What if Harry and Meghan ….

As more or less self-appointed wedding-specialist I simply had to watch the “wedding of the year”, between the British prince Harry and the American actress Meghan Markle. And what a splendid event it was, a joy to watch, and a rich inspiration for ‘pondering’. So let us ponder.

First, it was a “real wedding” indeed, with all symbolic acts in place: the presentation of the bride – a pity the father was absent – the inner circle of family and friends, and the outer circle of the general community. The rings, the vows, the call for dissenters, all under the authority of the officiant, plus the tying of hands, followed by the “I now declare you …”. The kiss came later, for the general public. The symbols were clear, shared and meaningful, while the sermon was a gem of black American preaching, a gush of fresh air in the rather stolid Anglican verbal tradition. For all who love church music, the cathedral choir with the young boys’ voices was a treat, as usual; one cannot beat the Anglican church in that respect. Still, the American gospel choir, with its intense rendition of “stand by me” was just such a glory. The Dutch morning papers today exult about the whole scene, the mix of the best in British and American cultures.

Then there was the pause, when the couple was absent while the audience was regaled on a cello concerto by a (black again) master of the cello and his ensemble. During that pause, in one of the side chambers of the chapel the couple and their witnesses signed the marriage act, before the representatives of the civil authorities, since in Great Britain the civil marriage is embedded in the ecclesiastical. Even if the Anglican Church is the State church, and even if the nominal head of that church was in the audience (Queen Elisabeth), the civil registration of the union still had to be done in order to be a valid marriage.

Now the pondering. First, the Anglican liturgy never really incorporated the signing of the marriage documents in the wedding ritual itself. It is done at the side, in private near the end of the highly public ceremony. Fitting this civic ceremony into the liturgy is feasible, and in other denominational settings this is effectuated indeed. But inside the Anglican ritual this division is telling: liturgies do not change easily, and then only if there is sufficient reason to do so. Historically, the Anglican Church as the state church did have its own struggles with accepting the civil authorities as not only a legitimate, but as a necessary condition for a legal and lawful marriage. Exactly the type of struggle we in the LDS Church are witnessing right now.

Second – and now I come to the title of this rather light-footed piece – what if Harry and Meghan would have been Mormons? Of course, we as LDS would have loved to bask in that sunshine of publicity, but what about their wedding? My mind’s eye sees them driving slowly in their open limousine after visiting the Registrar’s Office in Preston, going South over the M61, off at the Chorley junction into the A 674, then a right hand turn into the Temple Drive. As church settings go, this is not the worst possible: on the left the England Missionary Training Centre and the Distribution Centre, then past the LDS meetinghouse at right, then heading straight towards the Preston Temple, also a sight to be seen. Of course the whole route is lined with people, come from afar to witness the event, and the church grounds are replete with avid reporters, unmovable policeman and roving cameramen. What a treat! What a boost for the “British Mormon Church”.

But then at the temple, what? The couple would be welcomed by the temple president – though I think some apostles would love to do the honors – and invited inside. All the others, family, friends, general public would have to wait outside. The royal family would have to be hosted under some marquees on the temple grounds, wondering why in their own country they could not enter here, and with the crowds forlorn on the periphery. Reporters would be at the temple entrance, gnashing their teeth, all cameras –completely anathema in the temple – would zoom in on the closed doors; the TV reporters would interview people what they think about being excluded, during the whole waiting period. And the wait is not just for a short signing session, but for the whole of the temple endowment-cum-sealing, some two long hours. What would we do as LDS to entertain them? MTC? Maybe, but even then the fact that the family, friends, general public and press would be excluded from the real event would not just “demand explanation”, it would be totally and completely unexplainable, ruining the whole event. Instead of a wonderful spectacle that did build bridges across the Atlantic, we would have a virtual wall between Britain and America. One shudders at the idea.

Of course, this is very hypothetical, a hypothetical nightmare for public relations. I think the point of my earlier blog is clear: we do miss a proper wedding ritual. And, my second point, as long as this is the case, please let royalty not be converted, not the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. We aim to convert the world, but I am deeply thankful that we do not succeed…

PS: Would the dress have been “temple ready’?

34 comments for “What if Harry and Meghan ….

