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Day 3

Marriage Council Report Presented to General Synod

Members of General Synod received the report of the Marriage Council in Armagh this morning (Saturday May 12).

The report was proposed by the Revd John Ardis who welcomed Bishop Pat Storey onto the Marriage Council and Bishop Alan Abernethy as an observer and paid tribute to Sandra Massey who retired after 18 years of service. He welcomed Aisling Sheridan who has taken on the role.

The council had an away day last year, facilitated by Lydia Monds, which offered members the opportunity to reflect on where they had come from and identify a focus for the future.

The council was originally set up to provide marriage preparation courses, marriage enrichment and marriage breakdown counselling and to assist with clergy training. Today, he said, it directs local parishes towards resources that may better equip clergy and couples for marriage preparation and to provide support for marriage crisis. Marriage enrichment is still offered, in particular clergy couples retreats.

As a council they decided that they should focus primarily on clergy training and resourcing, couples counselling and marriage preparation as well as supporting clergy with their own marriages, Mr Ardis said.

Speaking to the report, Bishop Pat Storey, encouraged clergy couples to think of joining the couples’ retreat later this year.

Johnny Campbell Smith commended the work of the marriage council to local parishes because of the resources they can make available to parishes.

Bishop Patrick Rooke reflected on the fact that Church of Ireland clergy can only marry people in a church setting. He fully supported the view that a church is the ideal place for a Christian marriage ceremony but wondered if it should be the only option. He wondered if the church could be more flexible. An increasing number of young people are reluctant to be married in church. He asked if the church was missing a trick and driving young couples away at a particular pastoral and life changing moment. He said that funerals and other services were carried out outside church. He asked the Marriage Council to do some research on the issue and report back to General Synod. He said that some might think it was a ploy to conduct same sex marriages in a secular context. However, he said this was not the case.

Canon Gillian Wharton commended the marriage counsellors who provide marriage preparation courses.

Desmond Boyd commended the Marriage Council’s work and said it should be taken seriously by the church at large. Issues arise in marriage and marriage is at times is not east and is a business of evolution, he said. He asked if there should be marriage retreats for non clergy couples as the need was there.

Archdeacon Ricky Rountree objected to the idea of taking marriage out of church buildings. He said when the rule is there that they must get married in a church, it becomes more meaningful for couples as they have to think seriously about whether their marriage is a Christian marriage. He said if we care enough about the place of church within the marriage we underline the importance of the meaning of it and it becomes more meaningful for the couple themselves. He said if the current situation was not maintained he could not see where it would end in terms of where you would be asked to conduct marriages.

The Revd Jennifer McWhirter said she felt that an opportunity was lost for Christian witness when alternative venues can not be used.

Dean Maria Jansson said that wedding planners marketed the cathedral and castle for their wedding day. She said she wanted the wedding to be an evangelical moment so that they would come back and bring their children back. The emphasis is on the vows before God. She said she resisted the wedding industry and the bit that the church does should be rooted where the community meets and worships, in churches and cathedrals. She added that 90% of people who turn up in church for weddings are unchurched and many actually go back to church after their experience at a wedding.

Adam Norris said that five and a half marriage came to an end and he was unaware of the existence of the Marriage Council. He suggested that the Marriage Council should make itself more visible to the parishioners.

Val Rogers supported Bishop Rooke on his call for weddings to be held outside church. He said that the entire world was God’s cathedral and we must be willing to meet people where they are.

Responding, Mr Ardis said the council would look into the issues raised.

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