Declaration of Intent
“We, N.N. and N.N., desiring to receive the blessing of Holy Matrimony in the Church, do solemnly declare that we hold marriage to be a lifelong union of husband and wife as it is set forth in the Book of Common Prayer. We believe it is established by God for the procreation of children, and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord; for their mutual joy, and for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; to maintain purity, so that husbands and wives, with all the household of God, might serve as holy and undefiled members of the Body of Christ; and for the upbuilding of Christ’s kingdom in family, church, and society, to the praise of his holy Name. We do engage ourselves, so far as in us lies, to make our utmost effort to establish this relationship and to seek God’s help thereto.”
-Texts for Common Prayer
Anglican Church in North America [ACNA]
Although the US Constitution provides no express right to a private family life in the way that other bills of Human Rights do, it has long been held by the Supreme Court that American Citizens, like their counterparts in other democratic nations, can be private people when they want to be. The idea that privacy is inviolably good, is almost unquestioned and it impacts everything we do from the way we lock our doors at night to the settings we choose on Facebook. We like to control who sees what and share only the things that we want the world to see: “that’s personal”; “mind your own business”; “get off my land”.
But Christian Marriage involves a quite different idea; one where not just the service but the whole marriage itself is a public thing. The Declaration of Intention alludes to this when it states, that Christian Marriage necessitates “blessing … in the church” and involves serving “with all the household of God” “for the upbuilding of Christ’s kingdom in family, church and society”.
This means, when we prepare couples, we are not just preparing them for a new life together in private but rather for what the Alternative Preface to Common Worship’s Marriage Service describes as “a new life together in the community” or as the Declaration puts it in more explicit Christian terms: “the body”.
My point? There are many private aspects to a Christian marriage, but the thing itself is fundamentally, public.
One of the beauties of the Declaration of Intention, is that not only does it challenge our innate sense of entitlement to privacy through its use of language, it actively goes on to encourage couples to accept the idea of publicity… publicly!
I think this is important because pastorally, we see over and over again, that things go most wrong when couples (or the individuals making up a couple) go private. When people retreat, hide, and pretend, things only get worse. How many times have pastors said to people “if only you’d come to pray with me sooner”. Encouraging a couple “to bid the prayers of the congregation” is a great way to begin a new life together in the body and it fosters a sense that church is the place to be proactive in getting help. Perhaps it even expects that the church will be proactive in offering it.
But let’s not pretend any of this is easy. We know the reason why people like to keep things private, and that is shame. We often prefer to white-knuckle our sin alone because the idea of people finding out is more disturbing to us than the sin itself.
Perhaps this is where the declaration could be improved.People will only trust one another if the body is characterized by grace. They need to know that support will be, kind, biblical and centered on Christ as head of the body and the unique author of grace. With its language of “utmost effort” I have to ask, where is the grace?
About the Author: The Rev. Alex Shuttleworth ministers at Christ Church Fox Chapel, was previously curate at Holy Trinity, a large church in a London commuter town and senior pastor of Timperley Family Church, a small church in a deprived urban setting. Before ordination he was a barrister and a solicitor specializing in international litigation. He is married to Kat who oversees a thriving women’s ministry at Christ Church and they have two children both of whom he loves at the time of writing.