I was privileged two or three weeks ago to assist at a couple of weddings at St. Alban’s. Like confirmations, it is always moving to see adults make considered, public declarations. As I watched them take their positions in the traditional formations for the declarations and vows, flanked by their attendants, I was reminded of once seeing, either on the tele or perhaps just a still image in a newspaper or magazine, a wedding of a baseball player.
The baseball player’s wedding took place on a baseball field. The bride and groom processed from home plate to the pitcher mound, or maybe from the mound to home plate, I don’t recall exactly, but what I do recall was his teammates, in their uniforms, lining the way of the procession, with baseball bats raised in the kind of arch that the bride and groom walked under, similar to the way a couple might leave a wedding in a military chapel through an arch of drawn swords raised by two lines of uniformed army officers facing each other.
I recall my two reactions. In my first, my innate conservatism showed itself in a reaction of disapproval. “Sacrilegious” I thought. But the more I thought about it, the more I came around to an opposite view. I reflected more on the basic meaning of the ceremony, like an anthropologist might, which is simply two people declaring to their primary social group their intention to form a pair bond, to assure a person in a leadership position of their group that they are not already in another pair bond and are freely willing to do so, and an expression from their whole social cohort that it is perfectly fine with them. As such, if a couple’s community is a church then a wedding in a church is the right thing, but if not, if their social group is a baseball team together with their friends and relatives, then to make their declarations and vows before them in their sacred space, a ball field, seems totally fitting and proper. Indeed, it came to seem to me that if the couple had no connection to a religious community, then a wedding in a church seemed the sacrilegious act, a mere using of the church and its rites for show.
Even with respect to the raising of children, should they be the product of the marriage, the baseball couple would have a similar intention, even if unarticulated in their wedding ceremony, to raise them to know and love baseball, not unlike the purpose of a Christian marriage, expressed in the prayers, to raise children to know and love God.
What does this say about the future of the church, if anything? For one thing, the freedom of people to choose a life in a Christian community or not, could lead to a healthy sorting out of those who are in it just as a matter of social conformity, or worse, for social or political advancement, a violation of the fourth commandment. It really can’t be decoupled from the mission of the Church as expressed in the Ministry of the Laity in the Catechism, to represent and bear witness to Christ and to carry on His work of reconciliation in the world.
“We thank you that in all parts of the earth a community of love has been gathered together by the prayers and labors…of those whom you have sent to preach the Gospel…” From Thanksgiving for the Mission of the Church.
Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 23 June 2015.