Kenton was judged to be behaving strangely. David feared that his elder brother was about to do something daft; he recognized the signs as those which suggested that the former merchant seamen was becoming restless. Tony (not usually the most perceptive of the village’s residents) deemed it odd that Kenton was ‘sensitive’ in his conversation about the farm. Jolene wondered why he was being so nice when he arranged an early staff handover to enable her to get to the ‘Swishing’. The ‘something’ that he had on his mind became clear when during a busy evening in The Bull he asked Jolene to become his wife. As so often in Ambridge, this was a conversation that was repeatedly interrupted and concluded at a less than convenient moment, but with a resounding acceptance from Jolene.
One of the interruptions was from Lilian, who wanted a shoulder on which to cry about her difficulties at Amside. As her relationship with Matt falls apart, Kenton wants to cement his with Jolene. His hesitation may have had comic effect, but reflected the significance of what he was about to ask. To join the whole of one’s life to that of another human being is one of he most momentous decisions anyone can make.
Jazzer captured the meaning of what had happened when he congratulated Kenton and Jolene, and asked ‘when you’ve finished snogging, any chance of some service?’ Like Matt and Lilian, Kenton and Jolene form both a romantic and business partnership. That’s not unusual in Ambridge, nor in any farming community. Kenton’s conversation with Tony was about what Tony and Pat have built up together at Bridge Farm; he might have observed the same about David and Ruth, or of the late lamented Nigel and Elizabeth. Shula and Alistair may not form quite the same sort of business partnership but their work (his as a vet and hers running the riding stables) closely overlap. With David, Kenton was musing about the partnership that his parents had enjoyed when they were running Brookfield. And whilst Matt and Lilian point to the dangers and complexities of such arrangements, the engagement between Tom and Brenda in part foundered on her inability to be as interested in his business as he was and his inability to show any real interest in her career.
The nature of marriage has been under the spotlight in recent months with the passage through Parliament of the Same Sex Marriage bill. A large part of the Churches’ opposition to this measure has been to do with the way in which the government has ‘redefined’ marriage; one of those concerns is expressed, in traditional terms, as being about the link between marriage and procreation. Of course, the Churches’ understandings of marriage are far more nuanced and complex than that bald statement might suggest; the Methodist Church, for example, implicitly recognizes that many couples marry knowing or presuming that they will not have children. ‘It is the will of God that marriage
should be honoured as a way of life, in which we may know the security of love and care, and grow towards maturity. Through such marriage, children may be nurtured, family life strengthened, and human society enriched.’ (Methodist Worship Book)
None of this is to suggest that happy marriages depend on total commitment to the vocation of one or the other, or that those who share a vocation in the world of work are more likely to enjoy an happy marriage. The days when (for example) the spouse of someone in certain professions was expected to sacrifice her (and it usually was her) career or interests in order to assist in developing those of her partner are (mercifully) gone. But what Kenton’s proposal to Jolene does recognize is the importance of partnership in marriage which might express itself in creative or entrepreneurial enterprise. Christian understandings of marriage are grounded in the theology of creation and in the calling of human beings to be co-creators with God, which is about far more than having or not having children. Whether or not the landlady of The Bull and her partner choose to marry in church, that is what Friday night’s decision represents.