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Walking up the aisle to say your wedding vows at the altar of a beautiful local church - a young girl's dream.
Young girls dream of getting married in a pretty village church, walking up the aisle to the altar to say their wedding vows, the guests joining them to sing their choice of wedding hymns, and walking back out of church to a shower of confetti with the church bells ringing to celebrate their marriage. The reality is that nearly two thirds of couples now marry in a licensed wedding venue rather than choosing a church for their legal ceremony.
Those that do marry in church comment that saying their wedding vows in front of the Vicar, Minister, Priest and God adds an extra importance to the words of the vows, and that they want religious hymns and a full choice of religious readings and prayers at their wedding, none of which can be included in a civil wedding.
Fees for church weddings now include everything for the average wedding, at less than £500 which is the typical fee for hire of a room in a civil venue for the wedding ceremony, so you could consider it the budget option, second only to register offices. You may need to pay extra if you want an organist to play organ music during the wedding hymns and signing of the register, and contribute towards the bell ringers’ expenses, and it is correct to leave at least some of the flowers in the church after the wedding ceremony for the regular church congregation to enjoy the next day.
The laws and regulations on church weddings, and in particular which church you can get married in and whether you have a choice of churches other than your local parish church has changed in recent years. In the past there were strict laws insisting that either the bride or the groom must permanently live in the parish in which they plan to get married. Now you can choose the church where you grew up, where you were christened, where you live or work, in fact anywhere you can demonstrate a strong connection to that particular church. How far this regulation can be taken depends on how popular the church you choose is. For a picturesque village church in a stunning country setting that has recently featured as the back-drop to a soap opera wedding, your connections will need to be incredibly strong to convince the Vicar that you have a genuine connection with his or her church.
Special rules relate to getting married in Westminster Abbey; only members of the royal family, members or children of the Order of the Bath and those living in Westminster Abbey’s precinct can hold their wedding there, and let’s face it, you would need a very large wedding to justify the inconvenience of a venue such as that. More popular is St Margaret’s Church in the grounds of Westminster Abbey, and this tends to be the church of choice for those living and working close to Westminster Abbey including Members of Parliament.
Weddings in register offices or civil venues require by law two officiants to carry out the legal wedding ceremony, whereas for church weddings it only requires the minister. A church of England wedding is legally binding and can only be held between 8am and 6pm, nominally the hours of daylight. Some ministers are reluctant to marry couples during lent, and while December is a popular month for church weddings - apparently due to the large number of couples wanting to sing carols in place of hymns at the wedding - do remember that it is also a very busy time for the minister and they may be a little reluctant. A minister can refuse to marry a couple, in which case the Bishop may get involved.
Banns are read in the church you are marrying in on 4 consecutive weeks before the wedding, with the bride and groom both expected to be present for as many readings of the banns as possible. Most ministers ask couples to attend a marriage preparation course, or at the very least will spend time with the couple discussing their relationship with each other.
If this is the second marriage for either of the couple you will probably need to look for a non religious alternative, although some churches, including Methodist, will marry divorced couples. The Church of England will generally offer a wedding blessing to couples where either have been married before, however this rule only applies to divorce; widows and widowers can legally re-marry in church.
For more information please read our Q & A on church weddings here