Getting Married in Church FAQs

Arrange to meet the minister in charge of the Church where you wish to marry and he or she will guide you through the legal requirements and procedure. The minister will usually be the vicar, rector or priest in charge.

The Marriage Act sets out the law of marriage. The Act provides separately for the Church of England (being the national or established church) and the State (through Register Offices) to marry couples. By law a marriage can only be conducted after an appropriate preliminary for marriage which authorises the particular proposed marriage to take place

There are three different preliminaries to a marriage to be solemnised in the Church of England: a certificate of the publication of banns of marriage, a common licence from the diocesan bishop and a special licence from the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The minister will guide enquirers and advise which is the appropriate preliminary for marriage for a couple wishing to marry in church. The minister will be able to deal with banns of marriage. If a common licence is required, application to one of the surrogates for marriage in the Diocese or the Diocesan Registrar is required. Names and addresses of the surrogates for marriage are available from the minister. If a special licence is required then application to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Registrar of Faculties is required; this should be made initially by telephone to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Faculty Office, 1 The Sanctuary, Westminster, London, SW1P 3JT (0207 222 5381) between the hours of 10am and 4pm.

In many instances it will be possible for a person who is divorced to marry in a Church of England church. The minister will give further advice, and if marriage in church is possible, will discuss which is the appropriate preliminary for marriage in the particular circumstances of the couple.

From 2nd March 2015, foreign nationals who are not nationals of an EEA country or Switzerland will no longer be able to marry by banns or common licence. They will be required to apply to the Superintendent Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages for a Superintendent Registrar’s Certificate. Guidance about the new arrangements can be found here. The Superintendent Registrar’s Certificate will replace the procedure for common licence set aside where one or both of the couple is neither a British nor an EEA national or national of Switzerland.

Procedure for Publishing Banns of Marriage

Two changes in the law came into force on 19 December 2012 are:-

  • There is statutory authority for the use of the form of words for the publication of banns contained in Common Worship: Pastoral Services (as an optional alternative to the form of words contained in the Book of Common Prayer)
  • banns must be published on three Sundays at the ‘principal service’ (rather than as previously at ‘morning service’) and, as an option, they may additionally be published at any other service on those three Sundays.

Provided that the banns are published at the “principal service”, they may (as an option) additionally be published at another service on the same Sunday.  So, for example, if the “principal service” is at 10.30 on Sunday morning the banns must be published at that service; but the couple might only attend an evening service, in which case the banns could additionally be published at the evening service.

If banns are published at both the “principal service” and at another service on the same Sunday, both of those publications are the same “time of asking”. So, for example, if, on the Sunday when the banns are first published, they are published at two different services, the person publishing the banns must say at both of those services, “this is the first time of asking”.

As in the past, banns must always be published on three Sundays prior to the solemnisation of the marriage.

Two other points concerning the publication of banns are:-

  • There is no requirement that banns are to be published on three successive Sundays. The marriage must be solemnised within 3 calendar months of the last publication.
  • If a cleric is officiating at the service (s)he must publish the banns. (In a vacant parish, the churchwarden should not publish the banns as part of the introductory notices if an officiating cleric is present.)

Hours for the solemnisation of marriages in the Church of England

The legal position in relation to marriages according to the Rites of the Church of England continues to be that a marriage may only be solemnised between 8.00am and 6.00pm (despite a relaxation in the Marriage Act 1949 made in 2012 concerning the permitted hours).

Marriage Measure 2008

  • The Marriage Measures 2008 extends the existing rights of parishioners and those on the electoral roll to be married after the publication of banns in the parish church of the parish where they are resident or on the electoral roll. The change in the law enables a person to marry in a church with which he/she has a Qualifying Connection after the publication of banns or the grant of a common licence.
  • Clergy should note that the Marriage Measure places a legal duty on the Minister “to have a regard to the Guidance” issued by the House of Bishops in deciding whether a Qualifying Connection has been established. Note that the House of Bishops’ Guidance has not been updated to reflect the requirements that took effect in March 2015 in relation to the marriage of foreign nationals, but remains current in all other respects.

Common Licences for Marriage

Typical occasions when a common licence will be the marriage preliminary:

  • Banns cannot be called where both or one of the persons wishing to marry lives e.g. one person lives in Scotland or both British or EEA nationals live in New Zealand.
  • Banns have not been called as they should have been e.g. Sunday missed – “bungled arrangements”.
  • Urgency: couple have decided that they want to get married in church e.g. one person being posted overseas in HM Forces. If in imminent danger of death and in hospital, hospice or at home – the preliminary must be the Archbishop of Canterbury’s special licence.
  • Couple want no publicity eg widow and widower.

