Church of England weddings

Written by    Last updated: June 6, 2006

Your essential guide to the C of E ceremony

If you thought a C of E wedding was just about tying the knot in a picturesque village church, think again. There’s a lot more involved in the marriage ceremony, all outlined here to make things easy for you!

Currently the Church of England gives all British citizens, with no former partner still living, the right to get married in the parish church of the town where they are resident or in the church where either of the couple are on the church’s electoral roll (this isn’t the same as the local register of electors). Couples can also get married in a church to which they have a strong family connection, either now or in the past.

An engaged couple are welcome to be married in church in a parish if just one of these applies:

  • one of them was baptised or prepared for confirmation in the parish;
  • one of them has ever lived in the parish for six months or more;
  • one of them has at any time regularly attended public worship in the parish for six months or more;
  • one of their parents has lived in the parish for six months or more in their child’s lifetime;
  • one of their parents has regularly attended public worship there for six months or more in their child’s lifetime;
  • their parents or grandparents were married in the parish.

You don’t have to be regularly attending church, or have been baptised, to get married in the Church of England.

First steps

If you want to be married in a church, you should first arrange to see the minister of the church in which you wish to marry. They will arrange to read your banns (and advise you if they need to be read anywhere else).

There are rare circumstances in which you may need at some stage to contact the Superintendent Registrar, but this is not normally the case. Usually the entire process of arranging the preliminaries to the marriage is handled by the church. Because the Church of England is the established church, C of E ministers act, in effect, as registrars automatically, which is why they can do this.

Essentially you must undertake one of four preliminaries so that your marriage can be solemnised:

  • by publication of banns
  • by common license
  • by special license issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury
  • by the authority of a Superintendent Registrar’s office.

Your minister will guide you as to the most suitable method according to your particular circumstances, although publication of banns is the traditional and preferred method for most couples.

The publication of the banns

The publication of the banns is the public announcement by the minister, during a normal church service, that two people wish to marry and an invitation to the congregation to declare any unlawful reason why they should not marry.

Before this is done, you will need to meet with the minister of the parish. You may both be expected to meet the minister several times, to make sure that the full implications of the commitment are understood.

Choosing a wedding ceremony

Once you’ve booked your church wedding, your minister will probably ask you to both attend a meeting to discuss it and talk about which of the three available ceremonies you would like to have. These are:

  • the 1662 Solemnisation of Matrimony (from the Book of Common Prayer)
  • the 1966 Solemnisation of Matrimony (Alternative Services, Series 1)
  • the 2001 Marriage Service (Common Worship, Services and Prayers for the Church of England)

The 1662 version, from the Book of Common Prayer, offers an option whether or not to include promise to obey in the vows section of the ceremony. The 2001 Common Worship marriage service allows the bride to opt out of being ‘given away’, instead having both families agree to entrust their son and daughter to one another.

The wedding rehearsal

The rehearsal will normally take place during the week before the wedding day, or even the day before.

All of the bridal party, including the bride, groom, best man and chief bridesmaid attend the rehearsal, possibly accompanied by the mother and father of the bride and groom. The minister will run through the service, everyone will be shown where to stand before and during the service, and the rough timings will be finalised.

As well as being a practice run for the service, the rehearsal also gives members of the wedding party the chance to meet if they haven’t already done so. The bride and groom often take the opportunity to take the wedding party for dinner as a token of their appreciation. This is also a great time for the bride and groom to pass on their gifts to their attendants.

On the big day

The ushers should be the first to arrive at the church, about 45 minutes before the ceremony. They should be informed in advance of how the guests should be seated as they arrive. The groom and best man should arrive next, about 30 minutes beforehand.

Guests will arrive 15 to 20 minutes before the ceremony and the organist will start playing the prelude music as they are seated. Next come the bridesmaids and the mother of the bride. The mother of the bride is the last to be seated before the ceremony starts. The processional music starts and the ceremony is now officially underway!

The bride enters the church on the right arm of her father, or whoever is escorting her. Traditionally, she has her face covered with a veil. The bridal procession consists of the chief bridesmaid, bridesmaids and pages. The congregation will stand once the bride has started down the aisle. The vicar will be standing at the alter rail or on the chancel steps. When the bride reaches the chancel steps, the groom stands on her right with the best man to his right and slightly behind him.

