Revd Nicky Skipworth offers her take on some of the questions she’s asked by couples wanting to marry in church
Originally published in the Tenby Observer Wedding Supplement
How long before couples plan to get married do you advise they book their ceremony?
Nowadays, it is not unusual for the date of the wedding to be booked a year, or even two years, ahead. The date would normally be secured with a deposit.
What I often find is that the time scale for booking the church ceremony is more dictated by the availability of the Reception venue. If choosing a popular venue, couples may like to approach the venue first and have a range of dates in mind before approaching the church where they wish to marry.
What sort of marriage preparation do you offer?
The Church in Wales upholds and values civil marriage ceremonies alongside those conducted in a place of worship. However, there are some things that a couple may not be offered under the civil approach, such as Marriage Preparation.
A church minister is a highly experienced and caring individual who wants to offer, on behalf of the Church, guidance and support which lasts beyond the wedding day. In short, I would want to do my best to prepare the couple for their married life.
Many couples are already sharing a home and may well have children but – legally, socially and spiritually – marriage is still distinctive and life-changing. Personally, I always offer Marriage Preparation to every couple. It is free of charge and optional; but in the midst of so much planning about their Big Day, it brings them back to the reality of what happens next.
It can be done with a number of couples together or one couple on their own. The session I would run includes a closer look at their vows, some fun games, lots of discussion and time to talk in depth about their hopes and expectations. Even couples who have lived together for years are often surprised at how useful Marriage Preparation is.
I always offer to pray with the couples I work with. It may be a very stressful time for them. Marriage Preparation also puts the focus on them very much as a couple. I would recommend all couples do some form of Marriage Preparation. It is offered by some relationship counselling organisations like Relate and there are many online resources as well.
Are there any restrictions as to days and times of the year when couples can get married?
Church in Wales and Church of England wedding services may take place anytime between 8.00am and 6.00pm on any day of the week, not just Friday and Saturday (and it is often cheaper to hire cars, suits etc. on other days of the week!). Bear in mind that most places of worship are used for worship and other events every day of the week; your minister will advise you as to what is possible.
Do couples have a choice of churches where they can get married?
Yes, thanks to a change in the law in 2008 there is even greater choice for many couples. Personally, I would always recommend the couple marries in the parish church where they actually live but appreciate that family connections and family expectations can be very strong.
Being married in your actual home parish is the simplest option and to be married in a church which is not in your home parish, you will need what is called in law a Qualifying Connection (QC); for example, one of your parents or grandparents was married or baptised there. Go online for fullest information but please use websites run by the Church in Wales, Church of England etc….there is a lot of inaccurate information out there.
To find out the churches in any particular area, enter the relevant postcodes on the Church in Wales or Church of England website. For churches in St Davids Diocese, there’s a link on the home page. Or, give someone like me a call, we would love to hear from you.
Is it possible to have a church blessing after being married abroad or by civil ceremony?
Absolutely. Before you get married, why not have a chat with your minister? The service does not have to take place in a church building. I once did a beautiful service in a stable yard with the groom turning up on a white charger to rescue his fair maiden (i.e. his new wife!).
Couples who’ve been married in years gone by can also request a service of ‘Renewal of Vows’. Like a blessing after a marriage, this can be either a no frills or a very elaborate affair. In both cases, though, the couple is asking for God’s blessing on the fact they are already – and still! – married.
A forthcoming change in the Law means that same-sex couples will be able to get married. Will it be possible for such couples to get married in church?
Yes, there are certain Christian denominations (e.g. the United Reformed Church) which are saying that ‘gay marriage’ will be something they wish to offer. For the Church in Wales at present, it is not possible. However, the Archbishop of Wales says that Church in Wales clergy should be given the option to offer this as well; for technical, legal reasons we can’t be treated the same as the Church of England and be banned outright permanently. Please watch this space to see how the issue develops in Wales.
What does the signing of the register signify and who is involved?
The Register embodies the legal aspect of marriage. It is an abiding record of that new union and, eventually, will be lodged in County archives, so people will be able to read about the couple’s big day years later.
By request, the couple will be given a copy of their entry in the Register as well and this can be used when a change of name is required – and No, the bride does not have to change her surname, nor does the groom have to keep his!
The Register is signed by the new husband and wife plus two witnesses (e.g. the Best Man and a Bridesmaid). Witnesses must be aged 18 or over and have been present for the whole ceremony. It is often signed towards the end of the ceremony. I then hand the couple over to their photographer.
How soon before the big day do couples attend for a rehearsal?
This varies between ministers, but I tend to seek to do the rehearsal in the week before the wedding. As a wife and mum myself, I am keenly aware that bride and groom will need to fit this in around work and family commitments. I ask for the Best Man, Chief Bridesmaid and whoever is giving the Bride away to come along as well. Couples
How much does it cost to get married in church?
