“It would have been a long time in the planning; it probably would have cost a lot of money, but it would have been a very happy day.”
And on the back of that blissful notion, the senior minister at Tauranga’s St Peters in the City Presbyterian Church, Simon McLeay, extends an invitation to a service celebrating marriage on Sunday – to celebrate the romance, the proposals, the “I dos”, the coming together of two people and the commitment.
There will even be traditional wedding music and wedding cake.
Anyone who was married at St Peters or married by a minister at St Peters is invited.
“We can celebrate the fact that marriage is still very relevant,” says Simon. “It’s wonderful encouraging people to form a partnership of mutual respect and encouragement, a basis for a family and basis for a lifelong friendship.”
Simon is himself both an advertisement and an advocate for the institution.
“Married to Karen for 25 years. It says more about her grace in putting up with me. Our marriage has been a wonderful gift – you get to become your spouse’s cheerleader, encouraging them through life.”
But you don’t have to be married to do that.
“No, you don’t – but to me, marriage is not the piece of paper, it’s the promise; the promise to stick with someone for the long-term. I think that can give a depth to a relationship when someone has promised to be there for the long-term rather than someone who’s not sure they’ll be there next year.”
But unfortunately, as the stats suggest, it’s not always ‘long-term.’
“Regardless – you will be welcome at the service even if you aren’t still together. We’re acknowledging our failures as well. We know some of them don’t work.”
That’s very inclusive and non-judgmental but why would someone want to celebrate failure? “Well, there must have been some happy, loving moments, so come along and remember them. It must have been a happy day.”
If everyone married at St Peters turned up to the service they would fill the pews more than 12 times over. Because when the church office went ferreting through the Presbyterian archives last week they discovered 1886 couples had walked up the aisle at St Peters since it opened in 1880.
“That’s a lot.” At peak production in the 60s and 70s there could have been as many as three weddings on a Saturday. But 40 or 50 years later in Tauranga only half of marriages were surviving.
For example, there were 756 marriages in the region in 2016. But that year there was also an estimated 52.91 per cent ratio of divorces to marriage. “As ministers we sometimes think, oh gosh, what did we do wrong? But of course, on reflection, we realise it’s nothing we have done.”
Simon says it’s sad people don’t stick together to form lifelong partnerships. “But we marry people for a second and third time. And sometimes when people have another shot at it, it can work out.” So recycled marrieds will be welcome at Sunday’s service too.
Is there a formula for a successful marriage? “One thing that makes a marriage work is growing out of your selfishness. That’s a lifelong task and one I haven’t done particularly well at.”
Communication is another. “People need to spend more time talking to one another,” says Simon.” It’s an unscientific, unsubstantiated but believable suggestion that because of jobs, kids, TV, the internet and hobbies, the average married couple spends just a few quality minutes alone together each day.
“There’s the promise, the commitment which we, as Christians, have found get us through the rough years. I don’t know anyone married for a long time who hasn’t said they’ve had their rough times.
“I think it’s really good to have a Christian faith and a sense of pursuing that faith together. That can weld people together, a common sense of trying to build a marriage together as part of a life of faith.”
But what about those long-married couples who say they wouldn’t have changed a thing. “Mmm – I sense that when people get older the memories of the tough times fade.” Or, simply, the magic moments of a marriage outweigh the mediocre times.
And the minefields that threaten marriages haven’t changed much over the years. “Money – too much or too little,” says Simon. “Peoples’ lives growing apart, spending a lot of time at different interests or work. We pack too much in so it’s important to have common interests.”
It can be around children that relationships founder. “Couples can get very focused on their kids and when kids start leaving home they wonder what’s left in the relationship. They should invest in doing things together again.”
And he points a finger at social media for putting pressure on people. “One partner spends a lot of time on social media – time they used to invest in a relationship. Sadly, I hear of people developing relationships on social media and end up having an affair. I am not universally against social media but I think it has introduced a new way of being distracted from a marriage.”
Are we better or worse at marriage today? “The social world has changed and separation and divorce are easier,” says Simon. And there’s not the stigma. “So it would be easy to say we don’t do as well today.”
“The reality was it was much harder to separate and divorce in the 50s for example. I am sure there were relationships back then that were just as abusive and unhelpful and people should have got out of.” Now it’s just irreconcilable differences, two years apart and you tick a different box in the census.
There’s the joke about the Prince asking the Princess for her hand in marriage. The Princess said no and she lived happily ever after.
“Lots of people live very happy single lives and we celebrate that too. But I think there is a beauty in the partnership when it works well. An unexpected sideline beauty of marriage is the someone who has known you, if you married young, for a very long time. Getting to 80 and sitting there talking to someone who has known you for a very large part of your life.”
Now, that would be worth sitting in the pews at St Peters and being thankful for.
The celebration of marriage is at St Peters in The City, 130 Spring Street, Tauranga at 10am on Sunday, April 15.