Wedding lessons

Firstly, a lesson for you, dear readers: when you come across a clergy person (or registrar, or officiant…) who is about to conduct their first wedding, please – for the love of all that is holy – do NOT reference the epitome of all British wedding movies Four Weddings and a Funeral! It’s not even so much to do with Rowan Atkinson’s performance as the bumbling priest conducting his first wedding (the infamous line about ‘holy goats’ is no longer much of an issue as Common Worship goes with the more modern ‘Holy Spirit’), more the endless tales of woe that occurs at celebrations of holy matrimony. A death occurring at a wedding? Or the nuptials being called off at the moment the priest asks for objections? The stuff of ecclesial nightmares!

[What perhaps makes the evocation of this movie even worse is that I can name more than one priestly colleague who has experienced both of those terrible events at weddings they’ve officiated at. It happens. We don’t need reminding!]

And a lesson for those who’ll take their first wedding in the near future: when you’ve got a couple of them under your belt and you’re feeling the relief of a job well done, put Four Weddings on and revel in how smoothly yours went! As for me, the biggest lesson I’ve learnt is that getting to marry people is an absolute delight and a privilege!

I’ve known Jenni since 1997 – it doesn’t get much better than this!

A common pattern since ordination is that my “firsts” have generally been a bit of a baptism of fire. My first baptism is still fondly referred to as such by several members of the congregation, in part because one of the children decided to escape and hide before I could get to her. My first funeral was an epic affair that brought our neighbourhood to a standstill as a band and crowd of mourners danced their way up to the church. My first wedding? Just the small matter of a marrying a friend of 20 years standing to her lovely fiancé..

…it wasn’t meant to be. When they asked me (in the glamorous context of a road trip up the A1), I had my first wedding scheduled for mid-July. That wedding then moved, first to June (even better) and then to November. It’ll now be wedding number four of my career! When I got word of the last re-scheduling, I despaired slightly. On the one hand, my first wedding was going to be phenomenally special; on the other, I was going to be on alien territory, I’d know at least half the congregation well, and if I got things wrong it would be an utter disaster!

I prepped and prepped hard. Before he moved on to new pastures, I downloaded every bit of wisdom I could get from my vicar. I walked through how things worked on my home turf. I talked to other clergy. And, most helpfully, I got to work on weddings number two (8 days after number one) and three (in September). The aim was to look like I knew exactly what I was doing by the time July 29th rolled around!

Did I succeed? Possibly. I certainly learnt a lot, including:

  • DON’T let friends put you off. This includes their references to Four Weddings, but also includes moments when your dear friends (and certain family members) decide the night before to run through potential heckling opportunities. Don’t do a practice run-through with them either (especially if you’ve just arrived back from a great holiday during which you really haven’t slept enough), because any and every mistake you make while reading from the book will be seized upon!
  • DO let a trustworthy friend read-through the sermon that you’ve been angsting over for a couple of weeks. There’s always the hope that you’ll have them in tears before they’ve finished reading the opening paragraph.
  • DON’T leave your sermon in the vestry. Realising this mid-way through the declarations is a tad awkward. However, it turns out that you can do many things with authority and as if it’s exactly what’s meant to happening and no one will know. [I did a loop back into the choir vestry during the reading and returned to sit in the clergy seats at the top of the choir stalls which no one noticed at all.]
  • DO use tons of those mini Post-Its that work as book marks. They’re very handy for marking up your service book with crucial bits of info like hymn titles and the myriad middle names the couple possess.
  • DON’T forget to turn your mic onto mute when not needed. [I remembered during the hymns & forgot during the signing of the registers. I’m thankful for the friend who was in the baby room listening to a feed from my mic who dashed up and told me before the hymn had finished!]

Service over, it turns out that there are also lessons to be learnt about attending wedding receptions as the officiating priest. [There’s also an ethical conundrum regarding which reception invitations to accept, but I’m still figuring that one out.] A quick change in the vestry after the service, and I was reception-ready sans cassock, surplice & dog collar.

I have a lot of love for my singing girls.