  1. Walter, if they were Mormon’s they could have a wedding conducted by the local Bishop in a Mormon chapel. That’s what is generally done here. The service wouldn’t have been nearly so grand though. The vows would have been the minimum legally required swords, as opposed to the lovely vows we saw in the broadcast, which included the congregation. There would have been the same pause in the service to sign the register – lds chapels have their own registers, and one or two people in a stake generally volunteer to train as a registrar.

  2. They quietly get sealed and then do a public spectacle show wedding wherever they want.

  3. In Britain the wedding is always BEFORE the sealing. Have to be legally married first, and a legal marriage is performed on an lds chapel.

  4. I don’t know. A couple of kings of the Lamanites joined the church, and they seemed to do just fine.

  5. I suspect that if one or both of the couple were Mormons or Jews, or Muslims, or Native Americans, or Orthodox, or French Canadians, or Hindus, or Japanese, or I don’t know…African Americans, the royal family would graciously accommodate the appropriate cultural and wedding traditions, and not get snotty about it.

  6. Actually, if Harry were a Mormon (or anything but an Anglican), he would be kicked out of the line of succession and nobody would care about his wedding.

  7. So … your hypothetical turns the temple grounds into a circus venue with milling crowds and wandering television reporters with their camera crews (something that was not a factor on the grounds of Windsor Castle) — what a treat! If, somehow, it were the duty to of the Church to “entertain” such crowds, I think sword swallowing and the juggling of flaming torches would be suitable to such a scene. And you imagine apostles competing with each other for the “honors” of welcoming the bridal couple to the temple — why, exactly? Because royalty — or is it publicity? — is greater than their roles in the Kingdom of God? Because apostles seek the honor of men?

    What a warped perspective you have. I didn’t think this series could get any weirder or less Mormon, but it has.

  8. You probably want to look into the weddings of the American sports celebrities Bryce Harper and Steve Young to see how sealing in the temple was combined with big-time wedding festivities. Nothing so big as a British royal wedding, of course, but Bryce and Kayla Harper’s wedding received a bit of press attention that you can look up.

  9. My under-a-gazebo wedding could of course not compare with the grandeur of the royals, but it was full of (non-LDS) friends, family, music, laughter, flowers, nature and rolling hills. We were sealed a few years later. I am grateful for the experiences I had. I can only conclude that I am not sufficiently spiritually minded to appreciate a temple wedding.

  10. If Prince Ata, who was baptized against the wishes of King Tupou VI, ever marries, then perhaps Tonga will see the LDS wedding of royalty that Walter van Beek muses on.

  11. I’m in the states where you either marry in the temple or wait a year for a sealing, so i’m not clear on how it works across the pond. Do you really have to do an endowment session first before the sealing? I had assumed a couple would get married civilly and then just get sealed at the temple (assuming both were already endowed).

  12. I second Ardis and add that in temple weddings all couples are potential royalty for eternity. I am far too egalitarian to get worked up about a bunch of pretend elites. The most beautiful weddings I have seen are honest and faithful couples committing for eternity with family and friends. No materialistic claptrap needed. No paparazzi. The world does not need to intrude on such an occasion, not that they are interested (thankfully) in doing so. Keep Babylon away from Zion.

  13. Kevin. No, no endowment session first. Just presentation at the veil without accompanying family & friends, and then the sealing.
    Depending how close the temple is the sealing must take place on the day of the wedding. Not sure how far away you need to be to be for that not to be the vase w/o the one year penalty kicking in because I’ve always lived close enough which still meant a 3 hour journey for me. So post wedding festivities don’t run into the evening.

