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Last Updated: Friday, 9 July, 2004, 15:04 GMT 16:04 UK
Church debates relaxing wedding rules
Wedding ring
Fewer couples are getting married in Anglican churches
Couples could get married in the church of their choice under new plans being considered by the Church of England.

The General Synod meeting in York is debating relaxing rules that say the bride or groom must live or worship in a parish in order to use its church.

BBC religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott said some clerics feel this is vital to reverse a decline in weddings in Anglican churches.

The Synod is also debating setting up courts to enforce traditional doctrine.

Licence required

Weddings in Anglican churches have halved in the last 20 years.

Couples who wish to marry in a parish where neither one lives or worships, must currently seek a special licence.

The Synod - the Church of England's governing body - has already given its backing to the "demonstrable connection" option.

People have become more mobile and we want to reflect that
The Very Reverend George Nairn-Briggs, Dean of Wakefield
This would allow people to get married in parishes where they were born, brought up or have some other connection with.

But it is due to vote at its York meeting, which runs to 13 July, on whether couples should be able to marry anywhere they choose.

The Dean of Wakefield, the Very Reverend George Nairn-Briggs, who is a member of the Church's marriage law working group, said the Church wanted to become more user-friendly.

"Couples these days say they do not necessarily want to get married in the area in which they live.

"People have become more mobile and we want to reflect that.

"Since the civil law changed and people have been able to get married in other places the numbers marrying in churches have dropped."

However, there is concern within the Church that churches in more picturesque areas would be inundated with bookings while others would attract little interest.

Whatever changes are agreed by the Synod are not likely to be introduced until 2007, after a government review of civil registration ceremonies.

Controversy

On the issue of special courts, the BBC's Robert Pigott said some bishops were concerned that clergy can stray too far from Church orthodoxy in the way they conduct services and express Anglican beliefs.

Special heresy courts could suspend or even unfrock clergy.

The vicar must have known I didn't live there because I was always in Basingstoke when he called

However, liberal Anglicans are concerned the courts could be used to enforce a traditionalist view, targeting priests who support, for example, same-sex marriage or gay priests.

Last year's York Synod was dominated by the "shortlived appointment" of gay cleric Jeffrey John as Bishop of Reading, the BBC's Robert Pigott said.

"His installation as the Dean of St Albans last week could mean the issue of homosexuality casts a shadow over this year's meeting too.

"Synod members plan to use the meeting to challenge what they claim is the lack of transparency in the way such senior clergy are appointed."




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Robert Pigott
"Traditionalists ... could also find themselves under investigation"



SEE ALSO:
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Church promotes cheaper weddings
12 Feb 03  |  England


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