In the toilets at the reception venue, a fellow guest did a double-take as I emerged from the cubicle and then exclaimed in recognition of who I was – which was nice, if an odd location for the spiritual conversation that emerged. Later, on the dance floor and excitedly (doing what amounts to) dancing while clutching a glass of rosé, I was bumped into by a group of guys who worked with the groom. Their surprise at stumbling across a vicar on the dance floor was evident. One of them looked at me and declared: “But you’re the vicar! And you’re dancing! And you’re drinking wine!” [Their minds would definitely be blown by witnessing what clergy can get up to en masse…] I chuckled, made conversation, and carried on dancing, amused at blowing stereotypes away. Then, minutes later the band struck up the Kings of Leon classic Sex on Fire and I had a revelation: I needed to leave the dance floor. It’s one thing for the priest to be seen dancing and drinking. It’s quite another to witness them singing “Woah! My sex is on fire” along with the band and tipsy guests! Valuable lesson learned before it was too late!!

Wedding number one was incredibly special, and I was a little worried that my first parish wedding the following weekend would be something of an anti-climax. I needn’t have, because it was an utter joy. Far more relaxed than the week before and in my usual church context, I had a confidence and attitude that was distinctly absent at wedding number one. When a text arrived that evening from my first bride asking how it had gone, I was loath to respond with “It was great! So much easier than last week!” It may have been true, but it wasn’t a true reflection of just how special her wedding being my first was.

Another valuable lesson: brides seem to appreciate sparkly shoes…

The likelihood is that I won’t do another wedding that is *that* special. My sister’s already hitched, and so are most of my closest friends. Perhaps I’ll have a shot with nieces/nephews… While I might wish that I’d been less nervous, the fact that my first wedding was so incredibly special and wonderful is an excellent thing – something I’m incredibly grateful to Jenni & Crispin for! (And they were grateful too – Crispin thanked me for letting them take my ‘wedding virginity’ in his speech!)

Wedding number two (and the planning meeting I had last week with wedding couple three) has made it clear that I love doing weddings and I (God willing) am not going to become a cynical priest who sees them as a burden rather than a joy. That’s possibly a luxury from currently being in a church that doesn’t have many weddings, but to be honest, I don’t think it’s in my (hopelessly romantic) personality to view the role of marrying people as anything but a joy and huge privilege!

It’s possible that Crispin & I found the handing over of the marriage certificate a little too amusing!

Returning to Four Weddings, last weekend’s bride left our wedding rehearsal to watch the film with her bridesmaids. I didn’t like to suggest it was a bad idea, and instead drew her attention to the fact that significant scenes were filmed locally. In fact, had Charles wanted to marry Carrie, he could have done so at Christ Church as he lived in the parish. [Every so often when it rains, I’m tempted to re-enact the terrible “Is it raining?” scene on Highbury Terrace.]

Oh, and although ‘Holy Ghost’ does not appear in the modern marriage liturgy, do you know where it does crop up?? The BCP Eucharist liturgy, which Christ Church happens to use on the first Sunday of the month. So, having been confident that I didn’t need to worry about erroneous goats in my weddings, I then had to work super hard to prevent them from appearing in our 9am last Sunday. Thanks for that dear friends!

A testament of friendship

I’m a big believer in friendship – as I think most people are (or at least ought to be). In particular, I’m a big fan of friendships that survive the kind of things that can cause a relationship to fade. You know, like moving continents, or simply growing up.

What I personally feel is phenomenal is that I have one group of friends who have exceeded expectations in terms of how friendships are meant to develop. We got off to an unusual start in that we met as teenagers, but never lived in the same location as each other. Instead, we were in each other’s company for just three days at intervals of months (sometimes years) when we gathered to perform as part of a youth choir & orchestra.

2005 styleOne such musical gathering – a black tie/evening dress affair in 2005.

Given that this was the late 1990’s/early 2000’s, we lacked most of the common commodities of 21st century friendship – I didn’t have an email address until 1999, my mobile era began in 2000 and Facebook wasn’t a thing in our world till 2006. Years ago when moving house, I found cards and letters that Jenni (my most longstanding friend of this group) had sent me while I was in 6th form – good luck cards for exams, congratulations for results and even cards for no particular reason. Letters. Do you remember them?

2006 Style Ah, attractive polo shirt uniforms. Rather glad to see the back of those! 

It’s now been 16 years since I first became friends with some of these people – that’s over half my life. I still communicate with at least one of them (via text, phone, Facebook or Twitter) pretty much every day. This year we’ve hung out in London; celebrated a wedding on the hottest day of the year; hunted for Gromits in Bristol; had a second go at Zoo Lates; spent a weekend in Brighton as a group of hens; and this Saturday, we get to celebrate a second wedding. And it’s a special wedding, because we’ve know the groom ‘in the same way’ as we know the bride (to quote the bride on her hen weekend – it’s not that dodgy, we met them both through the choir).

