BBC’s #Broken: 5 things it revealed about Christianity and Faith

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I’m sure, like many others, you have been inspired by the Jimmy McGovern series Broken on BBC One over the last few weeks. If you haven’t seen it yet it’s worth trying to still catch up on the iPlayer or getting hold of the DVD which is out now.

Of course, having written a book about the portrayal of priests on the TV, I took a very close interest in this drama! It absolutely exceeded my expectations. In my book I spoke about how we shouldn’t expect too much of television programmes in terms of accurate portrayals of priests because TV is made to entertain and the quiet, faithful, work of ordinary Christians or priests isn’t necessarily interesting or entertaining. I now take that back!

I have done my best to avoid spoilers in this piece, so do read on.

Here are 5 things that I feel this remarkable drama revealed about Christianity, Priesthood and Faith:

The Nature of the Priesthood

I, along with many others, feel that this series truly captured much of the nature of what it is to be a priest. The self-doubt that comes with being a spiritual leader (Fr Michael, Sean Bean’s character, struggles throughout with feelings of inadequacy to the task) alongside the dilemma of wanting to switch off at the end of a long day just as another person calls on your time. The power of just giving people time and listening to their stories. The dogged persistence in offering pastoral care – sometimes when it’s not initially welcomed. The priest’s role as pointing to the presence of Christ all around us all the time – Fr Michael’s character repeatedly lighting a candle to tell people of this. All of these things are part of what it is to be a priest and there has never been a more nuanced or accurate portrayal of this on the television. Read more about this in this article by Cindy Kent.

The Power of the Eucharist

Every episode involves Fr Michael saying mass and as the series goes on the centrality of the mass/eucharist/holy communion only becomes more clear. The power of the body and blood of Christ offered in love for the whole world is evident throughout. This is true not only for Fr Michael himself, as we see that he struggles with his own sin each time he says mass but also for his congregation for whom many it is a lifeline. Read more about this in my article about Corpus Christi.

The radical nature of Christianity

when-someone-asks-you-what-would-jesus-do-remind-them-24587009Every priest and every church group struggles with the often wide chasm between the institutional church and the teachings of Jesus Christ. This is also touched upon throughout the series. Fr Michael preaches about when righteous anger might be appropriate; he speaks his mind on women in ministry; he questions the spending of hundreds of pounds on confirmation dresses. The series also touches on the child abuse scandals to have hit the church. What shines through, rather wonderfully in my view, is that the teachings and example of Jesus are way more important that the institutional structures of the church. It was a relief to see this portrayed so well in the programme, and that it revealed how tangled and messy it all is.

The value of the Church’s ministry

I recently tweeted about an increase in people training for the priesthood in the Church of England. Someone replied by saying ‘not relevant in the 21st century’. My reply could well have been ‘have you watched Broken?’ If there was any doubt that the church isn’t needed in the 21st century, this series, (perhaps unwittingly) proved otherwise! In an interview, the writer Jimmy McGovern spoke about how the church is needed at key moments of people’s lives such as birth and death. One of the characters in the drama walks into church because she can’t think of where else to go. Often, in my own ministry I am struck that the church offers things that are very difficult to find elsewhere – where do you go if you’ve done something you regret? Where do you go when you want to mark a big event in your life? Where do you go if you want to organise a funeral? Where do you go if you can’t feed your kids? The vast majority of Food Banks (which are also referred to in Broken) are run by Churches. I’m not saying that these things aren’t found in other religions or in some charitable organisations but if you took the church out of the picture altogether it is clear that society would be hugely impoverished. Broken was a great response to that person who told me that priests were irrelevant in the 21st Century. Jimmy McGovern in the same interview referred to the film ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and how the main character after doubting the value of his life is shown what the world would look like without him in it. This was one of McGovern’s inspiration for the character of Fr Michael.

The world and faith are not black and white

The series artfully explores a variety of complex moral dilemmas – should I tell the truth, even if it might harm my family? Are my motives pure or am I really doing this for my own benefit? Broken also challenges what ‘success’ looks like. Fr Michael’s congregation is tiny but his impact on the individuals with whom he works is huge. In a world, and, unfortunately sometimes, a church, that prizes numbers and ‘bums on seats’, this was refreshing and revealed that value is not necessarily found in flashy success. A friend of mine went to a course for small churches called ‘a satsuma is not a failed orange’ – this encapsulates something of what Broken showed about Fr Michael’s ‘success’ as a priest. Read more about this in an article by the Bishop of Jarrow.

