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

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 are 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.

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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