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Church of England Weddings

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Author: MNavis Elliot

It is not necessary for you to be regularly attending church, or even to have been baptised, to get married in the Church of England.

Firstly, contact the priest of your parish church. He or she will then arrange to read your banns and he/she will advise if the banns need to be read anywhere else. If neither of you live in the parish where you want to marry then either you will need to worship regularly in the church for at least six months (by doing so you can be put on the church's electoral roll) or research the possibility of getting an Archbishop's licence.

In rare circumstances may need to contact the Superintendent Registrar, but this is not normally the case.

Usually the entire process of arranging the details to the marriage are handled by the church. Because the Church of England is the established church, these ministers are, in effect, automatically appointed Registrars.

Essentially you must undertake one of the 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 .

  • The best person to guide you as to the most suitable method is your minister. The publication of banns is the traditional and preferred method for most couples but take advice on your particular circumstances,.

    The publication of the banns

    You will both be expected to meet the parish minister several times before the publication of the banns. This is to ensure that the full implications of the commitment you are about to take is fully understood by you both.

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

    An application for the publication of the banns should be made to the church of the parish in which each one of you lives, 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 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.

    Marriage by common license

    The church authorities advise that a marriage in a Church of England church between two foreigners or between a foreigner and a British subject should be by Common Licence.

    The Common Licence is also recommended for people who are only living temporarily in the parish in which they wish the marriage to take place.

    A Common Licence should also be applied for by British couples who are no longer resident in England or Wales, and is required if one party - although normally living in England - does not have British Nationality. This is also the case when one party, of British nationality, is not normally resident in England.

    The legal residency requirement is that at least one of the couple must be resident at a bona fide address within the parish where the marriage is to take place for a minimum of fifteen consecutive days, immediately prior to the issuing of the licence, which is then valid for three months. The licence is issued on the authority of the Diocesan Bishop, and application is usually made to the Bishop's Surrogate for Marriage Licenses for that area (the minister at the church may be the Surrogate but, if not, he would know who should be contacted).

    Although it is not thought that moving to an address in a parish for the required number of days - i.e. to a hotel - for the sole reason of qualifying to marry there should be grounds for a refusal to issue a Common Licence, it should be remembered that the decision to issue one is discretionary.

    It should also be remembered that, legally, it is not considered enough to leave a suitcase at an address in the parish or to assume residency by some other fictitious means, and that to give false information when applying for a licence is a criminal offence. If the licence is granted, the vicar should not refuse to solemnise the marriage.

    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.

    It is intended for cases where a couple wish 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 necessary for a Common Licence. Although there is no minimum residence requirement, it is usually only granted in exceptional (special or emergency) 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 licence application. Once granted, the licence is valid for three months.

    Getting married in a parish other than your own

    You are entitled to get married in a parish other than your local parish church, if it is the church you and your fiancÚ usually attend, and you are listed on the church's electoral roll.

    You can do this if you plan ahead and you have an open minded minister. To become enlisted on the electoral roll of a church in another parish, at least one of you must regularly attend that church for worship for a minimum period of six months. It is also a requirement for enrolment that the person is a baptised member of the Church of England.

    PLEASE NOTE: The church electoral roll is NOT the same as the local register of electors.

    If you wish to be married in a church which is not your own, then contact the minister of that church well in advance of the date on which you wish to be married and he will be able to advise you.

    Which type of service would you like?

    Once you have booked your church wedding, your minister will probably ask you to both attend a meeting to discuss your forthcoming marriage.

    At this meeting, you will discuss 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 and possibly the mother and father of the bride and groom will attend the rehearsal. The minister will 'walk' you through the service and everyone will have the chance to practise where they will stand before and during the service. The general sequence of events and timing of the service will be finalised.

    The rehearsal also provides an opportunity for a meeting by any members of the wedding party who have yet to meet. Its a nice idea to thank your party for assisting by taking this opportunity to dine the wedding party as a token of your appreciation and again it helps to break the ice between the different families. Take this opportunity to give gifts to your attendants now.

    The big day arrives

    First to arrive at the church will be the ushers and they should be in position about 45 minutes before the ceremony. They should have been informed in advance of the guests seating arrangement and guide the guests as they arrive. The groom and best man should arrive next, about 30 minutes beforehand. Guests will generally arrive fifteen to twenty minutes before the ceremony and the organist will then be playing any prelude music you have requested as the arrive and being seated. Next to arrive will be the bridesmaids and the mother of the bride. The last to be seated is the mother of the bride and this can be used to signal the bride has arrived and the ceremony is about to get under way. The bride composes herself, takes a deep breath, smiles very nervously at her father or escort and enters the church - the processional music starts and the ceremony now officially begins!

    The bride enters the church on the right arm of her father or escort. By tradition, she has her face covered with a veil. The bridal procession consists of the chief bridesmaid, bridesmaids and pageboys (if required). Once the bride has started down the aisle, the congregation will stand . The vicar will be waiting at the alter rail or on the steps leading to the chancel. Once the bride reaches the chancel steps, the groom will move to stand on her right and the best man will move to the grooms right and keeping slightly behind him.

    The groom traditionally pays for all the church expenses and attendant costs and he can either settle the account before the wedding day or leave it to the best man to settle on the day. Generally it will include payments for the church, services of the priest and the organist, choir and bell ringers. Be aware it is quite normal for the organist and choir to double the charge if you decide to video the service! There is no charge for any visiting vicar, so it is nice to offer him a lasting present. It is also polite to invite the officiate to your reception however they are generally too busy with other duties to accept.

    The ceremony

    Once everyone is in their place a hymn will be sung. The vicar then states the reason why everyone has gathered 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. He 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. Readings from the bible may be recited or words you have chosen that have a special meaning to you both. If you have chosen a communion service then it will be at this point that the couple will receive Holy Communion.

    The bride and groom, followed by the best man, chief bridesmaid, their parents, bridesmaids, pages and any other witnesses follow in procession behind the vicar to sign the register in the vestry. It is usually permitted to photograph the signing of the register even if it isn't allowed throughout the rest of the ceremony. The priest then hands the marriage certificate to the groom.

    The organist will receive a prearranged signal and begin the recessional march - usually a triumphant piece of music. With the bride on the left arm of her new husband she proceeds slowly down the aisle. The attendants fall in behind and follow in orderly pairs. These are then followed by the best man and chief bridesmaid, the bride's mother, escorted by the groom's father, and then the groom's mother escorted by the bride's father. They all proceed to the church door, where the photographer is usually waiting.

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