The Church Weddings Handbook: The seven pastoral
moments that matter
Church House Publishing £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70 (Use code
OTHER clergy will find this book extremely useful. I started out
to read it, full of good will, eager to commend to others, in some
such terms as my opening sentence, those points at which, as a
guide to the way today's priest should prepare for and conduct
weddings, it confirmed my own practice; for do I not hear from
every side how frightfully good I am in this area?
Alas, the first couple of pages swiftly disabused me: it was
clear that the person who would most greatly benefit from it was I
myself - and, in this spirit of humility, I continued to read, and
The book derives from the Wedding Project set up by the
Archbishops' Council in 2008, to discover what opportunities for
church growth might lie in this area of pastoral ministry. The
project did its work in (for the Church) novel fashion, consulting
not theologians, the early Fathers, or even serving clergy, but
conducting professional-standard research among those who had
recently been married in church. Why had they chosen to do so? Had
they felt welcomed? Did it mean very much to them?
Then they took the fruits of this research into two pilot areas
- Bradford diocese and Buckingham archdeaconry in Oxford diocese -
to share the insights gleaned. This book, and the online resource
to which it constantly refers, www.yourchurchwedding.org, distils
what was learned.
The overwhelming message is one of affirmation: a massive vote
of confidence in the Church of England and her traditional
ministry. Couples choose to marry in church not because it looks
good on the DVD - today dozens of heritage locations vie for their
custom. They choose a church because it is more "proper". Although
few of them say so, because it's so uncool, what they really want
at this crucial moment in their lives is God.
Even if you don't want the whole package, the process set up by
the project and available for you to click into, this handbook is
full of splendid insights, all the better for being concise,
simple, and direct. Here are a few: nowadays a wedding isn't, as it
was for previous generations, the gateway into a committed
relationship: it is the crown of the couple's commitment to each
other. Never underestimate the courage that it requires most people
to summon up even to make the initial enquiry about a church
wedding: generally they assume that they won't qualify, that they
don't belong, and/or that they haven't the language or the culture
required. They feel unworthy to ask, even hypocritical for asking.
Focus not on rules, but on grace.
A course of once-a-week wedding preparation classes is largely
self-defeating: far better to have one good session, focusing on
the meaning of the vows. Although laypeople make magnificent
wedding-preparers, what the couple really want is to see "the
Vicar" - which can mean an assistant curate or SSM/NSM - the title
doesn't matter; but it should be the ordained God-person who will
officiate on the day itself. The officiating priest should never
forget that he or she is also a guest: it is not his or her
wedding. Huge pastoral dividends can be won by maintaining contact
with the couple after the wedding - especially in the first 30
I don't agree with all of it. Having only a few weddings a year,
I much prefer sitting down with the couple to discuss the choice of
readings, hymns, and music in the first place to encouraging them
to plan the whole thing themselves online, and then having to
disappoint them if some of their choices are impracticable or
I don't think that the book addresses the peculiar situation of
those (many) urban churches, in central London and elsewhere, with
fully professional choirs and musical establishments. I think that
some video photographers are more fatally invasive to the spirit of
the sacrament than the handbook allows. The cartoon is awful.
But, all in all, it is terrific, taking seriously our mission as
the Established Church (hurrah!) with the consequent legal
obligation to agree to marry most of those who seek weddings in our
churches. If we all adopted the attitudes and practices recommended
here, we might even see significant growth in church membership
among the newly married, and their families and friends.
Of course, we now eagerly await the production of a revised
edition telling us, in addition, how to achieve the best possible
pastoral growth as we explain to same-sex couples that none of this
whatsoever applies to them.
The Revd Gillean Craig is Vicar of St Mary Abbots,
Kensington, in London.