The wedding ceremony at which two people publicly pledge their lives to each other, marks the start of a marriage. This sacrament or covenant between the couple is made before God and in the case of a church wedding, in God's house.

If there are any points not answered by these sections, please contact Reverend Mitchell.

Legal Aspects

Because a wedding service is a legal ceremony, there are a number of requirements which must be met. The law gives the right to any person, irrespective of nationality, living within the parish to be married in the parish church, even if either or both are of another religion. The church must still be made available to them by the rector or priest, even if he/she is not conducting the service. Neither of the persons to be married, needs to be baptised.

A legal marriage in England must be solemnised by an authorised person. This means the registrar of any Registry Office, an ordained minister of the Church of England or a minister of other religious denominations who have been legally authorised to register marriages.

In the UK weddings may only take place between a couple where one partner was born male and one partner was born female. Both partners must be over the age of 16. In England or Wales, if either is under 18 a parent or legal guardian must give written permission for the marriage to go ahead. If however, someone under 18 has been married and is now divorced or widowed, this consent is not needed.

Certain members of families may not marry. These couplings are set-out in the Marriage Act of 1986. Many of these prohibited relationships will be obvious (you may not marry one of your brothers or sisters for example) and others are rare, but similarly obvious (you may not marry, for example, a former wife or husband's parent). Marriages between first cousins were previously prohibited, but they may now marry each other. Should you be in any doubt, clergy or registrars can advise on any marriages that are prohibited by law.

Weddings may take place only between the hours of 8am and 6pm, except in particular circumstances such as where one or both of the partners are house bound.

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Second Marriages

No one who is already married to a living spouse may marry someone else. If a person does go through a second marriage ceremony in such circumstances, the second marriage is invalid and the person is committing the crime of bigamy. Widows or widowers may, of course, re-marry, either in a civil or in a religious ceremony.

There is no limit on the number of times a person may marry, but they must be legally free to do so, i.e. their previous marriage must have been dissolved and a decree absolute granted. Some clergy are willing to re-marry divorcees in Church under certain circumstances.

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Reading of Banns

This involves notice of the forthcoming wedding being read out in both the bride and the groom's parish churches on three consecutive Sundays in the period three months before the wedding. When you visit the priest of the parish in which you live she will arrange for the banns to be "called" (to use its technical term). If you both live in the same parish that is all that you need to do but if one of you lives in another parish, banns will have to be called there too. Visit the priest here also to arrange for this to be done. When this has been completed the vicar will give you a banns certificate, to give the priest who will be marrying you.

When you make arrangements for the banns to be called in both the bride and the groom's parishes you will need the same information. This is your full names, dates of birth, addresses from which you will be getting married, your occupations and your fathers' names. If you hope to get married in a church with a special attachment to you or your family (for instance, where you grew-up or where your parents now live), you will need to use an address within that parish from which to get married.

As well as this residential way of the banns being called, you may also have your banns called in a parish church where you regularly worship, but in whose parish you do not live. Either way it is customary for couples to attend the calling of their banns. This will take place during the main act of worship on Sundays. Attendance will help you feel more comfortable with the church surroundings which will have obvious benefits in terms of your nervousness on the big day.

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Wedding Planner Checklist

Organising a wedding can be a fraught and stressful business. Alternatively, it can be an enjoyable and confident time. In order that the latter is the case for you, you'll fine below a countdown checklist of what needs to be done in the months before your wedding. It may not cover every eventuality but it certainly covers most that need to be planned, the timing of course may not be appropriate for every couple. It should also be noted that some venues for receptions may need to be booked up to two years in advance. Given this time span, some thought to insurance would be prudent.

12-6 months

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Six Months

Four months

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Three Months

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One Month

One Week

Ensure that you have adequate amounts of cash to pay people who may need payment at the wedding (if requested, this might include fees for the priest, as well as payment for cars, florist or photographers)

"Marriages" was written by the Revd Giles Legood, co-author of 'The Church Wedding Handbook' (SPCK 2000). To order a copy, visit the Church of England Bookshop