Rings and Things

Lovely day for a wedding on Friday, and it was privilege to conduct the ceremony for a splendid young woman I have known since she was at school. The service was traditional, except for the fact that it was held at 11am on a Friday morning; lots of folk are doing this these days, as its easier to get a reservation on a weekday. (The caterer, not the minister, we are the last person they book.) And I guess processing in to Baba Yetu was a bit different. And one other nontraditional aspect was that there was only one ring. The groom was quite set on this, for reasons that don't matter, but they were both quite keen to know if it was kosher to have only one ring.

"Of course", I reassured them. The practice of both partners having rings only became commonplace in the sixties and seventies with the onset of liberal feminism. Women felt that if they were to publicly brand themselves as married and therefore unavailable, their menfolk should have to as well . The use of doublebarreled surnames also came into prominence in that era, though that is now becoming fraught, as you can only do it for two generations before it becomes a nonsense Anyway, I told them I have taken a few weddings with only one ring, maybe a few per cent if you counted up over the thirtyfive years I have been licensed. Usually its because the guy works in an industrial context, where a metal ring is a danger to occupational health and safety.

All this came into focus last week when it became known that Prince William is not going to wear a ring. Apparently its a royal tradition not to. Prince Phillip doesn't have one, and Charlie didn't with his first marriage to Diana, although Camilla must have had more sway, as he has one on now. Talk back callers to 1ZB were taking sides on this one, some seeing it as a chauvinist choice not to own up to being married. Others rang in with horror stories about rings of titanium or stainless steel causing serious injuries being caught in machinery. An electrician who worked in Health and Safety for twelve years told of the danger to people working with electricity. The consensus was that men should still have a ring, even if they choose not to wear it in their daily work.

I once did a wedding with no rings. The couple who had booked the wedding lived in England and all the arrangements took place with letters - this was before email! They said they could not find a ring they liked, so wouldn't be bringing one, and I said that was fine. The ring thing is a tradition to symbolise the marriage but does not contribute to the legality or otherwise of the ceremony, which is founded on the simple taking of one another as marriage partners. So I sent them a draft service not mentioning rings, they went through the rehearsal without rings, and no rings were mentioned in the very nice marriage ceremony itself. Straight afterwards however, I got blasted, first by the bridesmaid, then by her sister the bride. "Where were the rings?" I explained that they had told me "no rings" and that they had approved the order of service without them. "But we thought you would have false rings," they said! You could have knocked me over with a feather. I tried to apologise but the stage was set for eternal acrimony. It all sounds so logical now, but at the time I was mortified. I had to go for prayer for emotional healing years later, I was really traumatised by inappropriate guilt. So now when there is only one ring or none, I check and check and check, and thankfully there have been no more nasty surprises.

All this is a way to lead up to my baptism class that started this week. Three nice ladies, a variety of ages, but with quite a lot in common as we found out when we told some of our personal faith story this week . When we talk more about baptism in the next session, I will speak about marriage, and all the symbols it involves. Rings, veils, horseshoes, spoken promises, joining of hands, signing of certificates, and sometimes lighting of candles. Baptism is also richly symbolic. It involves water - lots of water in Baptist church - and spoken promises and laying of hands and giving of crosses and sometimes even a certificate. In both cases, these symbols do not make the new relationship. They set the scene for a life together. Tony Campolo said to us on Sunday (yes, we had Tony Campolo live at Eastview!!!) that a wedding only makes a marriage possible. Baptism sets the scene for a life with Christ. In some cases it simply writes over in ink what has been written in pencil for years, but the scriptures make it clear that in God's eyes it is part of the deal, just as the wedding ceremony is for Christian couples.

I don't care that Ric never wears the ring I put on his finger on our wedding day, even though I never take mine off. The rings were only the beginning of a life long partnership which I must consciously nourish. Baptism is the same. We let the water out of the baptistry the same day, its not holy. What is sacred is the commitment - me to Christ and Christ to me - that with daily input will continue all my life.

To Chew Over: What are you doing to nourish your commitment to Jesus today?

O Jesus, I have promised to serve Thee to the end;
Be Thou forever near me, my Master and my Friend;
I shall not fear the battle if Thou art by my side,
Nor wander from the pathway if Thou wilt be my Guide.

O let me feel Thee near me! The world is ever near;
I see the sights that dazzle, the tempting sounds I hear;
My foes are ever near me, around me and within;
But Jesus, draw Thou nearer, and shield my soul from sin.

O let me hear Thee speaking in accents clear and still,
Above the storms of passion, the murmurs of self will.
O speak to reassure me, to hasten or control;
O speak, and make me listen, Thou Guardian of my soul.

O Jesus, Thou hast promised to all who follow Thee
That where Thou art in glory there shall Thy servant be.
And Jesus, I have promised to serve Thee to the end;
O give me grace to follow, my Master and my Friend.

John Bode