Written by Daniel Hazard
Pastor finds release through 'End of a Marriage' service
I kept wondering, "Why can't I move forward?"
The end of our marriage was final after successful divorce mediation. My friends created a ritual for me to throw my wedding ring into the depths of a Maine lake. Financial consulting helped me get my assets in order. Spiritual direction helped me process the grief.
So why am I not meeting anyone I want to date?
I realized though, more than a year later, that something was holding me back from a more complete release: my marriage vows. The vows I spoke in the summer of 1977 laid a claim on me. Sacred words I spoke before God and our families and our friends had become what I stand for and who I am.
Then I remembered the Recognition of the End of a Marriage Service in the UCC Book of Worship. It begins with the moving words of Psalm 46, "God is our refuge and strength, always ready in times of trouble."
I checked with clergy colleagues.
Nobody knew of anyone who had used this service.
So with help from friends I adapted this end of marriage service. I invited my two grown children to join me at a small ceremony on the lakeside porch of a clergy friend's home. I also invited my former husband, but he declined. Even though he chose not to participate, I felt called to honor this transition to new beginnings through worship.
We gathered around a small altar of wildflowers and candles. We prayed Psalm 46. Then my clergy friend began, "We are here to witness an end and a beginning. No longer husband and wife, they have parted ways. They respect one another, and they will continue to be responsible and loving parents to their children."
My children responded, "We have not always known how to be helpful during this difficult time. We do not completely understand. But we accept this new reality. We care and give our love."
My friend prayed, "Loving God, we ask you to take Natalie into your hands. Include in your mercy and compassion her son and daughter. May they remember that their parents' union and love were important and honor them always. May they forgive their parents."
I then lit a candle for my new separate life from a main candle and lit two smaller candles for my love of these children. The children then lit candles for all the family members with us in spirit that day. I asked forgiveness from my former husband and also forgave him. I asked for peace.
My clergy friend continued with a blessing. "O God, you blessed them in their joining and in their intending. Bless them in their ending. Release Natalie from the vows she no longer need keep. Bless each one affected by the end of this marriage. Thank you for what has been. Thank you for what shall be."
After a period of silence for healing and restoration, my friend gave the benediction.
"And so it is. Natalie is released from her commitment of marriage. She is committed forever to bonds of goodwill. She looks forward to new beginnings. God bless all of you and go in peace. Amen."
God's grace was palpable on that sunny August afternoon.
God's grace already had been happening over a period of time as I prepared the soil for this moment. As I spoke the words of forgiveness that I felt ready to say aloud, I experienced the release and felt a veil drop away from my heart. As I heard the words releasing me from my marriage vows, I felt a weight lift from my whole body. My eyes cleared. I looked at my children. Their eyes were clear and bright. It was a healing service for all of us.
I felt free and exhilarated. We celebrated with a cleansing swim in the clear lake and with fabulous locally grown food for dinner on the porch. I felt buoyant.
Through brokenness and heartache I emerged with new possibilities. Thanks to the UCC Book of Worship, I was free to have my first date.
The Rev. Natalie Shiras is pastor of Church on the Hill UCC in Lenox, Mass.