(2002) ''Loved the Wedding, Invite Me to the Marriage': The
Secularisation of Weddings in Contemporary Britain'
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Received: 3/10/2002 Accepted: 26/11/2002 Published: 30/11/2002
Loved the Wedding, Invite Me to the Marriage.
the premises must have no recent or continuing connection with any religion, religious practice or religious persuasion which is incompatible with the secular nature of civil marriage. Consequently private chapels, or indeed buildings with contents or characteristics associated with a place of religious worship, such as stained glass windows depicting religious images, cannot be approved for solemnising civil marriages (ibid.).
I come across very few atheists or agnostics - people who are prepared to put their head above the parapet and say they have no belief. Most people seem to have a belief in some supernatural power [or] force that we can call God. It's extremely ill-defined, incoherent but there's some sort of power there which may be turned to either identifiable points of a person's life - as, for instance, the 'hatchings, matchings, dispatchings syndrome' - or if there's a personal crisis where never having prayed before they will pray to this being because 'little Johnny' has been hurt, but it's not a structured theology.
I think in my mind, despite not being particularly religious, I think [weddings] have got some kind of religious connotations. I think in my mind, vows taken within a church or maybe any historic building - possibly a castle or something like that - it just seems to have a history behind it. It just seems to be more meaningful
I've always had this idea of getting married in a church ever since I was little and I'd never really gone off on a tangent and thought about anything else. It's always been there and that's what I've wanted to do since I was little... I think it's because it has a sense of [being] magical
the only time I find I have a problem is when [a] young girl comes with mum and generally mum does all the talking...well, I usually get to the door, thank them for coming and I whisper very delicately to the young girl 'do you want to talk to me next week and tell me what you really want?' [laughs].
I mean there's a church around here and it's built like a pyramid, you know, a very modern thing, and I couldn't imagine getting married in something like that.
Is the church you chose an old building?
Yeah, old stone, hundreds of years old.
And would you say that was one of the main reasons you chose it?
Its look, definitely, because neither of us are religious. 
...some people in the church that I'm responsible for...think that people are using the church because I have a very beautiful church with stained glass windows, very, very beautiful and the right size for weddings - it's not too big and not too small - and some people in my congregation think they're only using the church for their own purpose...
I've been to a registry office wedding and it just doesn't feel like a wedding somehow.
In what way?
I don't know, I think it's not traditional and not as nice, not as formal.
What about approved premises?
No, I've been to one of those as well...It just doesn't feel right
I always thought that the registry office was somewhere where you got married if you'd been married before and you weren't allowed to go in a church and things like that
I think they just look like hospitals I think, the décor is awful really. It's just really cold, no atmosphere.
We're both atheists anyway so religious-wise it seemed pointless and pathetic really.
...I just felt that I'd be a hypocrite standing in church when I don't go to church or believe in anything like that even though everyone else in my family is religious. I didn't see the point.
We have people for example who say 'well, we'd like this ceremony' and it's the ceremony that comes out of the Church of England virtually except they've just crossed any reference to religion out of it, but the vows are the same...Because that's what people assume a marriage ceremony is. 'To love, honour and obey' does not form any part of the ceremony at all - it's a religious rite - but in people's minds when you're getting married properly - which is what some people believe the church is - and I've had people say that to me: 'my daughter wants to get married properly like in a church and in a church they say "love, honour and obey"...People are very much looking for that church kind of feeling. Hotels always set an aisle down the middle and two lots of chairs, they don't have to - they could have it in a circle if they wanted to - but that's what people want by and large.
If you can imagine the church wedding but without the religious element, that's what I feel I got. There was no religious icons, no talk about religion, it was something that was between myself and my husband. The guests all shared in that, but I still had the aisle, I still got to walk up the aisle with my dad and I still had bridesmaids and I still had the music playing and we had the readings and so on but the religious aspects were taken out because they didn't actually mean a great deal to us.
2 More recently, in January 2002, the Government outlined proposed changes in wedding legislation that would further increase choice in the location of the ceremony. In the white paper, it was suggested that it is the celebrant, the person conducting the ceremony, and not the venue itself that is licensed for marriage. If this becomes law, weddings could take place anywhere that the celebrant deems to be safe, appropriate and open to the public (see the <http://ww w.statistics.gov.uk/registration/whitepaper/default.asp>National Statistics homepage). Similarly, a Bill has recently been presented to the Scottish Executive to increase choice for those opting for a civil ceremony in Scotland. The current legislation, the Marriage (Scotland Act) 1977, places no restrictions on places where religious marriages may be solemnised, although civil ceremonies may only be solemnised within one of 247 registry office. The new Bill would effectively bring Scotland in line with the 1994 Marriage Act of England and Wales, by giving local councils the authority to approve specific sites as venues for civil weddings (see Scottish Parliament, 2001).
3 Interviews were conducted with fifteen couples who had either had a church wedding in the last decade or were planning to do so within the next six months. Ten couples were also interviewed who had had a civil ceremony within the same period (half registry office, half approved premises). All of the couples were marrying for the first time and had responded to several advertisements that I had placed on an email mailing list as well as word-of- mouth/personal contacts and recommendations/snowballing. Where possible the couples were interviewed together face-to-face. However, when this was not possible interviews were conducted over the telephone with just one partner - often the wife/wife to be. This was mainly because even where couples were interviewed together, the men would say very little and typically defer to their wife/wife to be on all the issues discussed. Demographically, those interviewed ranged in age between their mid 20s and mid 30s, were (in all but one case) white, English and would be classed as nominal Christians (in the sense of being having been brought up in a Christian culture, however vaguely classified). In addition, face-to-face interviews were conducted with two registrars, six managers of approved premises and four members of the clergy. I would like to thank all those who agreed to be interviewed for this research and the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on the previous draft of this paper.
4 Couples' choice of venue was also influenced to a lesser extent by other factors such as family connections to a particular church through christenings, marriages or funerals or through past involvement with events/groups connected to the church such as Sunday School or Cubs/Scouts/Brownies/Guides.
5 I am grateful to Dr. Sharon Boden of the University of Warwick for allowing me to use this example from her PhD fieldwork.
6 Having said this however, I was informed by one member of the clergy that even where couples are given a free reign in choosing the hymns for their wedding service, they tended to opt for four 'school assembly classics'; Jerusalem, All Things Bright and Beautiful, Lord of the Dance and Morning has Broken. As he described it,
...when [couples] choose their hymns and they're really excited about the hymns I think 'oh my goodness, not again!' and I sort of think 'what time-warp are these people in? Do they think that the church sings these things? This is the only thing the church sings?' and it's just a little window on a public perception of church culture that in my experience within church circles are incredibly hackneyed and if you had them in a church service people would be smiling because it would be a joke really.
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