I’m sure there are many more lessons to be gleaned from this series, it was beautifully filmed and written and went to depths rarely plumbed by television drama. I hope it wins all the awards going!

Here are some interesting clips to watch about the making of the show:

Creating an email newsletter for your church/organisation using Mailchimp

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email newsI recently wrote an article about the importance of keeping in touch with people after they’ve connected with us at church through something like a baptism. One good way in which to keep in touch with people is by sending a regular email newsletter. You’ll be familiar with these – I get a whole range, from Waterstones to my gym to my friend who works for a charity. Some, granted, you let languish in the spam folder but others are genuinely useful – one I often read is the newsletter from Durham Cathedral.

Sending a regular email newsletter might sound like a bit of a nightmare to organise, but not if you know which tools you can use. One of the best out there is provided free of charge by Mailchimp.com (The basic model is free, you can pay to remove the Mailchimp logo from the bottom of the email). We have been using this (free version) for over a year now to keep in touch with people connected with church, see a recent example here.

Great things about Mailchimp:

  • it manages your email list for you – even letting you know if an address has been incorrectly spelt
  • it looks after the all-important unsubscribe feature – you don’t need to do anything, it automatically adds a link at the bottom of your email enabling people to unsubscribe and then you get a notification if someone does (in a whole year we’ve still only had less than 10 people unsubscribe from our list).
  • it’s easy to use
  • you can create a template and save it – leaving the only thing you need to do is add your content
  • it connects brilliantly to your other social media – for example you can have it automatically publish to your Facebook page
  • you can schedule your newsletter (so you can write it on Monday but have it be sent out on a Friday morning)

Mailchimp is pretty intuitive to use but I outline here some steps for getting started.

Step 1: Contact list and administrators

Before you create your account, make sure you have a list of email contacts that you would like to send your regular letter to – if these are in an excel spreadsheet this is one of the easiest ways to upload them to Mailchimp, or you can just copy and paste them in. I collected ours from booking forms for baptisms and weddings and also our electoral roll. Now, whenever people book something with us I tell them about our newsletter and that I will add their name (making sure they know they can unsubscribe at any time).

Decide how regular to make your newsletter (ours is weekly – using much of the detail that usually goes on the weekly pew sheet at church) – or you might like to do one monthly or even quarterly.

Decide who will work on your newsletter and ensure they have access to the account as well (you can add users).

Step 2: Create your account and add your contact list

Go to Mailchimp.com and create an account. Add your contacts in a list. Tip: don’t bother with what they call ‘groups’ – I tried and it’s too fiddly, create a separate list for each group if you wish (eg. wedding contacts, baptism contacts, general…) or just one master list if you’re doing a generic email newsletter.

Fill in the sections accordingly (here’s an example):

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In this bottom box feel free to use the following text:

Why am I getting this email?

You may have subscribed to receive this email or we have included you in our mailing list because you have had contact with X Church in some way over the last year, you may have been married here, had your baby baptised, joined us for worship or are a regular member of the congregation. Whatever your connection we feel it’s important to keep in touch with you and let you know what’s happening at X and from time to time reflect on life, God and the world around us. If you would rather not receive this email, please use the unsubscribe link below.

This is what appears at the bottom of the email people will receive.

Add your church/organisation’s address and then choose how and when you want to receive notifications from Mailchimp if someone subscribes or unsubscribes. Then click ‘save’.

Then click ‘import subscribers’ and I suggest clicking on the ‘copy/paste’ option. Then simply open your email list and copy and paste the addresses into the box:

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You don’t have to have the first name and last name for it to work, you can just paste the email addresses on their own into the first column. Tick the box underneath (nothing is likely to happen unless you’re pasting thousands of addresses in!) Then click ‘next’. Choose the ‘subscribed’ option on the next screen and click ‘import’. It may take a little while depending on the number of addresses you’ve added and they will send you an email when it is done. Remember that you can add new addresses to the list at any time.

Step 3: Create newsletter template

This bit takes a bit of time but once you’ve done it you can reuse it again and again for all your newsletters. Go to Mailchimp home (click on the monkey head in the top left of the screen), then click on Templates and Create template:

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If you are a beginner I suggest choosing one of the basic options provided. The one we use is 1:2 column.