Feb 2013February 2013, in London (obviously). [Credit: Kilvert Photography]

Gill's Hen, Sept 2013The Gillvert Hen weekend. [Kilvert Photography, even though she’s in the photo.]

GWA 1, 2007The very first weekend away, back in 2007.

In July, as we lined up for photos with the bride, I was struck by how much our friendships have withstood. For a start, we never get to see each other as often as we’d like to. This year we’ve managed quite a lot of gatherings, but that’s largely thanks to two weddings. When we got too old for our ‘youth’ adventures, we might have drifted apart, not having any musical reason to gather together – but 6 years ago we made a brilliant decision to hold regular weekends away. (These days we’re slightly less ambitious, with outings rather than weekends.) This week’s wedding is wedding number 6 that we’ve all (or mostly) attended. There are now two babies (or one baby & one toddler) in the mix. Does that stop us? Heck no!

Mr and Mrs HoyosThe toddler was eating at this point, so her parents left her with someone responsible. There are key people missing too…

That photo is a true testament of friendship – as will the ones taken on Saturday. Yes, there will be some people missing – but that’s not because we’ve deliberately cast them aside! People’s lives ebb and flow in different ways, but I think it’s impressive that in this day and age, a group of ten or eleven girls consistently make the effort to meet together. We may now be grown women of c.30 years old, but I think we’ll always refer to each other as ‘girls’…

Mr and Mrs HoyosThis & above also Kilvert Photography.

…mainly so we can do silly things, like gathering up all the leftover champagne from wedding toasts and drinking it out of teacups.

Here’s to Gill, Robin and the Barvert wedding! May it be another in a long line of weddings we all get to go to together!

For the love of single people…

…have a seating plan at your wedding!

Well, maybe not for all single people, but think about your guest list. Are there single people coming who might not know anyone there other than the bridal party? If so, have a seating plan so they have an assigned place to sit and assigned people with whom to make conversation with. Heck, maybe even use it as an opportunity to set them up with another single person on your guest list! [Just, for the love of your friends, choose carefully. I had a really bad set-up at a wedding once and it nearly put me off the friend…] In fact, I’ve already had conversations with brides getting married later in the year who were already – without my prompting – thinking of male guests they could pair me with. Those, dear readers, are excellent friends. I know some people think they’re a pain – but what isn’t fun about a colour-coded chart?!

Anyway, Saturday’s wedding – of one of my oldest friends – had no seating plan. Being a classic introvert, I resisted choosing a seat amongst total strangers (and almost exclusively happy couples/families) and waited until the last minute, at which point I discovered a fellow singleton who was willing to pair up with me for table security. Fortunately, we vaguely knew each other – just hadn’t seen each other in about a decade. This could have been a happy ending, were it not for the fact that the only tables with seats left were in an ante-room off the main hall, whose other tables were already occupied by the (estranged until a few years ago) extended family of the groom. We found an empty table and set off to avail ourselves of the buffet, assuming that others would join the table by the time we returned.

They did not. For the whole meal I was sat next to this guy with no one else to talk to. It was fine, we had some good banter (though I did spend a very long time trying to remember which of the girls in our group of friends he’d dated when we were at school) and he was at least something of a conversationalist. Of course, I should have predicted that a guy who had confessed to being an atheist when I mentioned I was a trainee priest (and who is something of an intellectual) would come out with some cracking questions – like asking me for my rationale for my belief in God.

It’s not that I minded the question or answering it, it’s just that getting into philosophical debate at a wedding isn’t necessarily my idea of a good time – especially after a couple of drinks. So I did what anyone else would do, I tweeted about it and got a surprising amount of tweets back – after which I felt a tad guilty, he was only asking a logical question after all! We then had the faith chat with a wider group of people, largely consisting of the children of clergy (including one atheist who could have been a 5th generation vicar). Oh, and later, just for good measure, the two of us discussed the pros and cons of the institution of marriage…deep.