For a wedding taking place in 2015, a couple must pay £420 for the publication of Banns and the marriage service (which includes all that fabulous support and guidance from your Vicar!)
Numerous optional fees may be added: Typically, for the Verger, the bells, an organist or a choir, if available.
The fees for the Marriage Service and the Banns are set by the Government and are obligatory. All other fees are optional so, if a couple wants to save money, they could opt to do without an organist or the choir. Any minister will be happy to give you a quote.
How many hymns are sung?
There is no minimum and no maximum. Couples often ask “What is traditional?”. Well, whatever they want is “traditional”! Currently, couples have between one and three hymns. Recorded music can also be included and is a nice way to personalise the service and it doesn’t have to be classical music.
I sometimes advise against packing too much into the service.
What are the most popular hymns?
All Things Bright and Beautiful is still very popular, mainly because it is the only hymn with which people are familiar! However, there are masses of wonderful hymns out there and some excellent online resources to help you listen and make a choice. Again, your minister – and the organist, if you are having one – is there to help.
What is the traditional music played when a bride arrives at the church?
Again, there is no such thing as “traditional”, only what feels right and relevant to the couple. There are the WOW pieces but why not consider something you both love. Personally, I welcome creative suggestions from groom and bride.
And what about when the newly-weds leave the church?
The same is true when they leave. They can dance back down the aisle if they wish!
What are the most popular readings?
Because the ceremony is taking place under the care and authority of the Christian Church, there have to be two Bible readings included; your minister can help you choose from the Bible, which is itself an account of the love which God through Jesus Christ has for the world. Again, there are some really good online resources.
Do couples often ask a family member or friend to give a reading?
This is absolutely fine and adds a personal touch to the proceedings. I always encourage this and can give help and guidance on the choice and delivery of the reading. Poems and short addresses may also be made by family and friends.
Are couples allowed to decorate the church with flowers?
Yes, and many churches/chapels will have a dedicated team of flower ladies to help them (there is usually a charge for this). Alternatively, the couple can engage their own florist and arrange access to the building through the minister. It is important to speak to the church well in advance about either option. At some times of year (e.g. Lent) there may be a limit on the extent that the building can be decorated.
Do you allow photographs to be taken during the ceremony and for it to be recorded?
Yes but it is essential for the photographer/videographer to listen to and go along with what the minister says is allowed in each location. I have had ceremonies almost ruined for the couple by people who treat it like a photo shoot for a magazine. If the service is videoed by anyone (be that professionally or on a ‘phone) a fee is payable because copyright material is being recorded. The fee is put into a fund to help us pay an annual copyright licence fee.
Are couples allowed to bring their own musicians, and if so who have you had taking part in ceremonies?
I am perfectly happy for them to do so and it adds to the personal nature of the ceremony. Again, ask your minister!
How long do ceremonies take?
Anything between 40 minutes and one hour – depending on what is included in the ceremony.
What’s the most memorable wedding you have officiated at?
In twelve years of ministry, I have officiated at weddings of every type, and each is special so it’s impossible for one to be the most memorable. I remember a bride whose parents owned a shoe shop and she turned up in sequined trainers! I remember a couple where the new husband’s surname was ‘Forward’. So, the bride was right when she said “From this day forward”! I remember many tears and lots of laughter. I particularly remember a couple, both of whom had learning difficulties, who were very much in love and relied on each other in the best ways. I pray for every couple I marry and am here for them on the little days not just the big day.
Have you ever officiated at a wedding where the best man has forgotten the wedding ring?
I have not had a best man forget the rings but it wouldn’t be the end of the world if he did. Some grooms now have two Best Men so there’s even less chance of this happening!
Have you ever had any unusual requests?
Nothing yet so unusual that I had to say “No” but I do advise on the order things come in during the service. More commonly, I am the one surprising the couple with what they can have!
Couples with children can now opt to incorporate their baptism (what some call “christening”) into the wedding service, for example. I did once refuse to do a surprise and very public Renewal of Vows; people should not be put into a potentially awkward position even if it is well meant. I have had a small number of couples ask me to lock the doors while the ceremony is going on but I have to tell them it is a public event so the doors must stay open.
Have you ever officiated at a double wedding?
Not yet, but I am open to enquiries! What I have had is a groom with two Best Men and a Bride with both her step-father and biological father walking her down the aisle and giving her away.
What’s the most popular time of the year to get married?
Locally, from what I can gather so far, anytime between April and October, but it’s a question of what works for the couple. Significant savings on suit hire, car hire, the Reception etc. can be made by having a ceremony outside the wedding “season”. Church weddings can take place in any month but couples should be aware that March, April and December may offer less flexibility on dates.
Have you ever conducted more than one wedding in a day?
Yes, but to do more than two would be irresponsible. And I would leave at least one and a half hours between each one.