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No longer asunder: first couples wed after lockdown

06 July 2020

Facebook/Heidi Crowter, Living the Dream

James and Heidi Carter after their wedding, on Saturday

James and Heidi Carter after their wedding, on Saturday

AN ADVOCATE for those with Down’s Syndrome, Heidi Crowter, was among the hundreds of people married in church on Saturday when the Government restrictions were lifted in England to allow wedding ceremonies once again.

Since the lockdown was first imposed in March owing to the coronavirus, an estimated 73,400 marriages have been postponed in the country, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported at the weekend. Although some weddings took place with only the couple, the priest, and two witnesses present before the closure of churches on 23 March, few weddings have been able to take place since.

Last week, however, as part of a wider easing of the lockdown, the Prime Minister announced that churches could reopen for public worship from 4 July, provided that physical distancing was observed (News, 26 June). Guidelines released later stated that 30 people would be permitted to attend weddings, funerals, and other “life-cycle” services, such as baptisms, regardless of the size of the building, unless the service took place during routine communal worship (News, 3 July). The total includes the couple, witnesses, and officiant, as well as guests.

Although wedding receptions are still not permitted, many couples took advantage of the changes to marry this weekend.

Ms Crowter, who in February launched a legal challenge against allowing abortion up to birth for foetuses with Down’s Syndrome (News, 28 February), married her fiancé, James Carter, at Hillfields Baptist Church, Coventry, on Saturday. The couple had not seen each other for months owing to the social restrictions. The 35-minute service was livestreamed on the church Facebook page.

Pastor Paul Watts, who married the couple, said in his sermon: “I remember holding you [Heidi] in my arms when you were just a few hours old, 25 years ago yesterday. And in that moment, I knew that you were precious. . . I think you two have probably given more thought to the sanctity, the preciousness of life, than most other people have. You both feel passionately about it. . . We are just so glad that you are here.”

C of E guidance instructs incumbents to carry out a risk-assessment of their churches before reopening.

The Revd Lesley NorburnThe Revd Tony Redman walks his daughter Hannah down the aisle of St Peter’s, Great Livermere, on SaturdayAn Associate Priest in the Blackbourne Team Ministry, the Revd Tony Redman, conducted the marriage of his daughter Hannah Redman to Mark Purser, in St Peter’s, Great Livermere, in Suffolk, on Saturday. A team of volunteers decorated and sanitised the church, after a risk assessment had been carried out.

Mr Redman said: “There were 15 people in church, including the photographer and two priests, one of whom was me. The first part of the service was taken by a colleague, the Revd Lesley Norburn, while I gave the bride away. I then changed in the vestry and took the rest of the service.”

The bells were rung by three socially distanced ringers; music for the service was played through a speaker. “The couple walked there and back, so no need for a car, and had an impromptu village reception on the way back, including dancing down the street and Prosecco on the pavement. Only immediate family and close friends remained outside in our garden for cake and scones and take-away pizza.”

He advises others preparing couples to marry under the new rules to hum the hymns, have the witnesses use their own pens, and keep a list of names and phone numbers of attendees.

Closures have meant that there has been no time to read Banns of marriage, therefore all couples marrying in church at the weekend required a licence.

The Vicar of St Faith’s, Lee-on-Solent, in Hampshire, the Revd Paul Chamberlain, had to think quickly to arrange the wedding of two paramedics, Stephanie Little and Thomas Martin, on Saturday.

The couple had planned to marry on 4 July before the pandemic emerged. When the Government announced that wedding restrictions would change on that date, they contacted Mr Chamberlain to ask if theirs could still go ahead. He secured a last-minute marriage licence, widened the space in the nave to allow Ms Little’s father to give her away at a safe distance, and conducted the wedding rehearsal on Zoom.

“The last-minute licence was greatly helped by the diocese swearing in extra surrogates over the last few weeks, so that there are a good number we can turn to, to obtain Common Licences in a timely way,” he said on Tuesday.

Mr Chamberlain recommends detailed planning, including a church seating plan, informing the guests in advance of what to expect, church signage, and “at the start, acknowledge how this isn’t what we expected the day to be like, but celebrate the fact it’s happening at all.” 

Rebecca Pearey and Jamie Hansell are due to marry in St Nicholas’s, Gosforth, this Saturday. Her parents, Sue and Keith Pearey, who live in Paris, are due to travel to the UK this week. They are relying on the Government to lift the current quarantine requirement for travellers into the UK to self-isolate for 14 days on Friday.

The Vicar of St Nicholas’s, the Revd Jane Nattrass, who is preparing the couple, said: “There will be 30 in church including the bride and groom, a verger, priest, photographer, and guests. They are all bringing their own hand sanitiser, and will be guided to pews in households or as individuals with two-metre social distancing.”

Hundreds more would be joining the couple via Zoom, she said, including the groom’s father, Alan Hansell, who is a resident of Kenton Manor Care Home. “The care home is organising a wedding reception for the staff and residents.” The bride will be followed into church by her dad at a distance, the rings will be put on a cushion, and recorded music will be played.

“It’s all been very straightforward, albeit a little different,” Ms Nattrass said. “We are looking forward to a wonderful wedding with God’s blessing upon us all.”

Jamie Hansell and Rebecca Pearey, who are due to marry in St Nicholas, Gosforth, this Saturday

The couple, who plan to return to the church in a year for a blessing, followed by a reception, said on Monday: “During the lockdown we have learned some lessons. A party is amazing, but the most important thing is for us is our love and to commit ourselves to each other with our vows in church.”

The head of life events for the Church of England, Canon Sandra Millar, said on Monday: “It was wonderful to see our clergy working with couples to create wedding services that were significant and special. It showed the warmth of relationship that exists between a couple and a vicar, and the opportunity that exists to make the day feel personal.

“Our research has shown that the three most important moments for couples are walking in to the church, exchanging vows, and walking out as a married couple. Even with the care needed now to ensure safety, services can take place ensuring these moments will be even more memorable. Some couples may assume they can’t have a church wedding — but we encourage anyone who is getting married to get in touch with their vicar via AChurchNearYou.com.”

Government guidelines on eating and drinking mean that nuptial masses are not currently possible. Services must be kept “concise”, and the bride may only be walked down the aisle by a member of her household. Hand sanitiser should be used regularly.

Writing for the Church Times website on Saturday, the Communities Secretary, Robert Jenrick, who has led many of the Government briefings on the restrictions, said: “Whilst religious services may not be the same as before, today’s announcement will make a difference to people who have had to put many aspects of their lives on hold and can now go ahead with communal worship, weddings, and other religious ceremonies. . .

“At a time where the need is greater now more than ever before, this is an important moment to celebrate.”

The Marriage Foundation said that the right for couples to marry should never have been removed. “In sensibly banning wedding gatherings, the Government also foolishly banned the legal aspect of weddings which requires just five people — celebrant, couples and two witnesses. . . The bossy new rules . . . illustrate perfectly why government should restrict itself to the simple legal registration of marriage and stop micromanaging the complex permutations of wedding celebrations.”

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