  14. Thanks for the comments and discussions. Hedgehog, good to hear from Britain. Yes, I know that the bishop will conduct a wedding-like ceremony first, soberly, in which the registering is done. Good to hear stake officials are trained as registrar. The second leg is then to the temple; in Britain, as far as I understand, the state does not consider the temple sealing as a wedding, since it is a closed ceremony. That underscores my main point of the first blog: we have no proper ritual for weddings, and all ‘solutions’ mentioned in the responses, are needed because of that ritual vacuum.
    Thanks also for mentioning the celebrity weddings of sports heroes, I will look into these.
    Indeed, Hedgehog, I slightly overstated the waiting time since doing an endowment session first is not mandatory. However, it is if one of the couple has no endowment yet, and this is often the case. So, let us add to the post that one of them is a recent convert, we are on lightfooted hypothetical ground anyway.
    John, what a nice example is coming up in Tonga – though I understand they see themselves as Nephites, not as Lamanites (Idiat). Let us follow it.
    Ardis, I hope you are right and that the apostles would be impervious to the publicity lure of royalty, but viewing the way the interview of Hinckley on national TV was highlighted, I rather doubt it. Also I am not so sure about the fact that present-day royalty is ‘Babylon’, with all the bad vibes attached to that term. Maybe it is more productive to see the hoopla around such a royal wedding as a form of social art, producing a media spectacle that is to be enjoyed. This one at least has generated some bonding across the pond, which is a good thing. And my hypothetical example would not have done that, on the contrary.

  15. If we were going to imagine this hypothetical, we could imagine everything arranged to be as disruptive and difficult as possible. Because of course, a public relations nightmare is exactly what the church and the royal family would want to arrange for a royal wedding. We would have have the Queen and all her family travel 4 1/2 hours to Preston (instead of the much closer London Temple), only to be surprised and shocked that they can’t go in the the temple. We would have the press likewise unaware of what is going on, with nothing to do but spend hours showing shots of the temple doors and wondering why they can’t go in. Instead of explaining the purpose of the sealing, we would be sure that everyone is told that the temple sealing is “totally and completely unexplainable.” We’d have the couple not planning any sort of public wedding, even though such ceremonies are allowed and required before temple sealings in the UK. We would have the couple doing an endowment session (even though–if not already endowed–they could take care of it a day or two before), just so they could keep the entire press corps and royal family waiting outside for as long as possible. We would make sure that the temple grounds are overrun and chaotic, instead of orderly and controlled like they do for an actual royal wedding. We would have the press, paparazzi, public, the royal family, and state guests all mobbing the temple and shocked at their “exclusion” (because in our bad-faith scenario, nobody thought to make any appropriate arrangements other than to imagine the entire wedding party and guests following the couple 200 miles to the temple, not knowing what’s going on, or even where they’re going.

    Yes, I suppose if we wanted to, we could construct in our minds, a “hypothetical nightmare” that would make us all shudder. But since we are imagining a royal wedding “as a form of social art, producing a media spectacle that is to be enjoyed,” why in the world would we invent a nightmare scenario?

    How about this: We could imagine a royal temple marriage with everything planned out as royal weddings are, and as temple marriages are. We would have a public marriage ceremony with the same invited guests that Harry and Meghan had. It certainly could be carried on television and reported by the press. Would it have to be officiated by a Mormon bishop? I don’t know, but that would be fine. Would it lack some of the pageantry customary for royal weddings? Probably, but perhaps the church would allow a little leeway in this instance. Are people going to be “shocked” by the simple wedding ceremony? Only if they really, really want to be. The mainstream press would likely just observe that the simplified ceremony is following the custom of the couple’s Mormon faith. If the couple happened to be Quakers, would the family and press be outraged by the simple Quaker ceremony? After the wedding, the guests would proceed to a planned celebration while the couple traveled to the London Temple for the sealing. I could imagine well-wishers lining the route. To simplify things, I could imagine this being done on a day when the temple is otherwise closed. Rather than expressing the outrage and bewilderment that Walter is looking for, the press coverage could note that the couple is having a private ceremony customary in Mormon weddings. They could show the couple arriving at the temple and going inside. They might make a comparison to the moment when Harry and Meghan went backstage to privately sign papers. Then I’m sure there would be something arranged elsewhere for the press to cover instead of zooming in on temple doors and prompting an unruly mob to express their outrage. Who would do the sealing? It doesn’t matter. A sealer known by the couple, or the temple president, maybe. Would someone come from Salt Lake, the president of the church, perhaps? That wouldn’t particularly bother me, I guess. In any case, someone would be assigned to do it, and it’s hard for me to imagine it coming to arguments or fisticuffs. If the couple requested a particular sealer, I don’t see why that couldn’t be honored, without positing some sort of fight among the apostles. If not both previously endowed, the couple would have taken care of their endowments a day or two previously, so as to expedite things on the wedding day. After the sealing, the couple would return for the remaining festivities, to be conducted much as they happened with recent royal wedding.

