Today I voluntarily surrendered my licence to celebrate marriages. It’s part of “incremental retirement,” I suppose, but I prefer to see it as part of “a changing shape of vocation.”
So why now?
My last wedding was four years ago. Since then, administrative changes, including the advent of online form filling and streamlining legal obligations, have meant I would need to retrain myself in case there is a next. As I am no longer a minister of a congregation, I don’t officially retain the criteria to continue as a celebrant anyway, but there is some leeway in how this condition has been exercised.
Passing in my license inevitably awakens some reminiscing.
My first weddings were concelebrated while I was in training. My sister and her beloved were the first taxi off the rank. Then there was a navy couple in a Roman Catholic ceremony in the chapel on their base. The chaplain was very accommodating, even offering a choice of vestments to wear. I reluctantly declined, seeking to guard my “plain clothes” tradition! I confess that, since then and in three instances, I have gowned up for cultural reasons.
Each wedding has had its own array of stories, including my own! A whole book could be written.
For a few years, I developed and presented courses on conducting weddings. It was part of a “rites of passage” package for our ministers, looking at how they might engage more creatively with the “hatch, match, and despatch” requests that come their way.
There was one media occasion where I defended the concept of marriage against the rising rates of separation and divorce, and a more recent one, televised, where I gave a voice to “marriage equality” during the recent national and politically polarised debate on same-sex marriage. It caused a little stir within my tribe, but some colleagues privately and confidentially commended my “courageous” stance.
My last wedding service was for a delightful couple, both widowed, both in their 80s, and both deeply in love. Their story was later nationally televised. Sadly I conducted the groom’s funeral service precisely three years later. He himself had also been a marriage celebrant with whom I had often compared notes.
It is with a sense of thankfulness and yet relief that I pass in my licence and wedding paraphernalia!
Bloganuary poses “What was your dream job as a child?”
The railway line to Grange ran past the end of our street Each time I heard the whistle, my heart did skip a beat No matter steam or diesel as the changes went ahead Engine Driver was the job of how I would make my bread.
Then there was the time the circus came and pitched its tent The canvas and the sawdust wafted its exotic scent The excitement and the bands that brought it all to town Convinced me that my calling was to go and be a Clown.
Some years went by and I pondered while in my early youth What my drawings, lines, and squiggles could yield in terms of truth I wrestled with the dawning of a fledgling intellect And thought I might cut the mustard to become an Architect.
These dreams of long ago seeded what came to be Factory Clerk and Retail Help – first jobs that set me free Then on the day I was ordained, ready to embrace my mission They said, mindful of the Clown*, “I see you’ve achieved your ambition!”
* We are fools for the sake of Christ… (1 Corinthians 4:10)
Bloganuary queries “Who is your favourite author and why?”
I have many favourites, but I’m going to land on one that set the path to becoming a bibliophile – Charles Dickens.
Great Expectations was the text our Year 8 English Teacher had set. I quickly found myself engaged with the dark and menacing opening, the eerie Victorian atmosphere and the weird behaviour of Miss Haversham. As the plot unfolded I found myself in the grip of the storyline right to the end.
Dickens’s devotion to fully detailed characterisation and attention to minute setting descriptions transported me to 19th-century English cities and countryside – both the bucolic and the bleak. As soon as I was earning money I subscribed to a complete set of Dickens works, noting my particular attraction to David Copperfield and Oliver Twist. In some unaccountable way, I must have been identifying with the main protagonists of these stories – each of them negotiating the circumstances of their youth to address the circumstances of their narrative line.
Perhaps I saw myself as one of Dickens’s characters, seeking to address social inequities, confronting and outsmarting my antagonists (real and imagined), and carving out my life’s path. Perhaps Charles Dicken’s had a lot to do with me becoming a pastor.
He certainly opened the door to engaging with many more authors.
“What fear have you conquered?” the Bloganuary prompt teases.
Some remain unconquered. A childhood incident triggers aquaphobia. As a result, I’ve gotten through life without learning to swim. For an Ozzie, this is an anomaly! I have concluded that my other bête noir, acrophobia, is just plain vertigo. Air travel is a breeze, even though I get dizzy standing on a step to change a light globe.
My temperament is one that seems naturally tuned into threats, real and imagined. The radar is constantly scanning the horizon, ready to react whenever an unwelcome blip appears. In counterphobic fashion, I am the zebra that protectively circles the herd, keeping an eye on the long pampas grass that conceals stalking predators.
Some commentators describe this persistent low static state of fear as existential dissonance. It is an inherent inability to trust the wellness of things. The antidote seems to be courage cultivated by awareness and paying attention.
The Apostle Thomas is my patron saint. He had the courage to name his doubts and ask his questions. Even though he feared the worst, he was the first to urge his peers to accompany their teacher back to Lazarus’ deathbed, where danger and mortal threat loomed.
I don’t know that one really conquers fear. One becomes aware of it, studies it, and reflects on it. In the process, its grip weakens and it almost becomes like an old friend. It’s no longer fear – it’s something else.