Should I get married in a church or have a civil ceremony?

This is a question that many brides face: should I get married in a church or have a civil ceremony? While the answer may be easy for some, for others it will take a lot more consideration.

church wedding

We have looked previously at different types of wedding ceremonies, as well as the legal differences between a religious and a civil ceremony. Today, we are just going to look at the pros and cons of each option to help you decide.

The options

In England and Wales, you can choose to have either a religious ceremony or a civil one (Scotland is different). A civil ceremony can contain no mentions of God. On the other hand, a religious ceremony will be based upon having God as your witness.

In order for a religious wedding to be legally binding, it must be Anglican, Quaker or Jewish. All other religions require a legally binding civil ceremony along with the religious one.

civil wedding

Again, this is just the case in England and Wales. In Scotland, you can also choose to have a Humanist ceremony. Elsewhere in the world there are other options entirely. However, if you plan to tie the knot in the UK, this is the guide you should follow.

Start the process

Every good evaluation of positives and negatives starts with your gut reaction. First, we encourage you to look into your heart to analyse your personal response to each type of ceremony. If you would both much prefer a civil ceremony, then go for a civil ceremony.

However, if you are more on the fence then work on it together. We shall go over more objective pros and cons, but look at what is most important to each of you.

church wedding

Nationally, the general public is currently swaying towards civil ceremonies. In 1995, 60% of wedding ceremonies took place in religious buildings and churches. Meanwhile, just over 36% took place in registry offices and 3% of couples took advantage of new “approved premises”.

But, if you look at the statistics now they show a very different story. In 2012, 70% of marriages were civil, and 85% of those took place in approved premises. So, the country is tending towards civil ceremonies, but that doesn’t mean that you have to follow suit.

civil wedding

Many factors can influence a bride and groom to get married in a particular way. For example, were you been brought up in an atheist family or a religious one? Do you like being traditional, do you care for history, or could you care less about either of these? Are there any religious buildings that match your religion near you? Do you admire architectural beauty, or do you crave somewhere “different” to get married?

Take all of this into account and judge how you feel. Now, move on.

Religious ceremonies

These are weddings that take place in churches, chapels, cathedrals, synagogues and other religious buildings. The ceremony is performed by a member of the clergy, who has legal authority and will lead you through the whole process, including the signing of the register.

church wedding

As we mentioned before, a religious marriage is only legal if it is Anglican, Jewish or Quaker. If you belong to another religious group, or would prefer a different kind of ceremony, think about if it would be worth it to have two ceremonies. If you love spending time celebrating, then go for it! However, if you’d rather save money and time, maybe this might not be for you.

Of course, if you are overtly religious, then a religious ceremony is a must. But even for those not raised religious, there are many other aspects of getting married in a church that may appeal.

The positives

Churches are usually old, and old structures tend to have had hands cast over them which know a great deal about extravagant and beautiful architecture. This is what these magnificent and ancient buildings can lend to your wedding – tradition and beauty. Many couples get married in churches because it is the “done thing”. While we think that this is not necessarily a bad thing, people should respect not only the sanctity of the building and the authority of the clergy, but ultimately the religion that the church is built upon.

church wedding

Getting married in a church is also relatively cheap (around £300 on average in Church of England churches), compared to the costs of civil ceremony venues (which will charge for the set-up fee, hire of the licensed room etc). Although, if there is no authorised person at your chosen church venue, you’ll have to pay £86 for a registrar.

Probably the best thing about church weddings in terms of organisation is that everything is readymade. You don’t need to worry about chairs, changing rooms or a stage as everything already exists in the church’s infrastructure.

Some disadvantages

Of course, there are also a certain number of disadvantages to getting married in a church. The strongest of these relates to whether you are religious or not. If you marry in a church, then the ideologies and concept of God and Jesus will be intertwined with your wedding ceremony. Although some clergy will emphasise these a little less than others, you must be happy to include religion in your marriage.

church wedding

Be aware that some buildings will not even allow you to marry there unless you are a member of the parish and perhaps go to church regularly. Or, non-church members can even be charged double what regulars might be! Moreover, there could even be several weddings in one day, which could leave you feeling a little rushed.

Photography and videography can also be an intrusive problem for some clergymen. In some cases, photography of all kinds may be banned entirely from the church. This may also be the case with music, and remember that old buildings may have limited electricity. The same goes for a lot of personalisation, particularly bespoke or large decorations.

church wedding

Also, as churches are often old buildings, they may not be accessible to everyone. If you plan on inviting a guest with mobility requirements, check that the floor is level and there are no steps. Of course, though, this could also be an issue anywhere you book to host your wedding.

Civil ceremonies

A civil ceremony is a strictly non-religious affair. This means that everything you use, from the music to the readings, must be free of obvious specifically religious connotations. Such ceremonies can be held in various licensed venues across the country as well as in registry offices.

civil wedding

Since the 1994 act which allowed venues to become licensed for such events, their popularity has skyrocketed. You can now marry anywhere from hotels and manors to cinemas and boats!

Advantages of a civil ceremony

Variety is the spice of life, and civil ceremonies allow you to get married in all sorts of interesting locations. You can marry in buildings as old and as traditional as churches, such as castles. Other excellent civil ceremony wedding venues include everything from beautiful manor houses, hotels and caves, to your quaint little village hall.

civil wedding

Civil ceremonies can be small, modest, intimate affairs or large events in massive halls. You have more say in how you want the room decorated and set out. You can also choose whether you want music playing or not.

The benefit of marrying in a registered building like a hotel is that your entire day can happen in one place. From ceremony to reception to accommodation that evening, this can be very convenient.

And the bad news

For those who are deeply in touch with tradition or religion, then civil ceremonies are far from perfect for them! Even those who want to play the same hymn their parents did will find an issue. Any religious content of any kind is banned from a civil ceremony.

civil wedding

Civil ceremonies cost a bit more than church weddings, as the licensed room needs to be set up and you must pay the hire for the room you will be wed in. With the exception of castles and other epic venues, many licensed civil ceremony rooms can simply lack the gravitas and grandeur of getting married in a church. And, of course, registry offices often exemplify the worst of this.

Like many decisions in the world of wedding planning, you need to weigh up what matters most to you. Ask yourself what kind of people you and your partner are. Then go out there and find the wedding venue of your dreams! 

3 thoughts on “Should I get married in a church or have a civil ceremony?

  1. There are many things to consider when planning for a wedding, one of those are the type of wedding you want to happen. There are different types of a wedding to choose and things to consider when choosing one of the three. This site is very helpful in making you somehow decide.

  2. Clergymen! Really, I think you’ll find the Church of England has had clergy women since 1994….surely this article is out of date?

    We really appreciated the time spent with us by our clergyWOMAN who met with us a number of times before the service, got to know us, invited us to pre-marriage preparation- along with other couples and made our wedding day so very special and personalised which we hadn’t expected. She took time to meet all our family and having had a grandparent pass away, we were able to have a photograph and a candle lit in memory as well as offer prayers. She’s also kept in touch with us and we know the church family were thinking of us in their prayers too as we neared our wedding date.

    You really don’t need to be a regular church member to get married, just an openness to exploring what faith might mean to you. You do need a connection though which might be because you live there or a parent or grandparent got married there.

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