Ad Fontes

Politics, Theology and Christian Humanism


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How to have a feminist wedding in church

The feminist threshold

Laura Bates, the founder of Everyday Sexism Project, is getting married: congrats! She has written in the Guardian about how to have a feminist wedding. Basically, it is an example of the personal being political. Laura Bates writes about her personal choices, which she has every right to make, but many feminists would lament that she did not go far enough in demonstrating her feminist credentials. A close feminist friend showed me the article and described it as retrogressive and non-radical. I feel somewhat more forgiving, as the article is much more one woman’s very personal choices and wrestling with deeply ingrained sexism of this traditional rite of passage.

I have been celebrating weddings as a priest of the Church of England for the last fifteen years, in Darlington, West Wiltshire, London and Oxford. I’m a man priest and a feminist (not too common a combination, sorry!) and I believe that it is easily possible to have a feminist wedding in church. The Church of England will not be offering same-sex marriages any time soon, but will probably get round to it in time for your gay children to enjoy the grace of this sacramental union.

Here is my how-to guide to feminist weddings in the Church of England.

Know the difference between folk tradition and liturgy

When most people think of church weddings they think of white dresses, bridesmaids, bouquet, giving away and all that kind of stuff. Absolutely none of this is required in a wedding in the Church of England. Even Laura Bates agonized about having to say she would ‘obey’ her husband, only to find her local rector tell her that the requirement to promise obedience was long gone (actually for a few decades longer than her rector told her).

Here is the key thing: there are things that the church legally requires for weddings, and then there is a lot of folk tradition and unrealistic expectations that is heaped on top of it, like burying an expertly baked cake under a gallon of squirty cream!

Liturgy is the words and actions used in church services (and a whole lot deeper than that too). The Church of England’s most recent set of liturgies was published in the year 2000, and is called Common Worship. You can find the wedding liturgy from Common Worship on-line (you can also download a complete PDF with all the marriage texts). Anything that is not specified in that is optional. So no white dresses, bouquet, bridesmaids, obeying or giving away, unless, of course, you want it.

Put down the wedding books — that are just about keeping the charade going — and read the wedding liturgy. The church has designed it to be gender equal by default!

There is also a financial advantage to knowing this: the church’s fees for weddings are set nationally and are not really all that steep. The huge expense of church weddings lies with all the expected but non-mandatory trappings. The central act of joining hands before the altar comes with a price tag of a few hundred pounds paid to your local church.

Cutting back on the folk traditions surrounding and suffocating weddings with patriarchal symbolism is an exercise in managing expectation. If you are a feminist, yet, like Laura Bates, feel that you cannot marry without some of the traditional trappings, then that’s really OK. It is tough to go against the expectations of a society, your family, and even your own emotions. Just make your feminism clear in other ways, and demonstrate that no patriarchal symbolism is intended. Continue reading

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Our Lady of Walsingham, pray for us

The Holy House, Walsingham

The Holy House, Walsingham

I’ve just returned from pilgrimage to the Anglican Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in Norfolk. It was my first visit, and I wasn’t sure how it would be, but am glad to say it was entirely positive.

I first had opportunity to go to Walsingham while at theological college in St Michael’s College, Llandaff. The organisers were a couple of fellow students of the all-too-common pompous and precious branch of Anglo-Catholicism, rank and file Forward in Faith. I didn’t go when offered, knowing these colleagues to be theologically shallow and unpleasant to be around. And that was that: Walsingham remained in my mind associated with an exclusive and unwelcoming sect.

That was thirteen years ago. This time I went to Walsingham with my parish: my vicar and nine parishioners. Walsingham remains a centre for Forward in Faith, a place where Anglicans opposed to the ordination of women can pilgrimage and feel at home. However, there is a substantial section of Anglican Catholics, who might also wish to be described as ‘traditionalists’, who not only fully support the ministry of women, but is led by women priests. It is important that this section of the church continue to be represented at the shrine, stopping it from becoming an exclusive gentlemen’s club.

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Florence Li Tim-Oi

On 25 January 1944, Florence Li Tim-Oi (李添嬡, 1907–92) was ordained priest by Ronald Hall, the Bishop of Hong Kong, to assist in the ministry of the church during the chaos of the Japanese invasion. Previously, she had been made a deaconess in 1931, and made deacon a decade later to minister among the refugees from war-ravaged Mainland China fleeing to Macau. After the occupation, Li resigned her license, but not her orders, so as to assuage controversy surrounding her irregular ordination. When, in 1971, the Diocese of Hong Kong ordained two other women to the presbyterate, Li Tim-Oi was officially recognised as a priest.

The General Convention of the Episcopal Church of the USA added a commemoration of the eve of her ordination, 24 January, to their calendar in 2003. A year later, the sixtieth anniversary of her ordination, the Church of St Martin-in-the-Fields, London, celebrated with the dedication of her icon. Continue reading


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Seventeen years of women in the priesthood

Woman priestOn this day in 1992 the General Synod of the Church of England voted in favour of ordaining women to the priesthood. The vote was decisive, yet the decision did not put a stop to the infighting. This was no armistice, and like St Martin’s cloak we remain riven in twain.

Seventeen years on, the General Synod has taken the inevitable vote in favour of consecrating women bishops, yet the revision committee is in breach of the trust of the synod and the wider church by backtracking. Continue reading