Monday, 2nd August 2004.

Emily: Marathon shopping trip on Saturday!

Went out with my sister and my mum to buy wedding related stuff. James and Miriam's boyfriend came along too, to carry the bags, and popped into book and record shops when they weren't wanted. I bought: shoes (x2), underwear for me, underwear for Miriam We found but didn't buy: shoes for Miriam, wraps for the bridesmaids We didn't find: jewellery for anyone. I also got a dress for the other weddings I'm going to this year. It doesn't look like much now! But the number of shoe shops we went to....and we took ages in the underwear shop getting measured etc. Also went to the post office and got my passport form for the new passport. Tonight we are going to talk to the minister about the service, and then I'm going for a second dress fitting (with my new bra and shoes!)

Tuesday, 3rd August 2004.

James: Meeting with the minister last night.

Ann is a short, endearing woman, American through and through without being overtly patriotic. Kind but challenging, she accommodates your views but quietly forces you to think seriously about them. When she's on fire in the pulpit, no one can stop her, and she'll leave you enthralled. When she preaches to the children, she sounds like a guest star on Sesame Street.

I have to confess that I was feeling a little nervous beforehand. Ann's not renowned for her sense of compromise - if something doesn't fit, she won't use it. I worried a little about her reaction to some of what we'd opted for - would she find it irreverent, spiritually lacking, sacrilegious? How would she react, for example, to the rendering of the Corinthians passage we'd chosen, coming as it did from Rob Lacey's Street Bible? And what about the Velveteen Rabbit? And what about the recessional music?

As it stood, I needn't have really worried: she was happy to accommodate most of our wishes, and even found a place for all four of the hymns she wanted - although she wanted to change our choice of register-signing music to something sacred. The only reading she wasn't happy about was the Apache wedding blessing that we'd chosen as a possible conclusion to the service:

Now you will feel no rain,
for each of you will be shelter to the other.
Now you will feel no cold,
for each of you will be warmth for the other.
Now there is no more loneliness,
for each of you will be companion to the other.
Now you are two bodies, but there is only one life before you.
Go now to your dwelling place to enter into the days
of your togetherness.
And may your days be good and long upon the earth.

"What do you think?"
She looked down at it, read it, read it again, and said "I'll tell you what this says to me. I have a problem with the first line, for a start. It's all very well saying that you'll be a shelter for each other, because you will. But that doesn't mean there won't be rain. There will be."
"I think we knew that," I said, in an attempt to reassure her that we weren't quite as hopelessly optimistic as the selection of such a reading might indicate.
"It just doesn't feel very real," she went on. "It feels..."
"I think that it's something that we were in two minds about anyway," I said. "When we found it, we'd been looking for hours through poetry, prose, on websites, through old emails. And this was the best of a very bad bunch. I mean, some of what we'd been reading was just dross. It was the sort of thing you find on greetings cards - really icky, sentimental garbage. Fine if you like that sort of thing, and I know that it's popular and that people use it in weddings all the time, but we didn't want to. So we found this one and to be honest with you, I didn't really *think* about what it meant - it was just aesthetically pleasing. But now that I'm reading it properly, I can see what you're talking about. We can ditch it, can't we?"

Emily gave that satisfied little nod she does whenever I've inadvertently answered for both of us and she doesn't need to add anything - something that I'm afraid I do rather too much. We agreed that the Apache blessing was low on sap but also a little too idealistic, and so we will stick with the tale of the Skin Horse. The readings will be interspersed by a short sermon. "Not long, mind you. No more than three minutes, tops. Don't panic."
"Oh, you can go on as long as you want, seriously...."
"Well, I might stretch to five."
"As long as you include the words 'The Psalmist' and 'Mr Wesley', we'll be happy," I said. "Because I've told people that you include them in most of your sermons."

Ann howled with semi-indignant laughter, and Em shot me one of those I-can't-believe-you-just-said-that smiles. "No, but seriously," I went on, realising that I was in danger of offending her, and suddenly conscious of having to dig out of a hole whilst maintaining the illusion of not back-pedalling at all. "It's fine. I actually rather like it. Calling him *Mr* Wesley, instead of plain John, affords him a respect that I don't think we give him as willingly as perhaps we ought to."

We had a chat about where we'd been, how we met, how it grew and blossomed and so forth. It's always nice telling the story to other people - as I found out the other week when I was telling it here - and putting it in context gives you a clear idea of where you've got to. "But do you think," Em said afterwards, "that we came across as too idealistic?" I hope that this isn't the case: that Ann realised that we're aware of the storms that you have to weather when you're part of a relationship, both the internal and the external. Certainly when we were asked how much more we'd learned about each other since we started living together, Emily pointed out that "to a considerable extent, we've learned an awful lot about ourselves as well."

As far as the ceremony goes, we will probably be opting for a traditional one - no fancy vows, no sixth-form poetry. When the bride is given away by her father there is an option for the groom to have an equivalent 'handing over' moment, by one or both parents. "The thing is, it used to be like a transfer of property", she said. "You'd have a dowry, for crying out loud! The father would give the daughter to her new husband, along with money. Obviously we don't do this any more, but there's still an unspoken emphasis on the daughter being her father's property. And that's why we can have the equivalent of 'handing over' the groom, if you wanted it. I'm not a radical feminist," she re-iterated, sitting upright in her chair, "but I do believe in equality."

Ann also said that in other weddings she has suggested that both couples wait at the back of the church, in opposing aisles, and process up together. To her mind it re-iterates that sense of equality, rather than the previously conceived notion of Emily being 'given' to me, complete with financial incentive. I understand what she's trying to say but neither of us are particularly happy about that prospect, not least because we won't really be able to look at each other as we're going up the aisle. We haven't told Ann this yet but we can do that next time we see her - I think that she will suspect it, because she told us she's done five weddings here and that in only one have the bride and groom decided to follow up on that idea. "It's not traditional at all," she reasoned, "and I know how important tradition is to you in England." I told her that our original idea had been to paraglide into the church.

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