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Creating space for different beliefs at my friends’ wedding

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The Faith & Belief Forum

05 / 11 / 19

By Tim Mortimer

Hi I’m Tim and I’m a Programmes Manager here at the Faith & Belief Forum. But today I’m blogging more personally.

This year I found myself going to 7 weddings (I’m 31, apparently it’s the season). Much to my surprise, my friends Helena and Liam asked me if I would officiate their ceremony along with Liam’s brother. They were getting legally married a few days before in the company of close family, but wanted us to help create something on the big day.

Feeling both the fear and massively honoured, it felt particularly significant given that both my parents are clergy in the United Reformed Church (although my Mum informs me that now they’re retired ‘she can do what she wants’). I’d seen them take services and weddings throughout my life, but always from the comfort of the congregation.

It turned out that one of the reasons Helena asked me, given my work in interfaith, was that her Mum and other family members are committed Christians, and that others at the ceremony were non-religious and she wanted to create something that took account of this and spoke to everyone.

This was an exciting question for me to get my head around. It instantly took me back to another of the 7 weddings. The ceremony was broadly secular but made space for a Bible reading from the groom’s brother which he caveated with something like ‘I’m sure people here think different things, but I believe this to be true’. Perhaps a similar balance was needed here.

We talked everything through, and Helena and Liam also discussed privately. Eventually we settled on two songs – one hymn (Sing Hosanna) and one pop song (What a Wonderful World) as well as a series of short readings from different friends and family involving everything from 1 Corinthians to the Sorting Hat song from Harry Potter (I’m personally a huge fan of both). And a moment of silence where we invited people to pray, think or reflect depending on their preference.

The wedding was an incredible experience, something I’ll never forget. It was brilliant to hear from one of Helena’s aunts that she was surprised how close she felt to God throughout the ceremony and felt grateful that she had the opportunity to say a prayer. Equally, lots of other people commented on how the ceremony felt intimate, and that there was something special about it being outside.

What struck me most was how comfortable the approach we took felt. I’m familiar with a more traditional idea of an interfaith wedding i.e. two people from different faiths, whose families are also from those faiths, coming together and either having two weddings or creating a hybrid. But this felt slightly different. A bit less organised, more of an open space where people could be or bring what they wanted, acknowledging that even within a family people might believe different things.

Looking back to my work, I think in some ways this is reflective of the faith and belief landscape I see in the UK today. People believe different things, don’t always fit into boxes or set communities easily, and often seeks spaces which take account of these differences and allow people to be themselves alongside each other.

For now, my wedding season is over. It’s been brilliant, at times fun, at times emotional and has made me feel really connected to my friends and their families. As more people choose to create their own wedding ceremonies, I’m interested to see what choices people make, and where and how faith and belief fits into these more personal spaces.

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