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This is the area in which you can design your template, the system is quite easy to use and works on a ‘drag and drop’ basis. If you go to delete something it double checks you really want to do it so it is fairly idiot proof! Here’s a short video I made on using this section of Mailchimp:

Step 4: Sending your newsletter

Rather confusingly this is called a ‘campaign’ in Mailchimp, a campaign is simply an email that goes out to a list. So you’re ready to send your first newsletter now.

Click on Campaigns and ‘create campaign’. Select ‘regular campaign’, choose the list to send it to and click ‘next’. Then give your campaign a name, fill in the fields:

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You may wish to let it autopost to your Facebook page – click to connect your Facebook page on the button:

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Then click ‘next’ at the bottom of the screen – you can always go back on any of these steps if you forget something.

Click on ‘Saved Templates’ next and find the template you made earlier:

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Then add all the content you want to your newsletter by clicking on the boxes and changing the text and images:

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If you want to see what it will look like click on ‘Preview and Test’ at the top of the page and ‘enter preview mode’.

Under ‘Preview and Test’ you can also send a test of the email – this is worth doing the first time just so you can be sure it looks how you want it to look.

Once you’re happy, click next at the bottom right of the screen and go through the final steps before clicking either on ‘send’ if  you want it to go immediately or ‘schedule’ if you want to specify the time it will be sent:

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Finally, click on ‘schedule campaign’ and you’re all done!

 

And that’s it, there are some other really good features in Mailchimp that you will discover the more you use it but it is a really good way of keeping in touch with people, you might not see them all in church on a Sunday but people are really glad to be reminded that you care and that you’re there for them.

 

 

 

We’ve been hiding our Light under a bushel for too long

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One of the things we are really bad at in the church (especially the Church of England) is recognising that we actually have something good to share with people and that people are genuinely looking for it and interested.

We tend to assume that newcomers to church will ‘probably be bored’, ‘won’t want to be there’ or are ‘not interested’. This is particularly true of our view of the people who attend our occasional offices (christenings, weddings and funerals). I am increasingly discovering, however, that people are open to being contacted again by us after they’ve attended a wedding, baptism or funeral, and that they want more of what we have to offer, namely: a sense of belonging and a ‘place to put the emotions that won’t go anywhere else‘ (as Rowan Williams once put it).

To give you some simple examples:

  • following a wedding we often notice people have ‘checked in’ on Facebook and have ‘liked’ our church Facebook page – an invitation for us to keep in touch with them
  • people who have attended funerals often keep in touch in a light way through our Facebook page (simply liking pictures and articles we’ve shared) – we might not see them in church again but it is a way of staying connected
  • after praying with a family in a pre-wedding meeting and lighting some candles, I was asked if we could ‘do that candle thing again’ at the rehearsal

People do actually want what we are offering, they do want the Good News but unfortunately, we have been hiding our light under a bushel for too long.

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These days, if you buy anything on-line or visit a chain restaurant or tourist attraction you are immediately invited to take further action – you will probably receive an email newsletter, an invitation for money off something or simply some information about other events. It’s the classic ‘other people who bought this also liked…’ trick so well used by the likes of Amazon. We are used to this and we don’t mind (there is always the unsubscribe button).

Now, don’t get me wrong, we are not ‘selling a product’ at church but what we are doing is inviting people to be a part of our, and God’s, community. Or at least we should be, and one of the best ways in which we can do that is to try and keep that invitation open.

invitationAt a recent consultation event on Baptisms that I attended, I was told that research conducted by the Church of England highlighted that 9/10 people wanted the church to keep in touch after their child’s baptism but that only 3/10 people expected that to happen.

Why do we think that people won’t want us to get in touch with them again after they’ve come to us for something like a wedding? Booking a service with us is a big step in the first place, a big vote of confidence, and yet, we worry that people won’t be interested: ‘we mustn’t shove it down their throats’ we think.

The good news is that there are some very simple ways in which we can keep the invitation open, here are some that we use in our parish:

  • Have a regularly (daily) updated Facebook Page – many keep in touch with what’s happening at church through the year by following our Facebook page. Our usage has seen an increase in attendance at Christmas services especially but also serves to show the local community the wide range of activities that go on at church (we reach over 2000 people each week on Facebook).
  • We have a popular monthly Parish Magazine (hard copy)
  • We keep our church website up to date with what is going on and clear information on how to find us and get in touch
  • We send out a weekly email newsletter using Mailchimp – a free tool

If you are interested in starting to use social media in your church or organisation you might want to start with this article I wrote here.