Applications for common licences are made to one of the Surrogates for Marriages, who are appointed by the Chancellor and Vicar-General of the Diocese or to the Diocesan RegistrarContact the Diocesan Registrar of the diocese where you wish to marry

Marriage by Common Licence of Divorced Persons – Questions reproduced from the House of Bishops Advice to Clergy leaflet

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is a licence required for (a) the sale of alcohol in a church hall or (b) the provision of entertainment in a church hall?

The Licensing Act 2003 introduced an entirely new regime for liquor and public entertainment licensing. “Licensable activities” relevant to lettings and events in Churches and Church Halls are the sale of alcohol and the provision of “regulated entertainment”.

(a) If an event within a Church Hall includes the sale of alcohol, a Temporary Event Notice will be required or, if more than 12 such events will be held in any year, a Premises Licence will be required.

(b) If an event within a Church Hall includes entertainment that is not part of a religious meeting or service, a Temporary Event Notice will be required or, if more than 12 such events will be held in any year, a Premises Licence will be required.

Applications for Temporary Event Notices and Premises Licences are made to the local authority. Further advice is available from the liquor licensing section of the local authority.

Can clergy (a) serve as Justices of the Peace (b) be called for jury service or (c) serve as a Member of Parliament?

(a) There is no legal prohibition of a Church of England clerk in holy orders accepting an invitation to be a Justice of the Peace. There is, however, a potential difficulty should a clerk in holy orders serving as a JP have to deal with the situation where a member of their congregation appears before them. Consequently, although a clerk in holy orders may undertake this role, the possible ramifications of this should be carefully considered.

(b) The Criminal Justice Act 2003 removed clergy from the list of persons disqualified from serving as a member of a jury and accordingly clergy can now be called to serve as a member of a jury. Clergy jury service is on the same basis as any other person and hence clergy can only seek excusal or deferral if they have good reason, for example, where the demands placed upon their time by jury service would prevent the proper exercise of their pastoral duties.

(c) The House of Commons (Removal of Clergy Disqualification) Act 2001 removed any disqualification from membership of the House of Commons that arose previously by reason of a person having been ordained to the office of priest or deacon. (The House of Commons (Clergy Disqualification) Act 1801 had previously disqualified clergy from such membership). However, Lords Spiritual continue to be disqualified from such membership.

Can a co-opted member of the PCC vote?

A co-opted member of the PCC has the same voting rights as any other member.

Can a retired priest be on (a) the electoral roll and (b) PCC, and can he vote?

(a) Under the provisions of the Church Representation Rules, only lay persons are entitled to be entered onto the electoral roll. A priest ceases to be a lay person on being ordained into holy orders; a deacon, priest and bishop are clerks in holy orders. A clerk in holy orders is not eligible for entry on the electoral roll.

(b) A retired priest can be a co-opted member of the PCC. A co-opted member has the same voting rights as any other member.

What does ‘habitually attended public worship’ mean? Where a non-resident applies to go on the electoral roll by virtue of the fact that they have attended public worship for a period of six months?

Habitual attendance is not defined in the Church Representation Rules. Legal opinion says habitual means a regular pattern of attendance; and the commonly held view is that attendance once a month (and of course more frequently) fulfils the requirement. Attendance must be at public worship – but this is not restricted to Sunday services. Regular attendance at a mid-week service is perfectly acceptable, or a combination of both.

In a Parish where there will not be two churchwardens and no volunteer to stand as treasurer or secretary what provision is there to go outside the parish to draft in help that will be legally acceptable?

Where a person other than a member of the council is appointed to act as treasurer or secretary, that person may be paid such remuneration (if any) as the council deems appropriate provided that such person shall not be eligible to be a member of the council. See Appendix II of the Church Representation Rules, paragraph 1(d) and (e). Clergy in each parish is recommended to have a copy of these Rules.

By whom and when are churchwardens chosen?

Churchwardens of a parish are chosen annually not later than 30 April in each year, by election by a meeting of the parishioners. A meeting of the parishioners for this purpose is a joint meeting of:

(a) persons whose names are entered in the church electoral roll of the parish; and

(b) persons resident in the parish whose names are entered on a register of local government electors by reason of such residence.

The rules relating to churchwardens are in the Churchwardens Measure 2001 (they are also published at the end of the Church Representation Rules as Supplementary Material).

How many godparents or sponsors does a person to be baptised require?

The role of godparents is to speak on behalf of the infant being baptised during the baptism service itself and to support the parents in bringing the child up as a Christian within the family of the Church.

