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Marriage Preparation

2014 April 25
by Gordon Reid

It may come to a surprise to some of you, but I have no interest at all in “Marriage Preparation”.

The whole Roman Catholic “Pre-Cana” scheme leaves me cold – especially since it includes the prohibition of contraception and (by implication at least) of pre-marital sex. The idea of celibate priests counseling couples about their married life is absurd.

I’m not sure I have ever married a virgin. If I have, I apologize here and now! But most couples I have married have lived together for months and often for years, and I am convinced that their marriages will be the stronger and more lasting for that. It is time that the Church abandoned the ancient ideas of marriage and recognized this fact.

When a couple asks me if I will marry them, I ask them to come and see me, so that we can talk the whole thing through. I ask if they have been baptized and why they would like to be married in St Clement’s. I tell them about the church fees and about what they have to do about the music. I ask them to come on a Sunday to talk with me and the organist about what music they would like at the wedding.

And then – that is that! And quite enough too.

11 Responses leave one →
  1. Keith Patterson permalink
    April 26, 2014

    Dear Father Reid,

    It’s really good to see pastoral sensitivity to couples seeking the sacrament of a Christian marriage. Is there, though, a case for ministering to the realities of life in this fallen world, while also teaching the Christian ideal of celibacy outside marriage? For me personally, the Church of England has gone too far in accommodating to modern secular life, and in consequence I was received into the Orthodox Church two weeks ago.

  2. Stephanie permalink
    April 26, 2014

    While I understand you are dissatisfied with a certain model of marriage prep that can sometimes focus unduly on matters of sex, I worry there is a risk of throwing out the baby with the bathwater here; marriage prep isn’t necessarily just about ‘ancient ideas’ that ought to be discarded.

    First of all, as a 25-yr old woman, I feel there’s plenty enough cultural pressure on young adults to be having sex/cohabiting without the church also adopting the logic of ‘everybody’s doing it, so if you wait, well then you’re just antiquated’ (which, while I aknowledge that’s not exactly what you’re arguing, nonetheless seems to be the take-away message from your dismissiveness towards people who think its important to wait).
    Second of all, programs like pre-Cana actually do a lot more than just talk about issues of sex. When my husband and I went through it last year, our time with our priest and the married couples who ran the workshops etc was really fruitful. We did bring a spiritual lens to issues of intimacy, but also to issues of communication, in-law relationships, work/chore balance, finances – in other words, really bringing God into the whole of the matter! I’m so glad that our mentors took the time to work through all that with us, and didn’t merely talk about church fees and music! They really cared about helping us strengthen our relationship and I appreciated that a lot!!

  3. Stephen permalink
    April 26, 2014

    I’m still laughing, Father! I’m taking delight in this posting! As a Roman Catholic, I like to think I take a back seat to no one in my appreciation for the Sacred priesthood, and I have always opposed the trend toward a false egalitarianism that would seek to reduce the powers and prerogatives that God has seen fit to call to Holy Orders. That being said, I have never seen it as the role of the priest to micro-manage the lives of the faithful. This seems especially true when it comes to things like Romance, marriage and adult relationships. I’m so happy that You said what needed to be said!

  4. Martin Brynildsen permalink
    April 28, 2014

    Father Reid,
    I think you have opened an immense “can of worms.”
    I can’t say that I’m surprised by your statement. It would appear to be the standard of the Episcopal Church, as a whole, at least over the last thirty years or so. What is surprising is that (it appears) you might require only routine preparations for the service itself. Wouldn’t those interested in Saint Clement’s Church, as a sight for marriage vows, and even a serious commitment, have certain notions about Christian standards…or is it simply the choice of what is seen as a beautiful outward setting? Isn’t Saint Clement’s, even within the context of the Episcopal Church, distinctive in its spirit, or is the “outward and visible” quality enough? I don’t know how much careful instruction in or practical counseling experience seminaries are giving these days, but hasn’t some serious commitment and discussion, on the subject of Holy Matrimony, always been important? What about the sixth traditional Precept of the Church, or has it only become necessary to bring couples in through the turnstiles, charge the “appropriate” fees, and then send them on to deal with their married life as they please?

  5. Wyatt Matthews permalink
    April 28, 2014

    Hi father I am moving from Ohio to Philadelphia my question to you is me and my same sex partner want to get married if we join your congregation do you object to performing such a ceremony? Assuming philadelphia actually legalize the act

    • Gordon Reid permalink*
      May 26, 2014

      Wyatt, you will have seen that Pennsylvania has now joined the States where same sex marriage is legal. Our Bishop has just issued a pastoral letter all owing the clergy of this diocese to officiate at such weddings. This is too personal a matter to be discussed in a blog, but you are welcome to come and talk with me when you get to Philadelphia.

  6. Anon123 permalink
    April 29, 2014

    Fr Gordon,

    Like you, I find the whole notion of “marriage prep courses” to be taxing and wholly superfluous. In the North American RC Church, it offers (yet another) excuse for the clericalization of a strange class of lay “pastoral ministers”, who risk regimenting average lay folk out the door.

    Although people often “live lives” before marriage, the concepts of exclusivity, commitment, and the whole notion of “waiting until that exclusive commitment is made” that are ceremonially celebrated in the sacramental rites of marriage should not be too easily dismissed.

  7. Bob Glassmeyer permalink
    April 29, 2014

    With respect, Fr. Reid, your comment ” the idea of celibate priests counseling couples about their married life is absurd,” is a worn out argument. A celibate person is not raised by wolves, and celibacy is every bit as natural as genital intimacy. Both affirm the nearness of God to His people. In a related way, often people who advocate “optional celibacy” for priests in the Roman Church don’t want to see celibacy as an option at all; they wish to abolish it.

    Too, some marriages of people cohabiting beforehand will last, some will not, same as those who don’t cohabit before marriage. Some will, some will not.

    These thoughts I share as a fellow pilgrim and mean no disrespect whatsoever. I enjoy so much of your writing, and I hope when you retire you continue to write.

  8. Michael permalink
    May 21, 2014

    Whilst in the main I agree with the good and wise Father I am finding that since moving to Vancouver from London I have had to change my approach to this subject. Amongst the marriages we celebrated last year 9 were Asian couples who had not lived together nor to quote Sheldon had had coitus. This brings a different dimension into play. So using my background training in counselling I devised a questionnaire for them to complete separately and return to me. This formed the basis for further discussion.
    Usually such meeting were held in my apartment with a glass of wine etc. this enabled me to get to know the couples better and thus mould the ceremony more personally especially when it came to my brief homily.

  9. Justin permalink
    June 4, 2014

    As a gay Roman Catholic I have to say that this is the most forward and realistic position I have ever heard from a clergyman! Growing up I remember priests in my parish condemning couples who were living together and not married. They weren’t allowed to recieve communion etc. Ive even heard of priests refusing to baptize children of these couples! Because they weren’t in a “state of grace”! What an absurd and very anti-Christian attitude. If the church, (any church) can’t approach this topic in a realistic manner, then they will continue see a decline in their parishioners. What a refreshing thing to hear Father! I applaud you in your aproach and look forward to going to one of your services. I love being a Catholic but i don’t ever see my church coming this far. I hope they will eventually but it just doesn’t seem like its in the cards. I doubt know much about the Anglo-Catholic church, but what I’ve seen so far, I am excited and pleaded to visit your church!

  10. Michael permalink
    July 29, 2017

    I agree about the prep courses, but I disagree strongly that you seemingly discourage virginity before marriage. It’s sad that someone I look up to, could actually make such a statement.

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