Page last updated at 11:25 GMT, Wednesday, 1 October 2008 12:25 UK

More choice for church weddings

A couple getting married
Some fear the changes will create "wedding tourism"

Couples in England now have greater choice over where to get married as new Anglican Church rules come into force.

The new law makes it easier for brides and grooms to have their wedding service in a church where they have a family or special connection.

Previously, couples could get married in a church only if they attended it regularly or lived within the parish.

The Church of England said it was now able to offer the "widest wedding welcome" in its history.

The new law means couples will find more of the CoE's 16,000 churches open to them. However, it does not apply to cathedrals.

Previously, to marry in another parish required a special licence or six months regular attendance there.

Now couples can marry anywhere they have lived for six months or where their parents or grandparents were married.

'Good news'

The new law, known as the Church of England Marriage Measure, has been a long time in the making.

The Church has been debating the issue for several years and the measure had to pass through its own legal system before progressing through both Houses of Parliament and receiving Royal Assent.

People who are serious about getting married naturally want a marriage ceremony and a setting which is equally serious - only the Church provides this
Bishop of Reading

The CofE said the changes were in response to the increasing mobility of society, with many people moving away from where they grew up.

It also said there was demand for the change, with the tight restrictions deterring some people from marrying in a church.

The Bishop of Reading, the Right Reverend Stephen Cottrell, described the law as "good news" and warned "golf clubs and country houses" that churches could soon be taking their business.

He said: “People who are serious about getting married naturally want a marriage ceremony and a setting which is equally serious. Only the Church provides this.

"Loads of people want something only the Church can offer: God's blessing on their marriage. Now it will be easier to provide it."

Welcome message

The Reverend Andrew Chalkley is the vicar of St Mary's, Orchardleigh, in Somerset, which has the honour of being the CofE's most popular church for weddings.

It has an unrivalled setting - at the edge of a lake surrounded by a moat - and with no electricity, all its services are by candlelight and the organ has to be pumped by hand.

QUALIFYING CONNECTIONS
If one of the couple was baptised or prepared for confirmation in the parish
If one of them has lived in the parish or attended public worship there for at least six months
If one of their parents has lived in the parish or attended services there for six months or more in their child's lifetime
If their parents or grandparents were married in the parish

Mr Chalkley said while it had been possible for people outside the parish to get married at St Mary's, the new legislation made it "much more simple".

"It is sending a good, clear message to the wider community that they are welcome.

"We want to encourage people to celebrate their marriage with us and play our part in supporting them not just on the day but in the years to come."

Opponents of the move fear it could spark "wedding tourism", with the prettiest churches inundated with requests.

But Mr Chalkley said, in his experience, couples who want a church wedding take their marriage seriously.

"St Mary's can only conduct a certain number of weddings every year and the couples are asked to show they have a particular link with the parish," he added.

"Also all CofE churches support each other financially, so churches that are not aesthetically pleasing share the same pot as those which are."

The Church in Wales is disestablished and will therefore not be covered by the new CofE rules.

Couples in Wales can still only marry in a church in the parish where at least one of them lives - a change to this would require an Act of Parliament to amend the Marriage Act.


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