Typical Church of England Wedding Service
There are no conditions that say you have to be a regular churchgoer to get married in the Church of England. The Church gives you the opportunity for you to make your solemn promises to each other, not just in front of your family and friends, but also in the sight of God. There are 4 ways of getting married in accordance with the rites of the Church of England:
- by publication of banns
- by common licence
- by special licence issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury
- by the authority of a superintendent registrar’s certificate without licence
The parish priest or vicar 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 Church of England considers marriage to be a life long commitment, whereby couples carefully prepare for their new life together. It is the custom and practice of the Church of England to offer preparation for marriage for couples who are soon to be married, as well as to be available for support and counselling in the years that follow. The minister will probably ask both the couple to attend a meeting to discuss their forthcoming marriage, and to come to an understanding about the way a Christian marriage works. Items such as type of ceremony, hymns, readings, poems and music are chosen.
A rehearsal normally happens in the week running up to the wedding. All of the bridal party, including the bride, groom, best man and chief bridesmaid attend the rehearsal, possibly accompanied by the parents of the couple. The minister will run through the service, everyone will be shown where to stand before and during your service, and the rough timings of the service will be finalised. As well as being a practice run for the service, the rehearsal also serves as a meeting time for all of the wedding party, and a chance for members of the party who haven’t met to be introduced. Couples often take this opportunity to have a meal or similar gathering together, and celebrate the beginning of the wedding celebrations.
The ushers should be the first to arrive at the church, about forty-five minutes before the ceremony. They should be informed in advance of how to seat the guests as they arrive. The ushers may also have the job of organising where the guests may park their cars, making sure that everyone has an order of service, prayer and hymn books.
The front right-hand pew is reserved for the groom and the best man. The groom’s close family sit in the second pew behind the groom. The front left-hand pew is reserved for the bride’s parents and her attendants.
The groom and best man are next to arrive at the church at least 30 minutes before the ceremony. Guests usually arrive at the church fifteen to twenty minutes before the ceremony begins, and are shown to their seats by the ushers. The organist starts playing the prelude music. The next to arrive at the church are the bridesmaids and the mother of the bride.
The bride’s mother usually waits with the bridesmaids at the church door until the arrival of the bride. The bride’s mother is the last to be shown to her seat by the ushers, before the ceremony begins. Her entrance serves as a cue to the groom that the bride has arrived, at which point the organist begins to play the processional music and the congregation stands.
The bridesmaids take their places behind the bride in pairs, usually with the youngest directly behind the bride. The bride then takes her father’s right arm and they process down the aisle together, followed by the bridesmaids, towards the groom who takes a step forward. Once the bride is next to the groom, the bride’s father moves to his left and the bride gives her flowers to her chief bridesmaid or matron of honour. If the bride has no attendants, then her father takes her flowers and either gives them to the bride’s mother or places them on the front pew.
The minister will welcome the congregation. Your family and friends have an important role to play as witnesses and supporters of your marriage.
The minister will read an introduction explaining what Christians believe about marriage. He or she will also ask, as the law requires, if anyone knows any reason why the marriage may not lawfully take place.
You will be asked to promise before God, your friends and your families, that you will love, comfort, honour and protect your partner and be faithful to them as long as you both shall live.
The minister will also ask the congregation to declare that they will support and uphold your marriage.
Turning to each other, the bride and groom take each other’s right hand and make vows:
‘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’
The couple then exchange a ring or rings as a ‘sign of their marriage’ and a reminder of the vows:
‘With my body I honour you,
all that I am I give to you,
and all that I have I share with you,
within the love of God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit.’
The minister will then declare that you are now husband and wife. The minister does not ‘marry you’; you marry each other. The minister just directs you in this and then tells everyone that you have done it properly.
After the conclusion of this part of the wedding ceremony, either the bride’s father lifts the veil giving the bride to the groom who then kisses her, or the new groom lifts her face veil in order to kiss her, which symbolizes the grooms right to enter into conjugal relations with his bride.
The question of when to remove the veil during a wedding service is one of the greatest wedding debates.
In the prayers God’s blessing and help is asked for you. There may be a prayer for the gift of children, but every couple will have their own feelings about this, so it’s best to discuss the details with your minister. You may wish to help choose the prayers or to write your own.
If there are particular prayers that you would like to have included, perhaps a member of the family or a close friend who is unable to attend due to illness, or if you have had a recent bereavement in the family, mention this to the Minister in advance.
It is usual to have one or more readings (one of which should be from the Bible) and the minister will generally give a talk or sermon. This might be on marriage in general, or if he knows you both well, may relate more to your own personal relationship.
After you have exchanged your vows, the bride, groom and two witnesses must sign the register. This is a legal requirement and the minister will give you a copy of the marriage certificate.
After the signing of the Register there may be a final hymn or prayer, or the newly married couple leave the church with the bridesmaids and the couple’s families following them out of the church, followed by the rest of the congregation.
It is usual to choose a bright and uplifting piece of music for the recessional.
A wedding is one day – a marriage is a lifetime
You have probably already spent many hours planning your wedding. There are so many things to think about – the dress, the cake, whom to invite, the honeymoon. All of these are important, but the wedding is just one day, while marriage should last for the rest of your lives.
Alongside the wedding preparations it is also important to spend time as a couple talking through your expectations of marriage. However much you think you have in common, you are still two separate individuals with different backgrounds, personalities, experiences, hopes and fears. The minister who is taking your service will probably want to spend some time with you talking through these issues.
Churches sometimes offer marriage preparation, perhaps as part of a group with other couples. This gives you an opportunity to think through possible areas of difficulty and how you will handle them as a couple.
Topics might include:
* Coping with conflict
* In-laws and family issues