Thing is, had there been a seating plan, we’d almost certainly have been sat together. (No exaggeration, aside from a bridesmaid and the brother of the bride, we were the only single adults there.) It just would have been a lot less awkward had there been other people sat at our table and may have diffused the philosophical banter. On the plus side though, we managed to acquire some extra booze. Every cloud…

Oh, and you know what you definitely should have at a wedding?
A bouncy castle that adults can use and an unlimited ice cream sundae bar. Awesome.

Further pronunciation discoveries

The recently discovered research on pronunciation continues to impact my life. Not only can I now settle ‘scone’ debates with actual statistics on the two forms, but I can test its findings with countless friends. I’m sure this is proving amusing, isn’t everyone interested in linguistics?

Last Saturday I was engaging in my second afternoon tea in three days, this time in Bristol and with a couple of old school friends. While eating scones we inevitably had that conversation (they had read the research too, so it was a well informed chat) and moved on to some of the other words included in the research – like garage.

The thing is, I couldn’t tell you how I say garage because usually, whenever I start thinking about it, I get confused. So I can’t say for sure if I’m a weak vowel, strong vowel, or final syllable stress [I figured that was an easier way of explaining than using phonetics, check the article – paragraph 3.1.2 – if you’re not sure]. However, later in the meal, the truth was to be revealed…

I was talking about a forthcoming wedding at which the bride’s brother is DJing – she’s apparently warned him not to play too much dubstep as not all the guests will be as into it as he is. Now, I’m by no means a massive dubstep fan and love weddings for the amount of cheese that gets played, but I do like the odd bit of dubstep, as do my tea companions. [Incidentally, if you’re looking for some interesting, accessible dubstep listen to Monday night’s Dubstep Symphony with the BBC Philharmonic orchestra.] But my comment “really, garage music does nothing for me” drew hoots of laughter.

Apparently, if one uses the ‘weak vowel’ pronunciation (garaaaaage) when referring to the music genre, one comes across as a bit of a posh twit.

So I now know what my natural pronunciation is and I also know how to avoid looking like an idiot when talking about popular music. My life is certainly richer for it.

An ongoing education in weddings

Wedding season has arrived with a vengeance. Last Saturday I went to one of the most beautiful weddings I’ve ever been to and tomorrow, I’ll go to another ceremony in exactly the same location. Two weddings in six days at the same church? That’s quite something. I’m a fairly well practised wedding goer now, but it seems that education in the landmark occasion never ceases…

For example, earlier this week I discovered that it’s traditional in American weddings for bridesmaids to pay for their dress and accessories – extraordinary! It was a post on The Hairpin that enlightened me and honestly, I was stunned. Being a bridesmaid is an honour and a privilege, but surely it’s not something you ought to go bust over? If their presence as beautiful attendants is an essential part of the wedding, surely it’s an essential part of the wedding budget too? [Not to mention the added travel and bridal shower costs of American nuptials…] I guess I’ve just discovered a whole new aspect of the plot of 27 Dresses.

Also, tea (as in the drink, not the meal) should be an essential element of all weddings. It has fantastic medicinal purposes – soaking up alcohol consumed prior, during and post the meal; comforting those who have been overcome by wedding emotions; and providing a caffeine boost to get you through the night. On Saturday evening, a beautiful half hour was spent in the company of some lovely girls, some yummy cake and several mugs of tea. We were apparently a strange sight, clad in pretty dresses, sat on the steps of a church in a central London piazza, clutching mugs – but who cares what we looked like, we were gossiping, restoring our sanity and generally bonding, which is far more important.

Oh, and I’ve discovered that it is possible to make me cry at weddings. Honestly (and I’m sure some of you will be surprised by this, as I’m generally on the soppy side of the spectrum) I’d never actually shed a tear at a wedding. I’ve come close to it and I’ve certainly cried in laughter, but never from the emotion of it all. However, it seems that the combination of: groom recording song about bride that bride hears for first time when walking down the aisle; groom delivering spectacularly lovely speech; and bride writing and performing song for groom in her speech was a little too much for me. (I could also blame the friend sat behind me who kept nudging me to see if I was crying yet – not helpful.)

One final lesson – it is ok to wear the same outfit at two weddings, six days apart, in the same location and with some of the same guests. I’m throwing pride to the wind and enjoying the fact that I like my new blue dress so much that I want to wear it twice in a week. The important thing to remember is to do something differently (hair would be the obvious one) so that you can tell which wedding the photos are from on Facebook (key 21st century issue). Well, I’m saying it’s ok – here’s hoping no one looks at me tomorrow and judges me…