Church of England

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Church of England

Legal Requirements
You do not have to be a regular churchgoer to get married in the Church of England, neither must you have been baptised. The Church welcomes 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 and with God’s blessing.

There are four 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

Your 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. Publication of the banns of marriage means the public announcement by a minister or priest during Divine service that two people wish to marry, and an invitation to anybody who knows just cause or impediment to the union to declare it. Banns are usually read out in the parish church (or churches) on three consecutive Sundays during the three months prior to the marriage.

Marriage of Divorcees – with former partner still alive
Although a minister of the Church of England does have a legal right under civil law to take a marriage service (regardless of whether or not either of the couple is a divorcee) each case will be taken on its merits after discussing the circumstances that led to the separation and divorce. In many cases, parish priests are obliged to conform to their bishop’s policy of not allowing divorcees (with their former partner is still alive) to remarry in church. If your priest does not allow your marriage to go ahead, there is no process of appeal.

For further information about the legal requirements for marriages in the Church of England, please read our article Marriages in England and Wales.

Preparing for a Church of England Wedding

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 counseling in the years that follow. Your minister will probably ask that you both attend a meeting to discuss their forthcoming marriage, and to come to an understanding about the way a Christian marriage works. At this meeting you will discuss the type of ceremony and the hymns, readings, poems and music you would like. Some churches offer a list of suitable hymns and organ music from which a selection can be made, other churches require the couple to discuss the choice of music with the organist or choirmaster.

At this meeting you will discuss which of the three available ceremonies you will 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)

At end of 2000, the Church of England introduced a new set of services. Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England has replaced The Alternative Service Book 1980, which came to the end of its period of authorisation at the end of December 2000. Common Worship sits alongside The Book of Common Prayer, which is authorized permanently and is completely untouched by the revision process The Book of Common Prayer, which contains the 1662 marriage ceremony, is completely unaffected and couples can still opt for this version if they wish.

The issue of whether the bride promises to obey is a thorny one. Recently Sophie Rhys-Jones promised to obey her husband Prince Edward, but David Beckham did not receive the same promise from Posh Spice Victoria Adams. For more information about the meaning of ‘obey’ in the Church of England’s ceremony, please read our article To Obey or Not To Obey.

The traditional ceremony of the bride being ‘given away’ to her new husband is now optional in the Common Worship Marriage Service.

If you wish, this can be included Immediately before you exchange vows, the minister may ask:

“Who brings this woman to be married to this man?”

The bride’s father (or mother, or another member of her family or a friend representing the family) gives the bride’s right hand to the minister who puts it in the bridegroom’s right hand.

Alternatively, after the bride and bridegroom have made their declarations, the minister may ask the parents of bride and bridegroom in these or similar words:

“John and Sarah have declared their intention towards each other. As their parents, will you now entrust your son and daughter to one another as they come to be married?”

Both sets of parents respond:

“We will.”

Your priest will also discuss other matters with you such as whether you would like Communion to be included in the service, your choir, bell-ringing and floral requirements, and of course, finalise the date of the wedding with you. Your priest will also explain the reading of the banns and what fees need to be paid.

The Wedding Rehearsal

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.

What Happens on the Day

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.

Alternatively, The bride may enter the church escorted by a representative of the family, or the bride and groom may enter church together.

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.

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