Services - Other Ministry
INTRODUCTION TO MY WEDDING AND BLESSING MINISTRY FOR GAY AND LESBIAN COUPLES.
The changes in legislation provide exciting opportunities. It may be that you are not interested in the state recognising your relationship and want to arrange your own personal marriage/blessing ceremony. However, if you want to legally register your relationship under the new legislation then you may wish afterwards, either the same day or on another, to have a full marriage/blessing service at your choice of venue and with your choice of content. I give all the options below.
Thank you for your interest in the service I am offering. I hope I will be able to answer some of the questions you may have about weddings/blessings/dedications/commitment ceremonies (you may have you own preferred name).
There are so many hopes and ideas, which surround such an event, and yet usually the couple have little choice when it comes to the venue, type and content of their wedding service. What should be such a treasured and unique opportunity to celebrate their love proves to be either impossible or hampered by all sorts of difficulties and unknowns.
What I offer changes all this by giving the couple complete choice about the venue, style and content of their ceremony. Their hopes, approach and ideas are fully respected. Their wedding ceremony becomes not only possible but in addition, the couple are able to have full confidence knowing that for them and their guests it will be a significant and meaningful occasion.
With the recent changes in the law, couples may want to legally register their union in a more private ceremony, but have a full celebration and ceremony with family and friends in a setting of their choosing and with a ceremony of their choosing. It may also be a very important part of the occasion to have the union blessed by God by a minister.
A couple could arrange a wedding with me and also book in to visit the Registry Office either on the same day as their planned wedding ceremony or on the day before, or during the week before the ceremony.
They can then attend the Registry Office, answer the mandatory legal questions and complete the documents. They do not have to exchange rings or have an involved ceremony although what they have is entirely their choice. The whole process can be short and fulfills the legal aspects but what may be of greater significance to the couple is the ceremony to follow with me and their family and friends.
WHAT I PROVIDE.
Either, at one end of the spectrum, a completely traditional wedding ceremony. I am fully robed, I bring a cross and candlesticks and the service includes a signing ceremony and the declaration that the couple are now married or whatever words you like. In fact it would be experienced exactly as a traditional church wedding, or if the couple are not religious to have a secular version of the above.
Or, at the other end of the spectrum, a completely ingenious service that has been individually and imaginatively created to reflect the beliefs, values and style of the couple concerned. Again, this can be religious or secular. Many people have something in between. The point is that everything is flexible and everything is open for choice.
Part of my personal approach is to find out exactly what sort of service the couple are hoping for and then, after having confirmed the booking,to send them a resource book which includes the traditional ceremonies plus pages of alternative readings, vows, thoughts, prayers etc. The couple are then invited to select the material they like and to add any of their own. From this I am able to send them a draft ceremony. I don`t mind how many drafts I have to create and send. I am only satisfied when the couple are entirely happy with their ceremony.
In addition to the content there is, of course, complete choice about the venue for the ceremony. It can be inside or outside, in any building or situation, however ordinary, special or extraordinary It is the couple`s choice which matters.
After talking briefly with a couple over the phone and having gained an idea of what sort of wedding they had in mind and where, I prepare a letter for them, which normally has a number of options of how I could go about the preparation.
The simplest is for the couple to visit me, for all subsequent arrangements to be made by phone and letter and for me to attend for the wedding itself. Other options include me making preparatory visits to the couple, to the venue for a rehearsal and for the wedding itself.
The contribution I ask for towards my ministry depends greatly upon the distances involved but in the southeast area, the options on average range from about £290 to £590. I should stress that this is the average range, but some work out to be less and some more. The exact contribution depends on a range of factors including distance, time of year, day of week etc. So each letter is individually worked out. I am happy for the contribution towards my ministry that I have requested to be made by instalments, the full details of which are given in the letter. I am also flexible about these arrangements and always endeavour to help where I can if resources are low.
Some couples, particularly if they live at a considerable distance, choose to travel to my area for the wedding itself in order to keep costs down or to make it a more personal or private service. Depending on the arrangements I can advise re a suitable venue.
It is of great importance to me that I offer a very personal and high quality service. I love people and regard it as a privilege to be able to share such an important part of their lives. I never try to persuade a couple in any direction but fully respect and value the beliefs and values they hold.
I have many letters of warm appreciation for my work which I am happy to show to couples and many who have used my services in the past have contacted me again for other special occasions.
My desire for the wedding is to create and provide a personal, sensitive and beautiful ceremony, which will be regarded as one of the special highlights of the day. I take each service with warmth, skill, sincerity and care and the very highest standards of delivery. I am only satisfied with my best.
