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A guide to wedding ceremonies

A guide to wedding ceremonies

These days there is a much greater choice of where to get married than there has ever been, thanks to far-reaching changes in civil wedding ceremonies and Church of England ceremonies.

Gone are the days when a civil wedding ceremony was restricted to a register office.

Gone too are the restrictions that strictly limited the options for weddings in a Church of England church.

So, whether you are planning a religious wedding ceremony or a civil ceremony, be sure to check the up-to-date procedure and faith requirements before your plans advance too far.

Civil Weddings

With such a range of wonderful venues now licensed to hold civil weddings, couples are spoilt for choice in choosing somewhere to hold their ceremony.

All the same, certain protocols still need to be observed wherever the ceremony takes place.

Before making other plans, you should make an appointment to see the registrar in the district in which you wish to be married to discuss what you have in mind for the civil ceremony and to arrange a date, because a registrar needs to be present.

The same applies to arranging civil partnerships. The registrar will explain the procedures that need to be observed, the fees that need to be paid and the timescale within which formal notice and other legal requirements have to be fulfilled.

Since civil wedding ceremonies are, by their very nature, non-religious, they may not contain any religious elements.

This applies most obviously to the music and readings you select. The registrar in the place where you are going to be married will be able to advise you on what is and what is not acceptable in civil ceremonies and the absence of familiar religious readings and religious music need not restrict your selection unduly.

Here again, it is important that you let the registrar know what pieces of music you would like to be playing at the ceremony and what readings you have chosen.

Many couples like to incorporate traditional (non-religious) wedding elements in their civil ceremonies.

They have a best man, and bridesmaids. They can arrange the chairs in the wedding room to create an aisle.

And they can wear whatever they choose, including, of course, floral buttonholes for the groom and best man and a bouquet for the bride.

The proprietors of your chosen wedding venue will be able to advise you on the most appropriate way of using their facilities.

The vows spoken at civil wedding ceremonies are fairly brief. The registrar will explain the vows that the couple are about to undertake.

The bride and groom then declare that there is no legal reason why they cannot marry. They recite the marriage vows and exchange rings if they want to.

After this the marriage register needs to be signed by the bride and groom, their two witnesses the registrar and the superintendent registrar.

Banns and Licences

Weddings in the Church of England, Church of Wales and Church of Ireland serve as both religious and legal ceremonies; the same holds for Church of Scotland weddings, although the law in Scotland carries a few significant differences.

However, this is not the case with weddings conducted within other religious faiths where the legal requirements are the same as those for civil weddings.

Providing that there are no ecclesiastical restrictions you can be married in a Church of England church.

Since the beginning of October 2008 the rules governing which church you can be married in have been eased, so that couples may now marry in a church of their choice providing that they have one of the following associations with that church:

  1. One of them was baptised or confirmed in the parish and the confirmation has been entered in the church register.
  2. One of them has lived in the parish for at least six months or regularly attended public worship there for six months or longer.
  3. One of their parents has lived in the parish or regularly attended public worship in the parish for more than six months during their child’s lifetime.
  4. One of their parents or grandparents was married in the parish.

(All references to baptism, confirmation, marriage and attending public worship refer to Church of England services. These conditions apply to Church of England churches; they do not include cathedrals.)

In certain circumstances it is possible to be married in a Church of England church for which you do not qualify under the above conditions.

Such a marriage will almost certainly require obtaining a licence and the member of the clergy who will be conducting the ceremony will be able to advise you which licence is needed and how you obtain it.

The same member of the clergy will be able to give advice on church marriages of people who have been divorced.

He or she can also explain the procedure that needs to be followed for publicly announcing forthcoming marriages.

The most popular way of doing this is by the reading of the banns on three Sundays during the three months prior to the ceremony.

These need to be read in the church where each of the couple to be married lives as well as the church where the wedding is to take place, if that is in another parish.

The purpose of publishing the banns is to allow anyone who knows of a just cause or impediment 
to the marriage to make their reasons known beforehand.

These days it is customary for the 
couple to attend at least one service at which their banns are read, although this was once considered 
to be unlucky.

Both civil and religious marriages in Scotland and Ireland are subject to a number of particular conditions, which again the member of clergy conducting the ceremony can advise you on; in the Church of Scotland, for example, it is permissible to be married at any time of the day or night, wherever you wish (within reason).

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