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lpc1998 - 08:43pm May 30, 2001 SGT (70.)
Break-up ceremonies becoming popular in the US.

STI Tuesday 29 May 2001:

Break-up ceremonies popular as couples try to avoid any bitterness

NEW YORK - Divorce ceremonies are becoming increasingly popular in America as couples set aside their differences to mark the end of their marriages with as much ritual and celebration as they began them.

The intention is to avoid the bitterness and recrimination of divorce in a society where marriage appears to be crumbling, said a report in the Sunday Telegraph.

Figures from the United States census released last week show that barely a quarter of the country's households comprise a couple with children - the lowest ever recorded. The divorce rate is almost 40 per cent.

The experience has produced a book. A Healing Divorce, published this year, has become the DIY manual for couples looking to stage their own parting of the ways.

Mr Phil Penningroth and his wife Barbara had planned the formal split at the end of their 25-year marriage almost as carefully as they had their wedding.

The church was booked, friends and relatives were sent invitations and the caterers arranged. Their 'ceremony of parting', in which they handed back the rings they had once placed on each other's fingers and 'forgave' one another, was performed in front of their guests.

The Penningroths' ceremony was held at a meditation retreat in California, decorated with candles and a simple flower arrangement. The music included Bach's Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring, which was also played at their wedding), and a song from the film Thelma and Louise.

A video tribute to their marriage and each other was also shown. Mrs Penningroth, during the ceremony, spoke of missing growing old with her ex-husband 'and the sweetness and sorrow that we would have shared'.

Mr Penningroth, in turn, admitted to the Sunday Telegraph: 'It grieves me that we will not grow old together, that we will never renew our vows.'

Since divorce ceremonies have no legal status, there are no figures for how many there are, although sales of the book have been strong. Despite the injunction 'What God has joined together, let no man put asunder' there are signs that religious denominations are more sympathetic to conducting divorce ceremonies.

In the 1970s, the Methodist Church in America devised a divorce service that is now being revived. The call to worship begins by describing it as a service of 'recognition, resolution and renewal', telling the congregation that it is gathered to 'mourn' the divorce.

A suggested prayer of forgiveness includes the lines: 'We have not done Your will, we have not kept Your commandments, we have broken Your laws, we have broken Your covenants.'

Mrs Penningroth advises couples to wait for a while after their legal divorce before holding a ceremony, to allow emotions to cool off.

She admits that some partners may never agree to take part. She says: 'But you can always do it alone.'

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