The best wedding guide of all
The problem with a trained owl bringing you a wedding ring, one might think, is that if the bird panics and pecks out a bridesmaid's eye, this could really take the shine off the reception.
Nevertheless, according to the Church Weddings Handbook (a new Church of England guide, based on a five-year study), many couples are keen to have their rings delivered by strigiformes. We can only hope, as the bridegroom demonstrates his confidence that the safest place for his wedding jewellery is in the beak of a wild animal, that the best man isn't too offended.
The handbook recommends that vicars be more flexible about personalised ceremonies. Other modern ideas, alongside the avian ring twist, include arriving at church on horseback and walking down the aisle to the theme from Test Match Special.
The recommendations are "dynamite", according to the Archbishop of York, who is clearly a cricket fan.
You may wonder why a couple would choose to get married in church, then fill it with performing animals. After all, these days, you can just get married at the zoo.
The five-year survey dispelled the myth that people marry in church for the sake of a pretty building. In his foreword to the handbook, the Venerable John Barton explains: "The prime reason is an inner desire to do things properly and to take marriage seriously. It is for [priests] to sense in this a genuine yearning for God's blessing."
If people want to "do things properly", you might ask, then why don't they just opt in to the exact traditional formula?
Why fiddle with the historic and agreed ritual that is half the comfort of having a temple (any temple) to turn to at times of birth, marriage and death?
The answer is hidden elsewhere in the Ven John Barton's essay, in his passing line: "Brides-to-be spend hours studying wedding magazines."
There's your answer.Wedding magazines. I've had cause to read a few of those recently; they are absolutely terrifying. Their wacky suggestions could form the basis of anxiety dreams for years to come.
No disrespect to the editors and writers, who are doubtless kind and well-meaning people, but there is an inherent danger in the business model.
For the buyer, this is a one-off purchase. No wedding magazine is ever going to lure lifelong subscribers, especially now Elizabeth Taylor's dead. There's no reason why they shouldn't be exactly the same every month: checklist of pre-wedding admin, planning timetable, directory of stockists. The magazine buyer would never know this is repeat material, since (fingers crossed) she'll never need to read one again.
But this does not apply to those who work in the wedding industry. It is natural for businesses to devise innovations, and natural for genre magazine staff to be excited by them—especially with advertisers to please.
What's hot in wedding biscuits?
So, when the time comes for your one-off purchase of bridal advice, you will find the magazines are light years ahead of you, filled with twists you didn't know you needed.
This month's You and Your Wedding, for example, asks the question: "What's hot in wedding biscuits right now?"
(The answer is "Save the Date favours". That is: icing the date on a biscuit and posting it to guests as a first announcement. What a triple whammy for the nervous bride: you're supposed to invite people twice, you're supposed to do it in an interesting way, and you're supposed to know about the latest trend in "wedding biscuits".)
The current Wedding Venues & Services asks the bride what she has planned for "table entertainment and props", recommending a "personalised funfair heart ($230)" for the latter and a music-themed trivia game for the former. Heaven help the poor fool who imagined the "table entertainment" would be a meal and the "props" some form of cutlery.
Other magazines make suggestions for "your going-home presents", "your seating-card novelties" and "your customised napkins"—and that's before you graduate to the more specific publications Wedding Flowers and Wedding Cakes.
Now imagine this bride, filled with (as John Barton says), an "inner desire to do things properly". The loud message, broadcast directly from these authoritative voices to her nervous and suggestible little heart, is that her wedding is supposed to be original, creative and different from everyone else's. Anxious to get everything right, no wonder she starts desperately planning to canter down the aisle on a zebra, throwing monogrammed hats at the congregation to the strains of "I Don't Feel Like Dancing".
A strange paradox is at work: if your instinct is to be normal, the magazines imply, then you must express that in the form of making a dozen weird innovations. It may well be that the best thing a kindly vicar can do, as he counsels a couple before marriage, is give them permission to do things in an ordinary, traditional way.
But there is a deeper message to the Church Weddings Handbook, about a much bigger sort of flexibility. It's not really about feathered ring-bearers; it's about inviting people to feel confident and at home in church. Consciously or not, the Church of England is showing that difference is not to be rejected; that it's possible to be both different and the same. There is a lot of hope here, for the future.
Many people have gone shyly to the local church to ask for marriage with a patchy attendance record or an unconventional background; because they were brought up without religion, or differently from their partners, but they yearned to receive God's blessing and our national church has a unique ability to offer it in a simple, supple way. It's hard to express the power of that gentle, uncritical welcome, other than to say that one of my prayers is that gay couples will feel it too, within my lifetime. - guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2012