Scrap ‘unjust’ wedding fees to make marriage more affordable, urge vicars

·3 min read

Wedding fees should be scrapped to persuade couples to marry, vicars have urged the Church of England.

In papers published ahead of next month’s meeting of the General Synod, the Church’s legislative body, clergy are urging officials “to demonstrate the Church’s commitment to marriage and pastoral care” by amending legislation “so that the fees relating to marriages are set at nil or at a minimal amount”.

Currently, there is a required legal fee for marrying in a church. According to the latest costs for 2022, it costs couples £560 if they marry away from where they live and £512 to marry in their home parish. The rate is set by the Church of England nationally and is the same for every church.

It includes the cost of the vicar, the church, the service, lighting and all administration. A further £11 is charged for the marriage certificate, which is no longer issued by churches but by a register office.

However, the Blackburn Diocesan Synod has called on officials to scrap the fee altogether.

Current wedding fees 'economically unjust'

Signing off the proposal, the Rev Dr Tom Woolford said: “There is a correlation between the rising level of Church of England wedding fees and the sharp decline in recent years in numbers of church weddings.” He said the trend “appears to be especially acute in poorer areas”.

He added: “The current fees structure is economically unjust, putting church weddings beyond the reach of the poorest in our society.

“Marriage according to Scripture and our own liturgy is meant to be a gift of God’s grace, but our fees give a contrary impression.

“If we believe in marriage as we ought, we should ensure that finance is no bar to anyone who wishes to marry in Church. Expensive fees limit the missional potential of marriage ministry.”

Decline in number of Church weddings

According to the latest figures, there were 63,371 Church of England weddings in 1999, compared with 31,430 in 2019 – a fall of 50 per cent.

Researchers released data on marriages in England and Wales in 2019, analysed by age, sex, previous marital status and civil or religious ceremony. They said the reason for the decline was down to “couples choosing to live together rather than marry, either as a precursor to marriage or as an alternative”.

They found that in 2019, religious ceremonies accounted for less than one in five (18.7 per cent) of opposite-sex marriages, a decrease from 21.1 per cent in 2018 and the lowest percentage on record. For same-sex marriages, 0.7 per cent of marriages were religious ceremonies.

The Rev Dr Woolford said cost is not the only reason for the decline of church weddings. He added that many specialist venues now offer the “added convenience of an all-in-one ceremony and reception package deal on the same premises”.

The Synod papers relate to contingency business - meaning that although the issue is not currently scheduled for debate at this Synod, it could get on the schedule should a slot become free in the proceedings. If not, it could be listed at the next Synod.

However, the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Rev Paul Butler, who is also the Church of England’s lead bishop for marriage, responded by saying that “church weddings aren't only for regular churchgoers”.

He added: “We believe that marriage is a foundation for a good society - wherever a marriage takes place - and we hear time and time again from couples who marry in church of how personal, meaningful, spiritual and beautiful the ceremony can be.”