Tuesday, 3 May 2011

After the Wedding

As the media move from saturation coverage of the royal wedding celebration to the death of Osama Bin Laden, it is natural that we reflect on how love and war, birth and death raise our societies above mundane concerns. Most of us love a wedding! On the eve Prince William’s marriage to Kate Middleton, the president of the Methodist Conference wrote a short open letter of well-wishing on behalf of the Methodist People. Members of the Joint Public Issues Team would like to add their voices to those wishing the royal couple a long and happy union. We hope that amid the responsibilities and privileges of status, fame and wealth and the formal and ceremonial lifestyle that royalty still practices, they will grow in love and true companionship and be sustained by it.

Marriages can also be times to assess the deeper reality of our institutions – or as the cynical might say, their lack of significance. Since the time of Henry VIII Britain has lived under an established Church. The Queen is the Head of the Church of England and those ordained to the Priesthood are still bound to uphold the 39 articles originally formulated in the time of Queen Elizabeth I. An established church merges the civil and the ecclesiastical. Is marriage a contract, a way of demonstrating status to the community?; Is it a club to join? Or is it in fact a sacrament, a direct means for the Spirit to enter our world through the ritual and vows, however theologians interpret what a sacrament is? Marriage is one of the most direct ways in which theology affects our social lives. And the example set by the royal family with its leadership role in an established Church is bound to affect the nation's views of marriage and indirectly of Christianity.

Let us hope and pray that in their marriage William and Kate can rely on their friendship and love to enable them to live as public examples of 21st century married royalty. Theology is not just made by Biblical scholars in seminaries, nor by professional Christians and talking heads – it evolves in the sentiment and life of the People of God, and that goes beyond those who call themselves Protestant, Christian or by any other label.

During the wedding service, many people’s minds inevitably turned to William’s parents’ marriage. Diana’s life and – and her tragic death - have done an enormous amount to destroy the traditional mystique around royalty, whether you think this is good or bad. Their sons have had to grow up in the light of public scrutiny of their famously troubled marriage, containing allegations of adultery and incompatibility. The pressures of privilege and expectation clearly harmed Charles and Diana before and after their marriage. However we understand marriage, Christians will reflect that status is no compensation for the lack of companionship and true intimacy, that Charles has hopefully gained with Camilla.

Charles is one of the few royals who has shown any public interest in spiritual or theological concerns. Ironically for a potential Defender of the Faith, these are rather of the ‘New Age’ tendency to the occasional ridicule of the press, but both Charles and Diana in their different ways have acted according to their beliefs: Charles for traditional cultural and sometimes unfashionable norms in architecture, farming and so on, Diana in her concern for AIDS victims and campaigning around landmines.

Although his public life has been strongly associated with military, it will be interesting to see whether William is able to combine his parents' contrary tendencies and pioneer a new kind of monarchy. It remains to be seen whether the Church of England will play a living role in his life. If it does not, it will be fascinating to see how the Nonconformist churches and other religions will come to inhabit the aging social and religious space of his new reign.