    Why in the world would the church and the couple and the royal family deliberately arrange a nightmare wedding with manufactured outrage and confusion, instead of working together to accommodate the couple’s beliefs and practices into a well-choreographed and impressive celebration?

  16. I posted the following comment on a previous installment in this series, but meant to post it here.

    Anyone who thinks that Mormons can’t do a big blow-out ceremony has never attended a ring ceremony thrown in Texas by people with money, after the temple sealing has concluded. (Other places, too – my BIL was married in DC. Half of the family never even went to the temple, and they took no pictures there. The ring ceremony approached 6 figures in cost, and people you’d see on CNN were there.)

    As I said elsewhere, as long as the ring ceremony is fake, go big and fake. Don’t invite the bishop to officiate. Don’t do it at the chapel. Have it “officiated” by whoever you want, say what you want, do whatever ring thing you want. There’s a certain sense of freedom in not having the Church have anything to do with the fake ceremony. Except for the tiny detail of the “marriage” being completed in the temple already, you can do a Royal Ring Ceremony that looks like a wedding.

  17. While the main essay I am going to quote here isn’t on marriage ceremonies, I felt this part particularly applies:
    “the proliferation of the kind of extravagent weddings that used to only be the province of high society (rented venue, extravagent flowers and food, hundreds of guests, a band with dancing, dresses that cost the same as a good used car) is because the event itself doesn’t mean nearly as much as it used to, so we have to turn it into a three-ring circus to feel like we’re really doing something.
    A couple in 1940 (and even more so in 1910) could go to a minister’s parlor, or a justice of the peace, and in five minutes totally change their lives. Unless you are a member of certain highly religious subcultures, this is simply no longer true. That is, of course, partly because of the sexual revolution and the emancipation of women; but it is also because you aren’t really making a lifetime committment; you’re making a lifetime committment unless you find something better to do. There is no way, psychologically, to make the latter as big an event as the former, and when you lost that committment, you lose, on the margin, some willingness to make the marriage work.”

  18. I second what Queno said about Texas weddings. Our son married a wealthy Texan and the ring ceremony after the sealing was EXTRAGAVANT, or lit-as my kids would say. It was at a swanky country club, officiated by a family member, a walk down an aisle, exchange of vows, live band and all other sorts of hoopla. None of us thought to consult the CHI for advice-or permission-during the planning and execution. I later read the CHI and learned the wedding strayed way, way from the CHI guidelines. Looking back I wouldn’t change a thing. We had a fantastic time.

  19. The church can grant exceptions for joint civil/temple ceremonies. In many European countries, civil ceremonies are required by law and lds couples have both- often in the same day, I dare say that the church could also allow QEII and Phillip- access to the sealing. (Non-LDS people enter temples more often than we acknowledge- mostly as local inspectors and at times emergency-response persons. Granted-lds persons are often arranged- but I’m sure exceptions are allowed.) Of course meghan’s mother, Charles and Camilla, Kate and William (who tabloids rumored had a fling in March on a bachelor’s trip to Switzerland) would need access too. Can.of.worns.

    I’m glad they aren’t LDS. Over a billion people watched the wedding- heard beautiful devotions to God, prayers, scripture, a powerful sermon, and affirmations of love and marriage. We couldn’t have accomplished that, but ponder how wonderful it was for the world to pause for such reflections! Royals are the ultimate witness couple for their country, the Anglican faith, Christianity (to a large degree), and the world. I suggest we let that simply be- and celebrate their devotion to God and commitment to love and each other.

  20. Thanks again for the wonderful comments. Yes, Left Field, I created a hypothetical horrifying scenario, not to show that we cannot do a royal wedding, but too highlight that it would have to be invented for the occasion. Since the Church does not have a proper wedding ritual, I keep hammering the same point, I am afraid. Texas: great example, and again it can be a great wedding (and a very expensive one, which I do not al all crave for), as long as you are inventive and follow the Church rule #1: ‘forgiveness is easier to get than permission’. Mortimer, yes registrar-cum-temple on the same day is done in the Netherlands as well. And I did not consider the exemptions to be granted for temple admission, I did not think of that (but then I aimed at an awkward scenario …). Yes, definitely let us be glad they are not LDS,. The wonderful spectacle indeed give ample space to ponder. Which I could not resist. Let us also be thankful not to be in their shoes, by the way.