If you would like to have further details or would like me to send you a letter then please phone so that we can talk further, or you are more than welcome to arrange to come and visit me or for me to visit you.
TRANSCRIPT FROM BBC'S INSIDE OUT DOCUMENTARY:
Very soon, Paul Phillips will be a married man.
And as with most grooms the nervous excitement is having an effect. But this will be no ordinary wedding.
His life partner-to-be is no blushing bride - he's Christophe - a French chef from Leighton Buzzard.
The man who has agreed to bind them together in holy matrimony is not unfamiliar with controversy either - Bishop Jonathan Blake.
Continuing this unusual story, the Bishop runs his Christian ministry from a rather "different" location - the converted loft of his semi in Welling, South East London.
Bishop Blake was formerly a priest in the Church of England, but the Church of England disapproves of gay marriages.
This was something that the Bishop could not reconcile himself with. So, frustrated by what he thinks are outdated traditions he decided to set up his own church opening his doors to a wider sector of society.
"It was my belief, though somewhat frustrated when I was a Vicar in the Anglican Church, that people should have equal access to the rights of marriage, be they heterosexual or homosexual.
"When I was consecrated as a Bishop, it enabled me to offer that facility," he says.
Given that getting the message out to the wider world was to be a problem, he adopted a practical approach.
"I took the step of advertising in the Gay Times and Diva, and for people to suddenly find a Christian priest offering this facility is a wonderful thing," says the Bishop.
His Open Episcopal Church was established.
Paul and Christophe were not the only gay couple that the Bishop has brought together in marriage.
He has performed many conventional marriages too.
"During the course of my ministry, I've probably done tens of thousands of them over the years. In terms of gay marriages, I've probably done hundreds," he explains.
Paul and Christophe met in a taxi after leaving a nightclub, and very soon became the item.
After three years in a steady relationship, they decided to make the commitment.
"We share everything from bank accounts to tax bills and so it seemed the next logical step to get married," says Paul.
They expected negative reactions before they started out on the road to marriage. When it came to getting the technicalities of the wedding sorted they came up against laws that seemed to them unfair.
"We did try the Registry Office, who were prepared to do it, but they would charge us the same as a married couple, but they wouldn't recognise it legally," Paul says.
As a married man with a young family, Bishop Blake may seem to epitomise traditional family values.
But with the stance he has taken, and striking out on his own, he has challenged the established church's position.
"I think people assume that religion and Christianity is all about the majority and what is respectable," he says.
"But you only have to look at Jesus' life to see that what he was dealing with wasn't respectable, so much so he was crucified for it," he insists.
The church of England, however, say that marriage is a union of a man and a woman, therefore a gay marriage is not something they could support.
But despite this, they say that they do recognise that there are "other forms" of relationship.
So Paul and Christophe are yet another gay couple that are now finding their married happiness together.
And Bishop Jonathan Blake is another man of the cloth who joins people in holy matrimony - but he is one with a difference.
EXTRACTS FROM LETTERS RECEIVED AFTER GAY AND LESBIAN WEDDINGS.
`We can`t thank you enough for making our wedding day possible. We are so happy.
`The ceremony was lovely and very touching. All our families and friends were moved by your kind and gentle way. `
`Thank you for all your help and guidance. You have made us a very happy couple.`
`We can’t begin to thank you enough for what you did for us. We both felt so relaxed by you and all our guests have sung your praises`
`Thank you so much for your service at our wedding. You did a really fantastic job and were a big hit with our guests. We feel you did us proud. You have a very calming nature which we really appreciated on our special day which was so memorable and perfect`
`We would like to thank you for conducting a wonderful wedding service. The service was poignant, meaningful and spiritually uplifting. Your enthusiasm came across and filled not only us but also our guests with jubilance and positivism`
UNDERSTANDING THE CONTRIBUTION
The first thing to write is that I am not interested in money. I drive a modest car, have modest personal spending patterns and am not interested in possessions. I am one of those people who, if they won the lottery, ( not that I normally play it ) wouldn't rush out to buy a host of things or change my life. I have been called by God to minister as a priest and bishop and my life has been spent seeking to fulfil my vocation.
Sometimes people express surprise at the amount of the requested contribution, either because they feel it is too high or too low. Some regular church-goers don't understand the need for it at all and some suggest that there may be something suspicious about it, as though ' I was doing it all for the money '. This is to provide the facts upon which you can base a considered view.
