If ever one ministerial task encompasses stress and joy, it’s writing out marriage registers and certificates. They have to be right, they have to be accurate, mistakes have to be corrected in a very particular way. But there is something oddly relaxing about copying data in my very best handwriting – I am transported back to handwriting lessons at school. I used to enjoy them, my handwriting was fine, so I stayed out of trouble, and they were soothingly mindless.
I know that registers are supposed to be written during the service. But even after plenty of practice, it takes me about half an hour to fill in two registers and a certificate – too long for me to leave a congregation hanging about. So I do them the day before. It gives me a chance to think about the two people I am to marry, to pray for them, to consider the service, mull over the readings they have chosen. As I fill in their occupations, and those of their fathers (sorry, no mothers in registers except as witnesses), I can pray for all who do that sort of work. It’s a way of filling in the gaps in my prayers for the world. By this time, I have usually met immediate family and friends at the wedding rehearsal, and I have some sense of the best tone for the occasion.
But I do have to concentrate on letter formation, just like that handwriting lesson of years ago. My grasp of spelling desserts me or is it deserts me, as I worry about getting the right number of ssssss in the right places, and whether that occupation ends -or or -er and try to make sure I get the addresses correct. If I make a mistake, I can’t just cross it out, I have to number it, initial it, acknowledge it formally. There is something confessional about correcting a register entry (before it is signed. If a mistake is noticed after everyone has signed, the correction process is penitential as well as confessional.)
And suddenly I am transported to the Scriptorium, the room in monasteries where monks would copy manuscripts painstakingly, and decorate them to the glory of God. Register writing puts me in touch with my inner “Clerk in Holy Orders” and links me to a rich heritage of literacy.
So although my heart sinks when I think of writing up marriage registers, between the rhythm, and the connections, I am soothed and enriched.