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Marriage matters - I will

 The Archbishop has written an article about the importance of marriage to family life. An edited extract of this article appeared in The Daily Telegraph on 28 April 2011. His article in full follows....

 It's "I Will"

The millions around the world who will be watching the Royal Wedding tomorrow may not notice the wording of the promises the bride and groom make to each other. As with every other couple, each will be asked first if they will "love, comfort, honour and protect..." their spouse. The answer to this is "I will". It will not be "I do".

We take it for granted that bride and groom love each other on their wedding day, so there's no need to ask them if they do. It's what follows years later that counts. So at the outset they are asked to make a commitment, an act of will, for the future. That is a resolution to love, comfort, honour and protect, whatever the circumstances. Someone joked that love is blind, but marriage is a real eye-opener. There may be times in the future when the romance thermometer will barely register a reading. Those who have said "I will" and meant it, know that feelings can wobble and are untrustworthy tests of authenticity anyway. Long-lasting marriages rely on mutual understanding and forbearance, when the woman and the man spend more time working out to be grateful for the good things about each other, than moaning about the bad. Maturity discards rose-tinted spectacles in favour of seeing things as they really are. Discovering the depth and enduring meaning of love is the goal and prize of every mature relationship.

Marriage in the UK, whether in Church or Register Office is a pact between one man and one woman, for life.

These days, the average age of a marrying couple is around 30. Many have been living together[1]; one in five has children. There are two reasons for this. The first is the fear of commitment, particularly by men. They may have seen their parents' marriage disintegrate and don't want to make the same mistake.

 

They may fight shy of a permanent commitment to anything or anybody, preferring to keep their options open, often oblivious to their partners' unspoken longing for them to pop the question, though many cohabiting couples do see themselves as in a committed relationship already. The second is the mistaken belief that it has to cost an arm and a leg. That is because the average wedding these days costs £20,000 and now it is not uncommon for couples to establish their home and family before saving up to tie the knot.

By contrast, I heard of a recent wedding where the bride had bought her dress from a charity shop and the reception was an all-day breakfast in a supermarket cafe. Another bride-to-be lost her job and was offered a low-cost ceremony (£321.50) by the Vicar in a seaside parish church, to be followed by fish and chips on the pier. Why not? She is to be applauded for resisting the current fashion.

People have the right to be married in their parish church and since 2008 couples have had a much greater choice of churches for their wedding, see www.yourchurchwedding.org. Research commissioned by the Church of England has revealed that 53% of the population believe that a church wedding is 'more proper'[2].

We have also produced an optional ceremony which combines a Marriage Service with the Baptism (Christening) of children. Far from being an abandonment of traditional values, this is an expression of the welcome home offered by a generous God.

I was raised in Uganda in an extended family of uncles, aunties and grandparents. During vacations as a child, I spent holidays with one of my grandparents. The lessons learnt there have sustained me. Marriage is not just about the couple and their children, for they need also the openness of other families around them. When my wife and I arrived in this country our children were not yet born. We did not have the joy of grandparents, uncles and aunties in the same neighbourhood. But we were very fortunate to become part of a church where our children could have that extension of learning from other people.

 

When I was a parish priest in South London, we tried to create for single parents the possibility of extended families to support the children. When I spoke on this subject in the House of Lords a few months ago, I suggested that we should explore the creation of extended families in which marriage can be supported.

Lord Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, in the same debate said, "It is in families that we learn the self-confidence, the trust, the discipline and the resilience that stay with us for the rest of our lives. It is in families that we learn emotional intelligence and the habits of the heart that make for happiness. It is in families that we learn to co-operate with and care for others so that we become responsible shapers of our individual and collective future. Children lucky enough to be born into strong families are advantaged in almost every area for the rest of their lives: school attendance, educational achievement, getting and keeping a job. They will be healthier. They will be more likely to form strong families of their own. Children who do not have that good fortune will be disadvantaged for the rest of their lives."

And a government Green Paper in 1996 said marriage "is still the surest way for rearing children". That contradicts the view that unhappy parents should part for the sake of the children, though that may be necessary in the rare cases of high-conflict unions. A survey by the Centre for Social Justice says "family breakdown and conflict were considered to have the biggest adverse impact on children's well-being... children with separated, single or step-parents are 50% more likely to fail at school, have low self-esteem, experience poor peer relationships and have behavioural difficulties, anxiety or depression"[3].

In the UK today marriage is one of those benefits that is kept a secret for fear of offending or sounding self-righteous. That's a pity, because it is a good product. 85% of married people and 59% or unmarried people believe that getting married is the most serious decision one can take[4]. Even larger percentages agree that "despite the challenges, marriage is important for society".

We share the joy of the Prince and his new Princess (because as soon as the vows are completed they are pronounced husband and wife) on their wedding day. It is wonderful to see two young people so in love with each other, wanting to make a commitment to spend their lives together. In that respect they are no different to many couples up and down the land, however there will particular interest in this special day given the affection and deeply held respect that the country has for His Royal Highness and the Royal Family.

Her Majesty the Queen has set such a wonderful example through her service to our country, and I wish her a long and happy reign for years to come – I hope that her children and grandchildren follow the high standards which she has set as our monarch. Our Queen has put God first, neighbour second, duty and responsibility third, and herself last. That is true love and devotion. And Prince Philip is a wonderful model of a dutiful husband, who complements the wife who has the leading role. He is always at her side or behind but never usurping the Queen's place.

The Royal Family are one of the integral parts to what makes Britain great, and we should be proud of the uniting power that they continue to have in this nation. At a time of economic uncertainty, I think this wedding will help give the nation a sense of renewed hope and confidence for what lies ahead.

When you look at the public reaction to Prince William and to Miss Middleton at their public engagements, you can see the high esteem in which both are held. Let us share in the hope and joy.

The blessing in their Marriage Service can be prayed for every married couple:

God the Holy Trinity make you strong in faith and love,

Defend you on every side, and guide you in truth and peace;

And the blessing of God almighty,

The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

Be among you and remain with you always. Amen.



[1] There are over four million couples living together in England and Wales in cohabitation. See www.direct.gov.uk/en/Governmentcitizensandrights/Yourrightsandresponsibilities/DG_10026937

[2] Henley Centre Headlight Vision Omnibus research for the Church of England, November 2006.

[3] MENTAL HEALTH: POVERTY, ETHNICY AND FAMILY BREAKDOWN, published by CSJ in 2011.

[4] Henley Centre Headlight Vision Omnibus research for the Church of England, November 2006.