Many of us who seek out alternatives to mainstream religion will admire the steadfastness of Doug Chapman, a chartered surveyor who discovered the nine-hundred year-old Dode Church in the countryside of north Kent, England. Chapman, who fell in love with the decrepit structure, bought it in 1992, restored it, and began hosting civil wedding ceremonies there in 1999. His unconventional use of the building has not gone without note, however—officials of the Church of England, as well as a local MP, have spoken out against it. Chapman’s case illustrates the uneasiness of high-ranking religious and political authorities over the unorthodox use of sacred sites.

Exactly what is it about Chapman’s use of this historic structure—which saw its congregation wiped out by the bubonic plague of 1348-9— that ruffles the feathers of the English Church, an institution which itself is supposed to have been formed in reaction against staid and unbending authority? After all, he is carrying on the tradition of uniting man and woman in the ‘house of God’, and through the legal apparatus, moreover. Apparently, this is the very reason the English Church objects to the weddings at Dode: according to Michael Purton, of Newsquest Media Group, “The Church of England has called for Dode’s marriage license to be revoked, opposing civil ceremonies taking place in religious settings”. At first, it seems the English Church views itself as a natural authority over the performance of weddings on sacred sites, even when such sites sit on privately owned property, as in the case of Dode, which has also been owned in the past by an archaeologist as well as the Roman Catholic Church.

However, the English Church may have an even more covert motive for their objection to the civil wedding ceremonies hosted at Dode by Chapman, who has sought to work with local residents and find out “what concerns they have”. According to him, the building was “always meant to be a spiritual place”, yet it is also “a church without religion because many people feel religion judges them, and I don’t want people to feel judged here”; furthermore, according to Purton, “the church has no congregation and has not been affiliated to any religion” since Chapman bought it. Perhaps what the English Church really objects to is the consecration of marriage in a non-denominational, universal church, within a spiritual context but without the scrutiny of an organized hierarchy or congregation. It may be the uprooting of the traditional wedding from its fixture in a central Church which makes Chapman’s actions so offensive to English Church officials.

It seems as if such clergy-members view the spiritual independence of the government-sanctioned weddings at Dode as a sign of disrespect for—even the profaning or desecration of—a site which ought to fall under the providence of a central religious institution. Supporters of Dode, however, might well argue that the English Church is not the final voice on the consecration of marriage in spiritual contexts, and that non-religious entities have as much right as the Church to conduct wedding ceremonies on holy sites. Perhaps the most important point to take away from all of this is the distinction between spirituality and religion, and the freedom of spiritual practice from central authority. Why, after all, shouldn’t an independent citizen have the right to perform sacred rites which also happen to be legally recognized, and on his or her own private property, which also happens to be “sacred ground”?

Source: News Shopper

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