  21. Mortimer, admitting emergency personnel is entirely different from having visitors during an actual temple ritual. In this hypothetical, her majesty gets to attend the actual marriage, but she’ll still have to miss the sealing.

  22. Walter, I reject your definition of “proper.” A proper Morning wedding ritual is proper because it has the elements of a Mormon wedding. It doesn’t need all the elements of an Anglican wedding because it’s not an Anglican wedding. And you’ll notice that everything in my hypothetical is within LDS practices and policies. Your nightmare scenario includes a whole bunch of ridiculous stuff that isn’t part of either Mormon or Anglican wedding practices.

  23. Thanks. By the way I am Anonymous without wanting to be called so; I used another computer. Left field, the term proper is always tricky, and maybe not fortuitous. My point is that there is no Mormon wedding liturgy, just a sealing, which is another type of ritual, and that all else is improvisation – with reticence imposed by the leadership. My nightmare scenario is a tongue-in-cheek illustration of that fact. And the notion that the non- LDS guests have to wait on the steps of the temple, is not far fetched at all, but happens everytime in the Domestic Church, a common sight in Salt Lake. Of course, an LDS Harry and Meghan could improvise a wedding, but as a ritual it is missing in the LDS ritual repertoire.

  24. Walter, you know as well as I do that there are specific words used by the bishop or sealer in an LDS marriage ceremony. Why you aren’t considering that to be a “Mormon wedding liturgy” is a mystery apparent only to you. Of course non-LDS guests are sometimes left waiting on the steps of the temple. No one has suggested otherwise. But neither the church nor the temple require guests to be led to the temple with some expectation of entering, as you proposed in your scenario. As to improvisation, I don’t know what is wrong with the couple or the officiator, or others associated with the event making their own arrangments in addition to the required elements as they choose. It happened in the recent royal wedding, it happens in LDS wedding in and out of the temple, and it happened in the non-LDS wedding I happened to have attended yesterday. I have no idea what exactly you wish to happen in LDS weddings. We have a wedding ceremony, just like everyone else. It involves each member of the couple agreeing to the union, followed by the officiator declaring them married, just like everyone else. Just like everyone else, we have other optional (improvised, if you will) elements that aren’t set in form, but can be included if desired: initial remarks by the officiator, exchange of rings, wedding breakfast, reception, remarks by the best man, dancing, dinner, etc. Somehow, when they do it, it’s a proper wedding ritual, and when we do it, it’s not. I don’t understand what your complaint is, or what you would change, so I’ll just have to let it go.

  25. Dear Left Field
    It seems you have not read my first blog (this one is the third installment on marriage and its rituals) since there I argue that what we have in the church is a sealing, not a wedding. That is from the point of view of rituals, not from the point of law. My argument comes from ritual studies, which is what I do. The ritual we really use in the church to generate a marriage is of the ritual type of a sealing (binding of eternity and temporality) not of a wedding (the creation of a new social unit within society, recognised by society – and its ruling deity). Of course weddings can have all types of forms, as an anthropologist I am very much aware of that; yet, in order to ‘work’ that ritual has to have a number of elements, one crucial one among them being the presence of the societal ‘shells’ around the couple to acknowledge the fact that this is a new couple, which will hopefully assist in raising a new generation.
    That social element is crucial and is compromised once replaced by a sealing type of ritual. There the weeping moms at the temple steps come in, which I exemplified quite facetiously by the British Queen waiting under the marquee on the temple lawn. So we as Mormons have to improvise our weddings, which is odd, since the Church is quite rich in rituals. Thus, the sealing as the LDS ritual to generate a new marriage union may well work at the individual level and the spiritual one, but under certain circumstances (with recent converts, say ‘Harry’) may create problems in the social sphere and in fact does so. Enfin, read the first blog ‘Where is the wedding?’

  26. Walter, you’ll note that Left Field commented on your original post, so it’s clear he’s already read your original argument and continues to be unconvinced. Mere unfamiliarity with your argument is not the reason people continue to disagree with it.

