The Wedding Ceremony: How do I organise a church wedding ceremony in England and Wales?

A religious wedding ceremony is a beautiful way to bind the love you have with your partner and with your faith. A church wedding could refer to a number of different religious practises including Christian, Catholic and Church of England. The type of religious wedding ceremony you have depends on your faith and parish.

The rules relating to a religious wedding ceremony are not the same as those associated with a civil wedding ceremony. A religious wedding ceremony is where two people proclaim their love and marry in the eyes of God. During a civil ceremony, a couple is wed in the eyes of the law only.

church wedding ceremony

A traditional option, the words “To have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part”, have been recited at UK church weddings since 1552 and derived from the Sarum rite of medieval England. 

Regulations govern eligibility to get married in parish churches in England and Wales. As a result, it’s easier to organise a church wedding in the local residential area of either the bride or the groom. However, here are the ins and outs of planning a church wedding ceremony.

Local Parish Church

If either you or your partner are currently on the electoral roll for the parish area, you’ll be eligible to get married there. Alternatively, you’ll also be eligible if you’ve regularly attended a worship for 6 months or more at the church concerned.

church wedding ceremony

There are a couple of other factors which have an effect. If you or your partner ever lived in the parish area for 6 months or more, were baptised there or prepared for confirmation in the parish.

Thirdly, your parents and grandparents can assist with your eligibility. If either of you have a parent or grandparent who was married in the parish. If you or your partner have a parent who lived in the area for six months or more during your lifetime. A parent or grandparent who attended the parish church for 6 months or more in the past also increases your eligibility.

Church Where You Don’t Live

Permission to marry in a church outside of your local residential area lies within the discretion of the incumbent minister. If you have a particular church in mind, it’s worth contacting the minister at an early stage, before you formalise plans. That way you can explain your reasoning and your situation to ascertain his views on the matter.

church wedding ceremony

If the minister’s response is positive, you may be asked to establish a period of residency for a period of seven to twenty-one days. Alternatively, you can attend services at the church of your choice for a certain period of time.

In July 2007 the church initiated a change in the law to make it easier for couples to have a Church of England wedding outside of their parish. As a result, there is more flexibility on religious ceremonies being able to take place if there is a special connection.

Preliminaries for a Church of England Wedding

The “Banns of Marriage” are the legal preliminaries in the Church of England. The minister who will be officiating at the ceremony will arrange these on your behalf. In some circumstances, a “common” or “special” licence might be required. If this is the case, it will also be arranged by the minister. Generally the ‘Banns’ must be read out on the three Sundays leading up to the wedding.

church wedding ceremony

Secondly, a meeting with priest should be had to discuss hymns and prayers as well as the general order of service.

The Registration Service organise the legal side for things for a wedding in a Non-Conformist church. You’ll need to make an appointment with your local registrar to arrange this.

Preliminaries for a Catholic Wedding

For Catholic ceremonies, the bride and groom must spend time with the priest to discuss the sanctity of marriage. Generally questions about family plans, life style and religious choices will be asked. This pre-wedding preparation is known as pre-Cana.  

church wedding ceremony

Pre-Cana either takes place over a 6 month period or via an intensive course. However it is mandatory for all couples desiring a Catholic ceremony.

A Catholic ceremony is performed two ways, with a mass and the Eucharist or without. Ceremonies take one hour with a mass. Alternatively they are 30 minutes without.

Preliminaries for a Christian Wedding

Similarly to the preparations of the previous ceremonies a conversation must be had with the priest regarding the service and hymns and prayers that will be offered.

church wedding ceremony

The exchanging of vows will take place during the ceremony along with the optional exchanging of rings. A unity candle can also be lit by the bride and groom.

Church Marriage and Divorce

There is a possibility that you might be able to. The decision regarding the marriage of a divorced person in a Church of England parish church is entirely at the discretion of the minister of that particular church.

It is best to consult the incumbent vicar at an early stage in the proceedings. In some situations, the minister concerned may wish to consult the Bishop’s Office, the Church Trustees or the Church Governing Body before coming to a decision.

Marriage in a Non-Conformist Church

If you wish to get married at a Non-Conformist church, such as Baptist or Methodist Church, you or your partner will either need to be resident in the local area, or be a regular worshipper at the church.

Some Non-Conformist churches require a registrar to be present when a wedding ceremony takes place. The church minister will advise you if this is the case. In this situation, you will need to contact the local Registry Office to arrange for a registrar to attend the ceremony.

It is important to be aware that the organisation of a religious marriage is not the same as for a civil wedding ceremony. The procedure also varies depending upon the denomination of the church in which the ceremony will take place. M

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