On 28 April, the Daily Mail ran a story on how a couple in Northwich, Cheshire, organised wedding for £1,000 which included: “a full Church ceremony with reception…and a meal”. In view of the frequency with which our post Church of England parochial fees 2019 has been accessed, we have looked at what is (and is not) included in the Grand Wedding offered at St John’s Hartford, and what a couple might expect.
“A Grand Wedding”
In January this year, the Revd Mike Smith announced that St John’s, Hartford had come up with a wedding package for just £1,000. He said: “We believe that lifelong marriage between a man and a woman is God’s good gift to all, and that no one should be denied simply because of the cost. In our grand wedding, you have to provide your own clothes but we’ll do the rest and give you a great day. We have done it by putting together a team of volunteers. The thing to remember is this is not a budget wedding – it is a grand wedding.”
An approximate breakdown of the costs is given in the Mail:
- The church waives its normal charges but £250 goes on non-negotiable diocesan fees;
- About £650 is spent on food and drink for 30 guests at the reception in the modern church centre;
- The remainder goes on flowers, invitations, a cake and a framed photo.
Further details are on the St John’s web site which explains:
“By using a team of volunteers, we have put together a package centred on a full church wedding, and includes a two-tier personalised wedding cake, digital photographs, invitation and service stationery, flowers (in church plus bridal bouquet and groom’s buttonhole) plus a dress alteration service if the bride purchases a second hand or off-the-peg dress.
The package also includes a catered reception in St John’s Church Centre for up to 30 guests including a two-course meal with an option to add a further 20 guests at pro-rata cost.
A breakdown of Parochial Fees for the Marriage Service is given on the Church of England web site. This indicates that for 2019, £207 of the fee is payable to the Diocesan Board of Finance, and £248 to the PCC. Other fees are £30 for the Banns and £14 for the certificate of the Banns if issued at the time of publication. There is also an £11 fee for the marriage certificate, which is not an ecclesiastical fee. Whilst additional costs may be charged for “extras“, these are clearly not imposed with regard to the “Grand Wedding” scheme.
Although the scheme for parochial fees applicable for the years 2020 to 2024 inclusive was approved by General Synod on 21 February 2019, the actual level of fees will not be known until about September 2019; the year-on-year escalation factor is based upon the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) published by the Office of National Statistics in August, and processed by the Church.
The Revd Mike Smith launched his ‘Grand Wedding’ in January to halt the steep decline in church weddings. The church is offering three of these weddings per year, and dates for 2019 have now been allocated, with one of the services will be conducted by the Bishop of Birkenhead, the Rt Rev Keith Sinclair. Three more dates have been set for 2020, and these are being offered on a “first come first served basis”.
The church explains the normal legal conditions applying to Church of England weddings here. From the vicar’s comments, supra, readers will probably have detected the subliminal reference to s 8(2)(a) Matrimonial Causes Act 1965; if either of the couple has been married before and then divorced from a partner who is still living, then they cannot be married at St John’s. Where church premises for such events fall within the curtilage of the church, their use will be fall within the faculty jurisdiction, and a separate post will cover the Church of England’s legal advice in this area.
There is no doubt that the “Grand Wedding” scheme devised by the Revd Mike Smith has attracted a significant amount of media attention. However, it prompts questions as to whether it will raise the expectations of brides on the costs associated with a “church wedding”, and whether it will have an impact on the numbers opting for this type of wedding ceremony. Even at St John’s Hartford the take-up of the scheme is limited to three weddings per year, and excludes the marriage of most divorcees. Nevertheless, it seems probable that other churches might consider adopting a similar model.