Wedding ceremony or service?

Wedding guests outside church

There are several options when it comes to considering what type of wedding you’d like and there are often misunderstandings about them. So we’re going to try and guide you through the differences and similarities.

First off, you’ll need to decide whether you want a civil or religious wedding ceremony. It needs to be right for both of you. If you can’t agree, perhaps consider a civil ceremony followed by a religious blessing as a compromise.

Civil ceremony

Civil ceremonies can take place in a registry office, or in a licensed property (there are currently more than 4,000 venues available in the UK). To arrange your ceremony you’ll need to contact your local register office with your fiancé/fiancée to give notice of your intent to marry.

If you’re planning on getting married elsewhere, you’ll need to contact the register office in the area you plan to marry to check they have a registrar available on your wedding date. You’d be surprised how many couples don’t check if there’s a registrar available before booking their venue! Some registrars are extremely busy so it’s always best to check beforehand.

Either way – you can book your registrar 12 months in advance and we’d recommend doing so as soon as you’re able to. You don’t want to have a wedding day with no registrars available!

You’ll need to take long proof of your identity (including proof of address and any previous marriage documents) to complete giving your notice. Once notice has been issued, it will be displayed for 15-30 days at the office before you can legally marry. Once your marriage licence is issued it’s valid for a year – but if you change venues you’ll need to contact your office to see if a new licence is required. This could also come at an additional cost.

It currently costs £35 per person to give notice – there could also be other costs dependant on where you’re getting married. The fee to marry in your local register office is usually much less than the fee to have a registrar come to your venue.

Church of England wedding service

Once you’ve found a church you’d like to marry in, contact the vicar and they can guide you through the next steps. The cost of the service is usually around £350 but additions such as flowers and a choir will carry additional costs.

Church of Scotland wedding service

A Church of Scotland service can take place anywhere and at any time, provided the minister agrees. You also don’t need to be resident in Scotland to marry there but are required to give at least 15 days notice (and no more than 3 months) at the register office.

Roman Catholic wedding service

You’ll need to take your baptism and confirmation certificates to your priest at least 6 months before you intend to marry. If one of you isn’t baptised, you’ll need to get permission from the priest. He will also help you to arrange marriage preparation classes and you need to attend mass for six weeks before your wedding day. You also need to visit your local register office to give notice and obtain your marriage licence.

Jewish wedding ceremony

You need to complete two applications – one to your register office and one to the religious authorities. Jewish ceremonies usually take place in a synagogue but can take place in other licensed premises if the Rabbi agrees.

Humanist wedding ceremony

This is a non-religious ceremony which gives your the choice to marry where you want, but they’re not currently recognised in law in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Couples will need to go to a register office to take care of the legal formalities in the days before your wedding. Most couples still regard their wedding day as their ‘real’ wedding and will usually write their own vows and hire a humanist celebrant to lead the ceremony.


Image credit: Guests outside church by Mark Lord (licensed under CC BY 2.0)