It’s important to note that the groom traditionally pays for all the church expenses and attendant costs. He can either settle the account before the wedding day or leave it to the best man. It will include payment for the church, the services of the priest, the organist, choir and bell ringers. It’s quite normal for the organist and choir to double the charge if a video is used during the service! There is no charge for any visiting vicar, so it is nice to offer him a present. It is also polite to invite the officiate to your reception.

What happens at the wedding ceremony?

Usually a hymn is sung once everyone is in their place, then the vicar states the reason for the gathering and asks if anyone knows of any reason why the marriage should not take place.

Having received the couple’s agreement to be married, the vicar asks who is giving the bride away. The bride hands her bouquet to the chief bridesmaid and her father, or escort, places her right hand in that of the vicar, who gives it to the groom. The bride’s father then steps back into his place in the first row of the pews on the bride’s side.

The marriage vows are taken first by the groom and then the bride, led by the vicar. The best man places the ring(s) on a book held by the vicar. The vicar blesses the ring(s) and the groom places the ring on the bride’s ring finger. The bride may also place a ring on the groom’s finger. The vicar then pronounces the couple man and wife, although the full legal requirements are not actually met until the marriage register has been signed. It is at this point that the bride may lift her veil, assisted by the chief bridesmaid, and kiss her new husband.

Normally, the priest will deliver a short sermon, one or two hymns are sung and prayers are said for the couple. At this point, the couple receives Holy Communion if they have chosen a communion service.

The bride and groom, followed by the best man, chief bridesmaid, their parents, bridesmaids, pages and any other witnesses proceed behind the vicar to the vestry to sign the register. Even if photography is not allowed in the church, it is usually permitted during the signing of the register. The priest then hands the marriage certificate to the groom.

At a given signal, the organist will strike up a triumphant piece of music. The bride on the left arm of her new husband, proceeds slowly down the aisle. The attendants follow in orderly pairs, followed by the best man and chief bridesmaid. Then the bride’s mother, escorted by the groom’s father, and the groom’s mother escorted by the bride’s father. They all proceed to the church door, where the photographer is usually waiting.

An application for the publication of the banns should be made to the church of the parish in which you wish to be married, for which you will have to pay a small fee. A certificate stating that the banns have been published will be issued by the church(es) that will not be holding the ceremony. This certificate needs to be produced to the officiating minister before the ceremony can go ahead.

Banns are usually read out in the parish church (or churches) on three consecutive Sundays during the three months prior to the marriage. If the couple live in different parishes, the banns need to be published in both parishes. Don’t forget ‐‐ if the marriage does not take place within three months of the publication of the banns, then the banns will have to be published again.

To be married by Common License:

  • at least one of you must have been baptised
  • the ceremony must take place within three months of the license being listed
  • there must be a good reason for requesting a Common License. For example, one party is living abroad, which prevents your banns from being read.

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Special License

Marriage by Special Licence is unusual and it must be approved by the Archbishop of Canterbury at the faculty office.

The license is intended to be used where a couple want to marry in a parish where neither party is resident or on the electoral roll or able to satisfy the 15 day minimum residence requirement, or have a relevant qualifying connection necessary for a Common Licence. A qualifying connection can be any of the following:

 

  • one of them was baptised or prepared for confirmation in the parish;
  • one of them has ever lived in the parish for six months or more;
  • one of them has at any time regularly attended public worship in the parish for six months or more;
  • one of their parents has lived in the parish for six months or more in their child’s lifetime;
  • one of their parents has regularly attended public worship there for six months or more in their child’s lifetime;
  • their parents or grandparents were married in the parish.

Although there is no minimum residence requirement, the Special License is usually only granted in exceptional circumstances. No application will be considered unless the minister at the church in question is prepared both to take the marriage service and to support the license application. Once granted, the license is valid for three months.

Getting married in a parish other than your own

You may marry at any parish church to which either of you have a qualifying connection.

If you want to get married in a church which is not your own, then contact the minister of that church well in advance and they will be able to advise you.

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