Oh Lord, are marriage services the new X Factor? How I cringe when people clap during weddings
By MARK PALMER DAILY MAIL
PUBLISHED: 23:22, 26 June 2013 | UPDATED: 23:22, 26 June 2013
The happy moment had arrived – but some of us in the congregation were bracing ourselves for what we feared was about to happen.
‘I now declare James and Fiona man and wife,’ said the priest. And with that the congregation erupted in jubilant applause.
There were a lot people shouting ‘Wooha!’ and ‘Bravo!’ and even whistling, not unlike that heard at football matches when part of the crowd wants to attract the attention of the referee.
Wedded to our X Factor: Weddings are not entertainment – we should not be clapping during them
The priest just about managed to restore order before reminding us politely but firmly: ‘I have not quite finished.’
Then he boomed: ‘And those whom God has joined together let no man put asunder.’
This warranted further wild applause and I wouldn’t have been surprised if champagne corks had started popping. Informality ruled for the rest of the service.
Two siblings of the groom sang a song while the newly married couple signed the register and this, too, was greeted with rapturous applause more suited to a TV talent contest.
And, of course, when James and Fiona walked back down the aisle at the start of their married life, clapping accompanied their every step.
Now that we’re into the summer wedding season, I’ve been taking soundings, and it seems that this kind of behaviour is perfectly normal at nuptials these days.
But there are plenty of us who wish this was not the case.
Unfortunately, the Church of England doesn’t agree. It appears that as long as the legalities of a wedding are catered for, pretty much anything goes at modern church weddings – and that’s a pity.
Silence, please: Restraint can be liberating and it is this that makes traditional weddings so moving
Compare the lack of decorum at my friends’ wedding with the dignity of the service in Westminster Abbey marking 60 years since the Queen’s Coronation.
That was a joyful celebration, too. But it was carried out in a wonderfully British and solemn sort of way that allowed everyone -including the Queen herself – to reflect privately on the significance of the occasion.
The glorious music would have been devalued by clapping. Indeed, applauding the Queen as she made her way back down the aisle would have made her cringe and despair at our X Factor culture.
Call me buttoned-up and out of touch, but restraint can be liberating. That’s why traditional weddings are so moving.
Weddings are not meant to be entertainment, with the couple in the starring roles. Just as Bach famously wrote ‘Soli Deo Gloria’ (Glory to God Alone) on all his music, a religious service of any kind – be it baptism, wedding or funeral – is about the glorification of God.
Applauding a song or homily, or indeed the completion of a couple’s vows, reinforces the secular notion that what’s just been witnessed was merely a marvellous performance.
‘People don’t know how to behave in church because they so seldom go.’
It doesn’t help that at the start of most church weddings, the congregation is already in boisterous mood: friends greeting each other as they would at a drinks party, women in inappropriate strapless dresses chatting noisily and admiring each other’s outfits, a general saloon bar buzz that drowns out the organist’s reflective pre-wedding music.
No wonder vicars now make a point of issuing guidelines to prevent a free-for-all shortly before the bride arrives.
‘Feel free to take photographs at the end,’ said the priest in charge at my friends’ service, ‘but please don’t move around the church with cameras, phones or tablets during the actual service.’
Part of the problem is that people don’t know how to behave in church because they so seldom go.
My own local vicar in Wiltshire, the Reverend Simon Weeden, tells a nice story about a father who said to his daughter shortly before escorting her into church on her wedding day: ‘Are you nervous, darling?’
To which the bride responded: ‘Of course I’m nervous, Dad, this is the first time I’ve been inside a church.’
The Church of England rightly encourages couples to get married in church, hoping that the experience will encourage them to attend more regularly, especially once they have children.
With this in mind, the Common Worship Wedding Service, which was introduced in 2000, was specifically designed to meet the desire of couples to personalise their special day.
This seems to be working. Indeed, following the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011, marriages in church were up by almost 50 per cent.
Marital boost: Following the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011, marriages in church were up by almost 50%
That year, more than 400,000 people (double that of the previous year) logged on to a website set up by the Church of England (yourchurchwedding.org) to encourage couples to have a church wedding.
As part of this campaign, vicars are being dispatched to bridal shows to man stalls promoting C of E weddings. Nothing wrong with that, just as long as churches aren’t merely presented as pretty ‘venues’, in competition with hotel ballrooms, castles and Caribbean beaches.
‘Three years ago, we were doing nine or ten weddings a year in my parish,’ says Rev Kate Bottley, vicar of St Mary’s and St Martin’s in Blyth, near Nottingham. ‘Now we’re doing almost 30 – and I must say all of them involve clapping once the couple officially become man and wife.’
She says clapping at weddings is something that’s developed in the past five years.
‘I think it’s because audience participation has become such a way of modern life. And perhaps people experience a sense of unfamiliarity in church and need to express themselves by clapping so that they feel more at home.’
Perhaps, but it’s the austerity and implicit mystery of a religious service that gives it lasting authority. Clapping, taking photographs, videoing, tweeting – however well-intentioned – should play no part in proceedings.
Yes, it’s the newly married couple’s day. But it’s God’s house.