A Proper Wedding by Amanda Lohrey in the Monthly August Edition 2009 commences,
In February of this year I watched the telecast of the Victorian bushfire memorial service, a unique piece of improvised public ritual that was very much of its time. . . . .
I could not remember another time when a newsreader had been elevated above bishops at an important state memorial service, yet no one in the media remarked on it. This, I believe, is a direct outcome of the fact that for over three decades Australians have been attending weddings and funerals performed by civil celebrants. If any one factor has prepared us for an easy acceptance of secular ritual, both public and private, it is Lionel Murphy‘s reform of the marriage culture.
I commented on this theme and Amanda Lohrey’s insightful analysis on this Civil Religion at the Rod Laver Centre in Melbourne for the victims of the Victorian Bushfires in an article, What song shall we sing? Words of consolation? Or excruciating kitsch? Amanda Lohery writes about this now in relation to marriage and rites of passage in general in Australia.
In what ways have Christians not taken up the opportunities for pastoral ministry to Australians seeking ways, rites of passage, to express love and loss?
The Canberra poet and civil celebrant Mark O’Connor argues that Australia is largely a “post-Christian society, and for many people the old ceremonies no longer fit”. Perhaps this is why so many new ceremonies have come into being over the past 20 years: infant naming, adolescent and old-age rites of passage, pet funerals, menopause parties, divorce ceremonies, new-home blessings -you name it, you can find a celebrant to officiate. Of these, the infant naming ceremony is the most popular, replacing as it does the traditional christening. Again, there is an emphasis on participation and the ceremony often involves the father lifting the infant above his head while assembled friends and family shout the child’s name. One celebrant told me of a naming ceremony where the mother read out a letter in which she apologised to the baby for her post-natal depression. “It was cathartic,” said the celebrant, “not just for her but the whole family. It felt like a new start.” This celebrant is one of the many who are content with their current role and limited function: “I don’t want to be doing any more than I do now. I’m not any kind of priest, I’m just a privileged witness.”
I also note the continuing challenge of building family life: ‘Australian marriages making a comeback’ by Simon Santow for ABC Radio’s AM 1st September. Yet a disturbing trend of long term couples divorcing – http://www.news.com.au/story/0,27574,26009968-421,00.html
In what ways can Christians take up the opportunities for pastoral ministry to Australian men and women, boys and girls, who are seeking ways to express love and loss?