Today I’m giving some advice on the legal process and procedures for religious wedding ceremonies. You might like to view my recent posts on the different types of wedding ceremony available, and legal process before having a civil wedding ceremony, but if you are seeking a religious wedding ceremony then this is the post for you.
I can’t cover every religion and place of worship, but I’ll attempt to provide some outline guidance with the main focus on the established religion in England, the Anglican Church of England. Essentially it is the Anglican Church and its representative which, as the established religion headed by the Queen, have the right and authority to marry couples.
Legal Requirements for a Church Wedding
As with a civil ceremony, you may marry in a church in the UK if you’re 16+ (although you need permission from your parent/guardian if under 18), not already married, and not closely related. Same-sex couples cannot marry in a church.
The first contact is best made with the church that you’d like to marry in. For some couples this is obvious and is the local church of, for example, the bride. For others this is harder to identify.
You are legally entitled to marry in your local parish church provided you fit their requirements. The main requirements for a church wedding vary slightly and are at the discretion of the minister. Although things like divorce need to be looked at, permission is rarely denied if you live in the local parish.
For couples who do not live in the parish they wish to marry then it is still often possible, but again at the discretion of the minister. Often a commitment to become members of the church or regular attendance at Sunday services is required, understandably, as most churches want to be sure they are marrying couples who really want to be there and give back to the church community. Sometimes a course of pre-marriage preparation or counselling is required.
Reading of Banns
The legal paperwork is conducted by the reading of ‘Banns’, read out-loud at three consecutive Sunday services ahead of the wedding. This is usually in the month running up to the wedding, and it’s best to attend at least one of those services. Essentially your names are read out as having the intention to marry, giving anyone attending the Sunday service an opportunity to object (fortunately this doesn’t often happen).
Banns need to be read in the parish church where each of you is living and also in the church you wish to marry in, so potentially this could be in three churches. You need to contact each church yourself and give details of your ceremony date/time etc, and each will advise on their procedure.
Once the Banns have been read successfully then the church representative who issues the marriage certificates should then have all the information needed to complete the paperwork on the day itself and issue the marriage certificate. This is usually a separate person to the vicar conducting the service.
Planning the Marriage Service
The planning of the marriage service itself is usually conducted via a private session with the vicar. They will take some time to get to know you in order to write and prepare an appropriate sermon. They can also go through your vows and the ceremony content, sometimes referring you to the church’s musical director for planning hymn and music choices.
Typically there is a rehearsal arranged for a church wedding one or two days before the wedding. All the key bridal party run through actions, seating, declarations etc, and this is often very reassuring and useful.
Other Religions and Places of Worship
The Anglican Church of England is the only church who conducts the paperwork via ‘Banns’. Others, such as the Catholic church, tend to conduct paperwork via the civil route of posting notices, even though the ceremony takes place in church.
The Jewish faith is entirely different in that the Rabbi is licensed and not the building. Legal ceremonies can therefore take place in any location, even outside, which cannot happen in any other faiths. It’s best to confirm with your relevant place of worship as they can advise the best route for your circumstances.
I hope this post is useful in covering some of the basic requirements for a religious wedding ceremony, which are very important to get right from the outset. You may also like to take a look at www.churchofengland.org/life-events/weddings for further information on marrying in Church .
Guest post by Kelly Chandler of The Bespoke Wedding Company
Image from James Melia