Keen to combat the overall decline both in church weddings and its own social and cultural influence as an institution, the Church of England is re-emphasising its more relaxed wedding guidelines.
The Church, established by law and therefore central to legal management of marriage in England, has this past week published its rules and information online.
This is the first summer season since the Church of England initiated a change in the law to make it easier for couples to marry in church. They have more churches available to them - not just their local parish church - since the Church's General Synod decided that the existing law was too restrictive in a mobile society and changed it in October 2008.
The Church of England claims that many local churches are already reporting a corresponding rise in weddings.
Now the Church is turning its attention to extending an extra welcome to couples with children, following the Archbishops’ Council’s Weddings Project research in Bradford and Buckinghamshire, which found that one in five couples who come to church for a wedding already have children, together or from a previous relationship.
This is backed up by the latest research published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), showing for the first time that for many couples, having children is the first major milestone of adult life, ahead of marriage, in contrast to their parents’ generation. Statistics also show an increasing number of couples now live together before their wedding day.
As a response to this, the Church of England has produced two new service guidelines which merge the marriage service with a thanksgiving for the gift of a child or with baptism. The Church hopes these new ideas will help churches show their welcome for couples with children, giving the whole family a special occasion and a new beginning.
Marriage and Thanksgiving for the Gift of a Child is "ideal for a couple wishing to celebrate their wedding and thank God for the birth of their child on the same occasion", the Church says.
Marriage and Holy Baptism offers guidance where couples wish to have their child christened - welcomed into the wider church family - on their wedding day.
Welcoming the new guidelines, the Bishop of Wakefield, Stephen Platten, Chair of the Liturgical Commission, declared: "Baptism normally is celebrated in a Sunday act of worship - but patterns of relationship and marriage within society are presenting new opportunities for the Church. We are therefore offering guidance on how Thanksgiving for the Gift of a Child, or indeed Baptism, might be incorporated within a Marriage service so that the church can respond pastorally to our changing world if a priest feels it would be advisable to offer this option."
The Rev Tim Sledge, vicar of Romsey in the Diocese of Winchester, has been asked to ‘merge’ wedding and baptism services several times. He said: “It has been lovely to give couples this flexibility to enjoy an extra special celebration for the whole family. Now the guidelines are available online, the Church can ‘say yes’ and offer an even warmer wedding welcome to couples with children.”
The Church has published guidelines online here (*.PDF Adobe Acrobat file): http://www.cofe.anglican.org/info/socialpublic/marriagefamily/marriagean...
See Ekklesia's policy paper calling for a radical re-visioning of marriage, a distinction between the roles of church and state, consistency between theological and pastoral practice in the area and the extension of civil partnerships: 'What future for marriage?' - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/research/papers/abolishmarriage