Churches are unique places, and there are some things about a church wedding that you can’t get anywhere else.
There’s no doubt that organising a wedding is both an exciting and challenging time.
With copious amounts of decisions to make about the big day, you’ll be pouring over every detail, from where Aunt Hilda will sit to the nail polish you’ll wear!
But one of the most significant decisions to make is whether to have a church wedding ceremony or civil ceremony.
Both have their merits, which is why it’s a very personal decision for each couple. Here we examine the pros and cons of both.
Table of Contents
- 1 Why Marry in Church?
- 1.1 Pros of a Church Wedding Ceremony
- 1.2 Cons of a Church Wedding Ceremony
- 2 Civil Wedding Vs a Church Wedding
- 2.1 What to Expect from a Wedding Ceremony?
- 2.2 Planning a Church Wedding
- 2.3 A Timeline for Preparing for Your Church Wedding Ceremony
- 2.4 What to Expect from a Civil Ceremony?
- 2.5 Planning a Civil Wedding
- 2.6 Which Is Right for Me?
Why Marry in Church?
A church is so much more than simply a venue for your wedding. Unique and special things become part of your marriage, on the day itself and beyond:-
A church wedding will add a spiritual dimension to your marriage.
The ceremony includes God and looks to him for help and guidance. God’s blessing is the main attraction for many couples, whatever their beliefs.
You can make excellent vows, or promises, in a church. But, of course, you can only make vows this big in a church.
These vows, made in public, will help you to stay together and grow together. God and your Church are there for you to help you keep your vows.
The vicar has a very particular role to play in your wedding. They can blend ancient tradition and modern experience to reflect your story.
Because of the relationship with the vicar, your wedding can be made personal, memorable, meaningful and beautiful.
Church buildings offer outstanding beauty. Old or new, intimate or grand, our 16,000 churches are some of the nation’s most stunning wedding venues, with two-thirds listed buildings.
Church buildings offer centuries of history. Imagine all the couples who have married in your local church, some of whom may well be your family.
You can feel you’re becoming part of history itself, the bigger plan, by marrying in the same place as your relatives. We know these sorts of connections can make your day even more special.
You can be involved in making choices about your ceremony. You can even use our online ceremony planner to get you started.
For some people, a church seems like the proper place to get married. Churches can be described as ‘peaceful’, ‘serene’, or having an atmosphere that makes matching an exceptional experience.
And after your wedding, you’ll realise that a church is more than simply a wedding venue. We’ll always be here for you.
Pros of a Church Wedding Ceremony
Celebrate Your Faith
The biggest reason to get married at your Church is to proclaim and honour your faith.
If you try to live your faith each day of your life, then it’s only natural to make it a part of your wedding as well.
Even if you believe God is everywhere, many Christians feel closer to Him at Church. So choosing a church ceremony is a great way to connect with your faith on your Big Day.
Your Pastor, Priest or Preacher Can Perform Your Ceremony
Depending on your faith, some church leaders will only officiate ceremonies within their Church.
If you feel it is vital for your pastor, priest or preacher to perform your ceremony, a church wedding may be required.
Plenty of Seating
Are you planning a big ceremony? If you choose a church wedding, you won’t have to nix anyone from your guest list.
Most churches can easily seat large parties. That’s what they’re built for.
Most churches can either provide or help you arrange for the music during your ceremony. You can likely have the church band or choir perform during the ceremony.
If you are a long-time member of the Church, it may feel extra special to have the musicians you already know and love to be a part of your church wedding ceremony.
Cons of a Church Wedding Ceremony
Church Members Get Priority
Make sure you understand the rules and regulations of the Church where you want to have your ceremony.
In some cases, a church will only host a wedding if the bride and groom are members.
If a church is willing to host non-member couples, you may be put on a waiting list or be expected to make an additional donation.
Not Every Type of Couple Is Allowed
More conservative branches of Christianity will not marry gay couples.
Some of the strictest sects, including the Catholic Church, will not marry anyone who is divorced unless they get their marriage annulled.
Check with your Church to make sure your marriage will be welcomed.
The biggest drawback of a church ceremony is that you can’t hold your reception in the Church.
You typically have to book a separate reception venue. In turn, this means that you and your guests will have to travel to the reception after your church ceremony. Check out Vines of the Yarra Valley Wedding Venue for your ultimate wedding reception.
You and your future spouse may have to perform extra steps to marry in your Church.
