. So when the measure didn’t pass in November 2012 it hit me very hard. I cried quite a lot when I heard and I couldn’t quite figure out why. I was telling myself that everything really was fine, I have felt called to the priesthood and the way to that is open for me, and the joy that has brought me has been immeasurable. So why was I so devastated? Is it because I’m ambitious? I don’t think so, I suppose it just feels like, at the moment, for women in the church, our wings are clipped at ordination: you can ‘come this far and no further’. What is really sad is that there is still quite a lot of misogyny and sexism in the church I love. That that I’ve experienced is minor compared to some of the stories Maggi shares (such as being spat on – yes really), but it is still a source of sorrow that this attitude still exists. I’ve heard comments such as ‘women make poor preachers because they have high pitched voices’ (as if no men ever had annoying preaching voices) or ‘that woman in X country is a really bad bishop so we should consider ourselves lucky we haven’t got them’ (as if we’ve never had a male bishop that’s not been very good).

The fact that women cannot be bishops at the moment is hiding an awful lot – it’s giving implicit permission for sexist attitudes to continue and it is holding women clergy back from having a fuller ministry for the benefit of the whole church. Maggi shares that since being in America, in a church context where women are fully included that she has never felt so free to exercise her ministry. So when people say that introducing women bishops will ‘transform the church’ they really are speaking the truth – it really would do that, it would begin to remove the implicit ‘permission’ to make sexist comments and release more blessings for the church than we could possibly imagine.

Final thoughts

I commend this book to you, it is frank, not polemical (an opponent of women’s ministry would be comfortable reading it), honest and theologically rigorous. It’s short – I read it in a single sitting and should bring encouragement to all in the church who wish to see her flourishing to her full potential. Thanks Maggi!

St Clement and women bishops


Today the church remembers St Clement, Bishop of Rome, c.100AD. I am giving a short homily on him tonight at church and thought I would share it here as my research into the man threw up something very topical for us this week!

Homily for St Clement‘s day

St Clement of Rome - image from WikipediaToday the church remembers St Clement of Rome. Like many early saints, we don’t know all that much about him but we do know that he was one of the first bishops of Rome – consecrated by St Peter and was perhaps the second or third bishop of Rome, or Pope, if you will. In my research about Clement I discovered that he wrote a letter to the Corinthians (they seemed to get a lot of mail in the early days didn’t they?!) so I decided to read this letter he wrote to see if I could get more of a sense of the man.  He is writing this letter in response to some disputes in church leadership and I was astonished to find that he wrote the following:

‘And our Apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife over the name of the bishop’s office’.

– 1 Clem 44:1

So, as the writer of Ecclesiastes says: ‘there is nothing new under the sun!’ We’re talking about the very first years of Christianity and there was already debate and problems over bishops! Although for many of us what happened this week at synod has been very painful, I think we can take some solace from the fact that despite divisions and problems in the church as early as the first century, the church is still witnessing to Christ today and we are still here to celebrate the Eucharist and proclaim Christ’s death and resurrection until he comes.

One other thing I got from reading Clement’s letter – which is quite boring and long-winded if I’m honest! – is that he loves scripture. He quotes scripture liberally throughout the letter to make his points to the Corinthian church. This led me to think, if Clement were writing to churches in England, what verses of scripture would he give us?

I will leave us with some words of Jesus to meditate on in the light of what has happened in the Church of England this week:

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

– John 13:34-35