Everyone will be talking about it over the next few weeks, but how much significance do the nuptials of Wills and Kate actually hold? Martin Saunders gets excited about the wedding of the year.
Where will you be on April 29th? Glued to the television, hoping for an early glimpse of the new Princess Catherine’s top-secret dress? Hanging out the bunting in preparation for a 1950s-style street party? Or at a Republican only party for those who are sick to the back teeth of the whole media circus?
Whatever you’re up to, the Future King of England and his ‘commoner’ bride will be in Westminster Abbey, taking their places in the highest-profile wedding since William’s parents’ marriage in July 1981. Despite a vocal minority agreeing with the since-reprimanded Bishop of Willesden’s sentiments about the monarchy, the Royal Wedding remains a hugely-anticipated event about which the nation appears mainly positive. Expect newspapers in the next few weeks to talk about ‘armies of wellwishers’, and ‘Wills and Kate Fever™’. So why is a country of cynics, still in the grip of an economic downturn, taking such delight in a state-funded festival of opulence in honour of an unelected family of Germans?
Prince William of Wales represents for many, the Royal Family’s last hope. The enduring popularity of the current Queen has kept debates about the value of the monarchy to a low hum; the rest of the family are not so popular. William however, is also someone in whom we can feel a sense of pride. Part of this comes from a lingering fondness for his mother; but it is also because he has worn responsibility well from a young age. At St Andrews University, where he met Kate, he was never one for the sorts of drunken episodes that have plagued his brother; his career in the military has been quietly distinguished.
Now then, as he marries the daughter of a party-supplies entrepreneur from Reading and steps into the centre of Britain’s royal stage, William holds the fate of the institution in his hands. He and Kate are the Royal Family’s only weapon in the battle to convince us of their continuing worth. The extraordinary level of international interest in the wedding, particularly from the United States, will underline the economic value to the UK of a monarchy; a level of openness and access, as seen in the couple’s TV appearances, will ensure the British people feel they have a sense of relationship to them. For now, William and Kate seem to have our goodwill; whether they retain it, remains to be seen. We love to build up our celebrities in this country in order to later demolish them; as Masterchef’s Greg Wallace might say, celebrities don’t come bigger than this.
As heir to the throne of England, William is also in line for another headship – that of the Church of England. As its ‘Supreme Governor’, he will be recognised by the Church’s own constitution as ‘the highest power under God in this Kingdom’, with ‘supreme authority over all persons in all causes, as well ecclesiastical as civil’. William has seldom been quoted on matters of faith, so there is little point in speculating about what he believes. Yet assuming for a moment that unlike the current Queen, he may not have a personal faith, the possibility is raised that the Church might be headed up by someone who does not share its mission.
This would, from a Christian perspective, seriously damage one of the key arguments in support of the Monarchy. When earthly royalty was established in the Bible, in the time of the prophet Samuel, it was created because the people wanted a visible figurehead to serve ‘under God’; and so to varying degrees of devotion and success, Saul, David, Solomon et al became rulers with one eye on their subjects, and another on heaven. Though not part of the same line, the British monarchy has generally followed the same pattern (and the same love of infighting and schism). But what would it mean if the country, and the Church, were headed by an agnostic, or even an atheist?
If you’re an Anglican like me, you’ll probably be praying a fair few blessings over the happy couple in the coming weeks. And prayer surely is the right way for all of us as Christians – regardless of our political leanings – to participate in this wedding (that, and creating plenty of cheesy sermon links to the ‘real’ royal wedding between Christ and His Church). We should pray for their marriage, as they become the pre-eminent example of wedded bliss to a generation of couples, and attempt to succeed where others in the family have very publicly failed. We should pray for wisdom for ourselves as we think and talk about the role of the Royal Family, and as we try to work out on which side of the debate we should stand. Whatever the answer, we should pray for William and Kate, as they begin to take a leading role in this extraordinary and historicallyburdened institution.
We should also consider whether the sense of excitement around the wedding itself, creates an opportunity for community cultivation. Could your church hold a street party on the day itself? Regardless of your views on the monarchy, a national day of celebration creates a rare chance to get to know the people around us as we let down the walls for a day. It could be a great opportunity for ministry.
The Royal Wedding will undoubtedly provide one of those rare moments in our lives where we’ll all remember where we were. Whether that’s at a church-led street party, or at an anti-wedding march, for most of us it’s little more than a bonus day off work. For the Royal Family it’s not only the beginning of a marriage, it’s also the first step of a journey that could prove definitive.