Let’s keep that invitation open!

 

Thinking about using social media for your church? Start here

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Over the last few years I have been asked a number of times to help churches get started with social media. Now I’m ordained I no longer have so much time available to help people but I was often surprised by how much little thought was put into the who, what, when, how and whys of starting to use a new way of communicating. So I created this flowchart. If you want to start using social media, why not use this as a discussion point at your PCC or a team meeting. Before you even think about a Facebook page or twitter, you need to know how and why you want to create one!

Once you’ve been through this chart you may want to look at these articles:

Beginning to blog

My guide to Facebook for churches

My guide to Twitter

Planning your church's social media

A confirmation course outline for adults

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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.
Amen.

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.

Film:

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.

Films:

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.

Films:

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.

Film:

(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…).

Films:

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:

Why we don’t have British ‘celebrity Christians’ speaking at Greenbelt #gb14

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I have just returned from the Greenbelt Festival at the beautiful new venue of Boughton House near Kettering. I had a wonderful time. I love Greenbelt, I’ve been going since 2008. I love the fact that you get to camp (even if it does rain in a biblical manner every other year or so), hear some great music, have serendipitous encounters with people and God and hear some challenging talks from inspiring speakers.

I enjoyed a discussion in the Big Top between Nadia Bolz-Weber and Sarah Miles on welcoming the stranger. I couldn’t help but notice, however, how different their context in America is from the Church context in the UK. One person asked how one can change the culture of a church community that is not ‘new’. It turned out that Nadia’s church was founded in 2007, Sarah’s was comparatively ‘old’ at 30 years old. The church I work in is 1000 years old. There’s a key difference, right there. Someone else asked why liturgical worship is less popular with young people in the UK whereas in Sarah and Nadia’s churches the worship is liturgical. The response was that disaffected evangelicals are coming across to more sacramental forms of worship. There’s another massive difference. We don’t have lots of disaffected young evangelicals. Heck, we don’t have that many evangelicals. We don’t have a culture of church-going in the UK. We don’t have a huge variety of types of church to choose from on a Sunday like there is in the US. So, while I was inspired by what Sarah and Nadia had to say, I will have to do a fair bit of translation to see what would work in the very different soil of the UK.

This made me think. Where are our Nadias and Sarahs? Why are all the big Christian speakers at Greenbelt Americans?

I think I know the answer. British people hate celebrities. We hate them so much that we have a different name for famous people we love – we call them National Treasures instead. Celebrity is nearly always a distasteful word.

Look to the church for celebrities and the problem is compounded – couple British self-deprecation with a Christian imperative of humility and you’ll find all celebrities of whatever flavour roundly disliked and distrusted. Look at how mean people have been to Rev Kate Bottley (of wedding flashmob fame) and Rev Sally Hitchiner (who did a photoshoot in the Times called The Vicar Wears Prada). We’re even mean to our ‘celebrities’ who are clever – poor old Rowan Williams.

I think we tolerate American celebrity Christians because they fit in the American culture and we can admire them from afar. I think this is why we will be doomed to have American speakers at Greenbelt for the forseeable future. We just don’t like a show-off (and especially clergy); our self-deprecating mean nature won’t allow it. Any well-known Christian in the church in the UK usually has to spend quite a lot of time apologising for themselves even if they are invited to speak at an event. As Nadia said in one of her talks this year ‘You guys with the apologising! I’ve never had so many people say sorry to me!’ To which the crowd replied, in a great Life of Brian-manner, ‘sorr-eeeee!’

Here are my pictures from the weekend. Let me know if you agree or disagree with my assessment in the comments below.

Fr Eddie has written an insightful response to my question of where the emergent leaders in the UK are:

http://www.future-shape-of-church.org/2014/08/where-are-all-uk-based-emergent-speakers.html

Here’s a tweet response from Heather:

She’s quite right, we have had a few British celebrity speakers but I’m arguing that the main names are nearly always American and that is precisely because if you’re British you’re going to get way more flack.

Also worth reading Karl’s thoughts on being a first time speaker at Greenbelt this year and his thoughts on Christian ‘celebrity’: http://karlsrandommusings.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/reflections-of-first-time-christian.html

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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
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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?