Godparents need be able to make the declarations and promises in the baptism service, which is why the Church of England requires all godparents to be baptised themselves and normally to be confirmed as well. It is not possible for a member of another faith to be a godparent.

Those who are baptised as infants normally have to have at least three godparents. At least two of them have to be of the same sex as the infant and one has to be of the opposite sex. If it proves impossible for there to be three godparents it is possible for a baptism to take place with onegodfather and one godmother. Parents can be godparents to their own children providing there is at least one other godparent as well.

Those who are older when they are baptised have sponsors rather than godparents. The role of the sponsor is not to speak for the person being baptised, but to formally present them for baptism and to help them in their growth as Christians after they have been baptised. There need to be at least two and preferably three sponsors and they are chosen by the candidates for baptism themselves. Like godparents they need to be baptised and normally also confirmed.

Further guidance on baptism can be found in Canons B21 – B25.

What is the minimum age of a witness at a wedding?

There is no minimum age of a witness at a wedding. However, although no minimum age is stipulated, it is imperative that the person chosen to fulfil the role of the witness is of sufficient maturity to fully appreciate and understand the nature of the ceremony of marriage.

If a person has a stroke and is left with severely impaired speech and they may not be able to make vows verbally, is it legally acceptable for them to signal their agreement by nodding at the appropriate moments?

Yes, it is sufficient for one of the persons who is to marry to sign their answers by a nod or shake of the head to indicate yes or no. Similarly, when one of the persons marrying does not speak English the important point is that the whole service must be in accordance with one of the authorised marriage services and the officiating cleric is obliged to endeavour to ensure that the persons to be married understands the service. During the marriage preparation the officiating cleric will generally need to spend more time introducing the service and paying particular attention to the essential parts which include the charge, promises and vows.

Where a marriage is to take place by special licence in a church which has no registers, where should the marriage be registered?

The books of the parish church (or the nearest parish church) are to be made available by prior arrangement with the minister of that church; but there is no obligation for the incumbent to make the books available when required and no obligation for the officiating minister to use those books. Any register books which can be obtained may be used.

Can banns of marriage be read at a Methodist service in church?

No, banns of marriage are required to be read at the principal Church of England service.

Is a Sunday wedding permitted?

There is no legal objection to marriage in church on Sunday between the usual hours of 8am to 6pm. The incumbent and the officiating priest must both consent, and it is appropriate for consent to be refused if holding a wedding on Sunday would interfere with the pattern of services arranged for the Sunday, or impose an unreasonable burden on the officiating priest in conducting Sunday services in other churches in the benefice.

Payments to Parochial Chruch Council (PCC) Members.

Why should I read this?

Specific legal rules apply to payments to PCC Members or persons connected to them for services or for employment.  If the rules are not followed then the PCC and each of its members risk breaching Ecclesiastical and Charity law and the recipient may need to return the payment in question to the PCC.  Please click here to read more.

Can a PCC charge extra fees for additional expenses for weddings and funerals?

The fees are fees prescribed by the Parochial Fees Order. These fees are made by General Synod and approved in Parliament. A PCC has never had a power to set “fees” of its own. All parishioners (irrespective of whether they attend the church or not) have certain common law rights ie a right to be married in the parish church and to be buried in the churchyard. It is not legally open to a PCC or an incumbent to require or impose an additional fee for occasional offices over and above those prescribed by the Order.

Sums payable to organist, choirs, bell ringers, flower arrangers, etc is different. If such sums are charged in respect of genuinely optional items which the parties to the marriage, or the parties to a funeral or burial, have specifically requested and agreed to pay for then there is nothing to prevent these additional charges being made.

What it is not open to an incumbent or a PCC to do is to purport to make charges over and above the statutory fee for items that are simply essential to the exercise of the common right in question. It would not therefore be lawful for a PCC to impose a charge, for example, for opening the church for a wedding or for “use” of the church building or in respect of wear and tear of its fabric. The Order does of course include a fee for the PCC.

The cost of heating and lighting a church for a wedding or funeral is not straight forward. In theory it might be possible for a wedding or funeral to take place without any heating or lighting of the church. It might therefore be arguable that heating and lighting a church is not essential and will be provided only if specifically requested by the parties who had agreed to cover the cost of such a provision. However clergy and PCC’s generally take the view that this is an unreasonable proposition to put to people having a wedding or funeral in church and is likely to cause more pastoral upset and damage than a marginal additional amount of income to the PCC.

Does our vicar have to robe during services?

The Canons of the Church of England been relaxed so that clergy are not required to robe in all circumstances. We have prepared a guidance note on this subject.

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