How banns can be banned and we can still be missional


Marriage in the Church of England is a complex legal thing. The CofE acts on behalf of the state for the legal aspect of marriage.  For British ad EU nationals resident in the UK it is legally required, or at least normal, to marry by banns.  Banns were introduced in the marriage act of 1753 and were designed to prevent polygamy and incest, by giving the community three opportunities before he wedding day, and a fourth on the day itself, to expose anyone who was/is already married or couples who were/are unwittingly closely related. Banns no longer serve this legal function because urban communities are too transient and far too big for banns to effective. Many banns which are read in church are for complete strangers to the congregation.

For non-EU nationals the couple can’t legally marry by banns and need to complete the legal prelims at the registry office. This inequality is what Stephen Trott’s private motion at synod last week tried to redress. Unfortunately, all three houses voted down his motion, preferring to put up with the legal and administrative inconvenience and the inequality of treatment for non-EU nationals for the missional opportunities banns provide.

It is too late for synod, but I suggest that we might share best practice so that, if the motion returns to synod, someday, we will already have a functioning alternative which shows that simplifying the legal does not mean doing away with the missional.

For anyone marrying by banns, there are three Sundays, when the couple don’t need to attend church, but it’s nice if they do, when the vicar reads the banns. The idea that banns are missional is something I find it slightly disingenuous, as I say to a couple “we must read your banns, so why don’t you come to church?” when what I really want is for the couple to join the church.

I publish the banns of marriage between NN of … parish and NN of … parish
This is the first / second / third time of asking. If any of you know any reason in law why they may not marry each other you are to declare it.
We pray for these couples (or N and N) as they prepare for their wedding(s)

When a couple can’t marry by banns I propose to say the following, based on the declarations in the marriage service. This gives me the opportunity to say, “you don’t have to come but we’d love to announce your wedding in church and pray for you.”

I give notice of the marriage of NN of … parish and NN of … parish
The marriage vow and covenant which they are to make will be made in the presence of God, who is judge of all.
We therefore pray with them, that as they are united in love, they may fulfill Christ’s will for them throughout their earthly lives.

Does anyone else have a practice which replaces banns when necessary? If so, what do you say?

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