With more UK wedding venues available than ever, saying your vows in a church is no longer the norm. But for many couples, a church wedding is still an essential and traditional part of the big day.
So with around a third of UK couples still choosing a religious ceremony, here’s our beginner’s guide to booking a wedding ceremony in church:
What are the legal requirements for a church wedding?
Couples must be 18 to marry without their parents’ consent in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, or 16 with their approval. The ceremony must take place between 8am and 6pm, witnessed by two people.
In Scotland it’s legal to marry from 16 without consent and at any time of day, although you do still require two witnesses.
Most marriages require banns to be published before the wedding, signifying your intention to marry. These need to be read out in the parish where each of you lives, as well as the church where you’ll be married for three Sundays during the three months before the wedding.
If there isn’t enough time for this, you can apply for a license costing from £200, which you may also need if one of the couple isn’t British or lives outside England. In Scotland, you need to give 15 days’ notice with the local registrar.
NB: Marriage and Civil Partnership laws are changing from March 2015 when it comes to giving notice. Find out more!
Are the rules different in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?
Yes — Scotland in particular has different laws than England and Wales, while there are stricter residency requirements in Northern Ireland. Catholic churches also differ, for example, needing a dispensation if one person is not Catholic but not requiring the banns to be read.
Can I get married in any church?
For a ceremony in England and Wales, you can marry in any church if you meet one of several conditions: that either of you has lived or attended services in the parish for at least six months, was baptized or prepared for confirmation there, that one of your parents or grandparents was married in the parish, or one of your parents has lived or attended services there for at least six months after you were born. If you’ve recently moved, you’ll be eligible to marry in your new parish too.
In Scotland, there are no residency requirements so you can marry in any church you choose. In practice, it may depend on availability and the individual minister who’s likely to want to meet couples who aren’t members of the church beforehand.
In Northern Ireland, one of the couple must be resident in the district where you plan to marry for at least 14 days before being eligible, unless you apply for a special licence
Do I have to attend church before I can get married there?
Not for a Church of England ceremony, although if your heart is set on marrying in a church where you have no connections, attending services for six months — even a single service each month — would allow this.
Do I have to be religious to have a church wedding?
Not necessarily. The Church of England says anyone is “welcome to have a Church of England wedding, regardless of your beliefs… as vicars understand that spiritual beliefs are complex and varied”.
How far in advance should I book a UK church ceremony?
Churches can become booked up several months in advance, so ask the vicar or church office as early as possible, especially for popular dates. Many churches won’t arrange weddings during Lent, although this doesn’t apply to Catholic ceremonies.
How much will a church ceremony cost?
The legal fee for marrying in 2015 costs £486 in England and around £500 in Wales, which covers expenses for calling the banns, the certificate, vicar and church. Extras such as having an organist, bells, choir or flowers — as well as heating — will incur an additional cost. In Scotland and Northern Ireland there are no fixed costs.
Can I use my own vows in church?
Not in England and Wales, where legally no part of the wedding vows can be changed. However it’s possible to include poems, readings or songs which have a special significance in the service, depending on the individual vicar. In Scotland, you can vary the traditional forms or write your own with the minister’s approval.
Can I decorate a church with my own flowers?
Yes. Most churches will be able to recommend someone, but you can also use your own florist. It’s worth discussing any plans for large displays with the vicar to check they won’t cause any problems during the ceremony.
What happens during a church wedding rehearsal?
The rehearsal is a chance for the bride and groom, as well as bridesmaids, the best man and any family and friends who are involved in the ceremony, to run through the service and make sure everyone knows what to expect.
Will my guests be allowed to throw confetti outside the church?
The rules on throwing confetti vary from church to church so it’s worth asking whether or not confetti is allowed so that you can inform your guests in advance. If confetti is not allowed then the church might allow a natural or bio-degradable substitute.
Can I have my reception in the church hall?
Yes, although it depends on the individual church and their facilities. However you can also arrange the reception at another venue if you prefer.