Ask Ambrose: A Second Marriage: A Liturgical Commitment of Stepmother to Stepsons?

Picture of Marriage Rite in BCP

Q: I am preparing for the wedding of a couple, both of whom have been married before. The groom has two boys, ages 12 and 8. The bride would like to make a vow to the boys during the wedding liturgy in which she takes them on as stepsons. She’d like to do this in a way that doesn’t negate their relationship with their biological mother. I think it’s a beautiful idea, and I am willing to insert something into the rite to serve this purpose. Is there a precedent out there? What have other folks done?

A: There is indeed precedent for this in practice, although there is no specific allowance for it in the prayer book. I have seen it done, and it can be lovely if not made too much of.

There are those who could argue that making a promise to stepsons is no more or less justified than seeing contemporary heterosexual marriage vows as a “sacramental” on the basis of a strained exegesis of the second Genesis narrative or the presence of Jesus at a wedding ceremony in first century Palestine. But since we need to work with the framework we have until we may change it, (if we do), it is important to hold together the structural connection between the exchange of vows the partners make TO EACH OTHER that constitutes the covenant (p. 427), the pronouncement (p. 428), and the prayers culminating in Blessing (pp. 429-431), without confusing matters with the different sort of performative commitment by the bride to the stepsons.

The place to do this, therefore, would be at the Peace. Note the rubric: “The newly married couple then greet each other, after which greetings may be exchanged throughout the congregation).” A broad reading of this rubric would make this the spot for the bride to greet the stepsons as their newly married stepmother and make some formal exchange there. If the wedding has no Eucharist, the Peace can still conclude what precedes it (in fact, a strong argument can be made that it always should) followed by the formula with the stepsons, and then dismissal. Perhaps they want to consider all of them – newly married couple and the stepsons – in procession out. But, on the contrary, that might signal something negative about the children’s relationship to biological mother that they don’t want to signal. Something to think about.

As to what the bride might say: I’m afraid I have no formula to suggest, as the very personal nature and dynamics of the situation will determine this. The instances of this I’ve seen are each very personal and occasional. You might help the bride talk out what she wants to communicate and bring your skills as a liturgist to crafting something that will fit. At any rate, at the Peace is where it belongs.

Hope this is helpful.