  27. OK, thanks Jonathan I missed that one. Let us agree to diagree on this point. In my view we have a sealing which is sober, highly spiritual and full of theological meaning. In the case of LDS families the social side, which I define as absolutely crucial, is present, even if the leadership discourages large family gatherings in the temple. The ‘exchange of rings, wedding breakfast, reception, remarks by the best man, dancing, dinner,’ (Left Field’s words) are never part of the sealing but have to be improvised elsewhere. That is not a problem, and some ritual improvisation in a church were the rituals are quite tightly controlled, is not a bad idea at all. The problem comes when the family members of the couple is not LDS, and cannot particpate in what the church defines as the core of the ‘wedding’, i.e. the sealing. And especially when the couple is punished with a year waiting time if they do their civil wedding first, then we have a situation that can be improved upon. The latter rule is not the case in Britain, nor in the Netherlands, but it is on the Wasatch Front.
    I have stated my case now often enough, let us end this debate.

    Walter van Beek

  28. Thought experiment:
    If they were Lds, we could import a bishop from Idaho to give one of the sermons… maybe that farmer-bishop that married Kip in Napoleon Dynamyte. He could advise the couple to go in a walk when one gets upset to avoid angry words.

    I’ve been to many non-temple lds weddings and bishops fall into two categories: clueless or depressing. Clueless- have no idea how a non-temple wedding goes and stumble to get through the words let alsone give a little sermon. Depressing: a pall falls over all in attendance as “death do you part” is spoken and the bishop laments that this isn’t a temple marriage. He tells them how much better a temple marriage is and challenges them to do better next time ( go to the temple) and to begin the repentence process.

    I have to say- any of these experiences would be about as cringe-worthy as the Anglican (priest?/minister) who talked about marriage being about “sect-su-al” (sexual) union as Meghan and Harry tried not to giggle.

  29. So, from the point of view of ritual studies, the LDS temple uses a sealing type of ritual. Is sealing a type of ritual generally recognized by those engaged in ritual studies and employed in description of many non-LDS rituals, or is it a user-defined type created special-purpose for application to LDS weddings? Does the sealing type appear in any standard libraries? (And is C, Fortran, or Python most commonly used in anthropology programming?)

  30. I too initially thought that the gospel choir was American. In actuality, the Kingdom Gospel Choir operates out of Southeast England, and was joined for the Royal Wedding by other select singers from around the UK. Loved their music. Also loved the traditional Tallis and Rutter (I’m a sucker for Anglican High Church…).

  31. This is an excellent choice for an illustration of the questions you are raising, Walter, but perhaps not exactly for the reasons you had in mind. The theological dimensions of this wedding are big and rather important, as are the political dimensions. The marriage of an English royal in the Church of England, however, is also theologically and politically a COMPLETELY different kind of event from a Mormon wedding/sealing. Therefore, we should fully expect that there will be major differences between what makes sense for an English royal wedding and a Mormon wedding/sealing. Royal marriages are intensely political events, because they determine the succession of the monarchy, the head of state. Therefore it is critical that royal weddings be as public as possible, so that there is no question about who is married to whom. Royal weddings are a crucial event in the life of a political community, in this case the life of the United Kingdom (note the key noun). Their form is tailored to their function, within a particular political and ecclesiastical system, as it has to be to avoid dissonance or absurdity.

    Similarly, the birth of royal children is a huge public event because again, the succession turns on this. Notice (a) how big the contrast is between the birth of royal children and ordinary children and (b) how we don’t expect them to be treated the same way. In a way, though, the royal wedding is important *because* of the royal birth(s).

    A Mormon wedding/sealing, by contrast, is not a political event in anything like the same sense. It is an event in the life of a community, but primarily a *different* and a fundamentally different *kind of community*, in fact a celestial community. Symbolically, Mormon weddings take place in the celestial kingdom, beyond the veil, in the presence of God and his angels, and those humans who have entered into communion with them, by being endowed in the temple. Other friends and family will of course have important relationships with the couple as well, but their ability to help the couple to sustain their marriage is limited by the fact that they have not committed to the celestial community that the couple is committed to inhabiting. The temple sets us apart from the world, and our marriages are different from the world’s marriages. As they should be.

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