First, the main denominations provide a stipend for their clergy; a regular monthly income from which they live. As you will have read I ministered within the Church of England for the first 12 years of my ministry. You may have read in the press articles about the 'low pay' of the clergy but when you put together the employment package for the clergy, it may appear somewhat different.
A Church of England parish priest receives an average £18,500 per year stipend. In addition to that they are provided with a good house that is rent free and mortgage free. Their Council Tax is also provided along with maintenance, repairs, external decoration, water rates and building insurance. They can apply for tax-free heating, lighting and cleaning. They are provided with resettlement grants for decoration and carpets. Removal expenses are paid. They are given interest free car-loans and can apply for other loans for major capital items. There are a host of charities which provide funds for Anglican Clergy for a variety of needs from private education to holidays. They are given a full non-contributory pension and free health insurance. On retirement, they are provided, in addition to their pension, with access to the funds to enable them to acquire a retirement home. In addition to this they enjoy full insurance and legal protection and advice. Of course, every working expense is reimbursed, which covers most of the cost of running the car and using the telephone etc. I have probably forgotten many of the other minor perks. If you calculate all these benefits, you can see that their actual income is considerable.
In contrast, I receive nothing from any denominational structure. I am a cleric within The Open Episcopal Church but none of our clergy receive any stipend; not even any expenses. They, like the early apostles of the church, must stand on their own two feet.
Rationalising the provision of a stipend for my ministry has been carefully achieved over the last 10 years and I have aimed to provide something in line with an average cleric's income. What needs to be understood is that while some parts of my ministry can be associated with a requested contribution, other parts cannot.
For instance, my ministry with the homeless, my funeral after care for the children and families of the bereaved, my ministry to the distressed, my support of the sick and dying, my child and adult teaching groups and confirmation, my provision of daily worship and fellowship group, my support of the clergy of the Church, many of my Episcopal duties and my ministry with the poor. This is not exhaustive.
Some of the above can be time consuming and exacting, for instance watching continuously beside the bedside of a dying patient for three days and three nights to be with them as they crossed the veil into the arms of Jesus, or travelling to North Yorkshire or Wales to help in emergency or pastoral situations, or providing a safe home for a child whose parents had been arrested, or trying to provide the homeless with accommodation and other appropriate help, or fulfilling my role as Chair of the Board of Trustees of the charity The Holy Circle Trust. Hours of time and considerable amounts of money can be consumed with no financial support.
So I have to look towards the brighter parts of my ministry to support the more traumatic. Contributions are then linked to the provision of my flexible, accessible and mobile ministry enabling weddings, baptisms, blessings, renewal of vows etc to be carried out at the location of a family's choice. The families who contribute at these times are in fact supporting the whole of my ministry and by so doing help wipe the tears away from the sad at a time when they are blessed by joy.
Of course, as my literature makes clear, the sacraments are free. However, there is always a collection plate out at churches and collections are taken at the services. The contribution is based on this same principle.
What also may not be understood is that there are considerable costs and expenses associated with my ministry. People can discover where their local Anglican Vicar lives and where their local Parish Church is situated but how do people access my ministry? They have to be informed and the cost of providing that information through advertising is immense. Then every other cost associated with being self-employed has to be borne. Office equipment, photocopier, computer, brochures, web site, ministry supplies, vestments, church furnishings, and then accountancy, insurance and legal matters, transport, secretarial and support services. Again, this is by no means an exhaustive list.
In addition to this, 10% of all my disposable income is used for charitable and caring work.
It may seem that if I am doing a number of services over the course of a weekend that I am 'raking it in' but what needs to be understood as any 'seasonal worker' knows is that I am very pressurised for services during the clement summer weather but the first part of the year and the last part of the year is much quieter for the 'brighter' services. I have therefore to store up the summer harvest to support my ministry through the winter, when I concentrate on my other church and charitable duties.
If a family finds a contribution difficult then that does not prevent them from having a service. In those circumstances I find a way to make it possible, making some special arrangement, accepting whatever the family have felt able to donate or visiting their home for no contribution at all, depending on the circumstances.
Again the contributions I do receive have to support these situations as well, because practically I can only offer the ministry I do because it is supported by your kind help; I have to feed and support my five children and family as everyone else. Those who know me and observe my lifestyle know that my concern is to express the love of God to all and that my personal choices reflect this.
I hope that this provides you with enough information upon which you understand the concept of the contribution but if you have any further questions about this or any other aspect of my ministry, please don't hesitate to contact me.
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