For example, the Catholic Church requires brides and grooms to undergo Pre-Cana, a marriage preparation program.
If one partner is a different religion, the strictest churches may also require the partner to convert.
If you hate decorating, this might be a pro.
However, churches typically limit how much a couple can decorate the space.
Most churches do allow flowers and aisle runners. Save your more elaborate decorations for your reception.
Civil Wedding Vs a Church Wedding
We are privileged to live in a society that celebrates the many different cultures and beliefs that form it.
As such, wedding church ceremonies and civil marriages are both available options for couples.
However, the latest figures reveal that traditional church ceremonies are declining, accounting for just a quarter of today’s marriages.
Religious vs. Civil – what’s the difference? Well, there are two main factors – religion and location.
If you desire a religious celebration, you can opt for a church wedding ceremony.
For many couples who chose this traditional approach, saying their vows in a church is one of the essential parts of their big day.
You may have a local church that means a lot to you or you go to. Therefore this may be an obvious choice for you.
The other factor is location. If you always dreamt of saying ‘I do’ on a hilltop, a beach, or if you would prefer a non-religious occasion, then a civil marriage is the alternate option.
What to Expect from a Wedding Ceremony?
Religious weddings occur in a church, chapel, or other religious venues, presided over by a priest, vicar, or official holy person.
Many opt for a wedding church ceremony not just for religious reasons but also because they enjoy the occasion’s tradition.
In the Catholic Church, both couples need to be baptised Christians, and one must be Catholic.
Typically, you will need to marry in a church that you have some connection to. This is usually determined by residence in the parish at some point.
You are getting married in a church versus outside means that you can enjoy all the pomp and ceremony of a traditional wedding.
This includes the bride wearing a wedding gown and the groom in a suit. Wedding church ceremonies are formal and include readings from the bible, hymns and prayers, and can last up to an hour.
If, for instance, you decide to have a civil marriage abroad and want a Catholic blessing afterwards, this is possible.
They are getting married in the Catholic Church after a civil ceremony is recognised as ‘convalidation’. This allows couples to retake their vows in an officiated ceremony.
Planning a Church Wedding
In organising your wedding church ceremony, the first is to speak to the priest or vicar in your Church of preference.
They will likely want to sit down and discuss marriage with you in some detail.
Since your wedding ceremony will determine your big day, it’s essential to confirm this before booking reception venues or suppliers.
Churches can be booked out months in advance, so aim to give as much notice as possible; ideally, at least six to twelve months.
A Timeline for Preparing for Your Church Wedding Ceremony
12+ Months Before
Begin to envision your wedding ceremony. Should it be long and symbolic? Short and sweet? Do you want to include all the wedding ceremony traditions or just the highlights?
Pick a wedding date and time preferences. Depending on your Church, there may be times of the year, or even times of the day, off-limits.
Formal weddings are often held at noon, during High Mass, when a choir is available. A priest must clear weddings during Lent or Advent.
Choose a location and officiant. Remember that most (or nearly all) priests won’t marry couples outside a church.
The wedding often must be held at the bride’s home parish. However, the couple may need permission to marry in a different church.
Explore your Church’s marriage requirements. You may have to show your baptismal certificate. Some churches require proof of communion and confirmation as well.
If either you or your mate isn’t Catholic, ask your priest about intermarriage requirements and possible conversion.
If you’re marrying in a Roman Catholic Church, you cannot remarry without an annulment that your first spouse is still alive.
The process can be long and complicated, so start the paperwork now if either of you needs an annulment.
9-11 Months Before
Meet with your officiant to discuss ceremony structure and marriage requirements. Your priest may want to help you to choose readings and blessings for the ceremony.
Begin Pre-Cana, the premarital preparation program required by the Church.
Ask your priest about dress requirements, such as covering one’s shoulders for the bride.
Also, inquire into any other rules specific to your ceremony site, like no aisle runners or tossing items allowed.
Choose your bridal party members. The Catholic Church prefers that both the best man and the maid of honour be Catholic (although only one must be). So make sure they understand what’s involved.
6-8 Months Before
Make arrangements with your Church if you or other bridal party members want to participate in morning Mass and receive communion before the wedding.
Consult with your stationer about invitations, programs, and place cards. You may want to order pew cards to ensure close family and friends are seated in the first few rows of the Church.
Choose ceremonial music and musicians. For example, “Ave Maria” is traditionally sung at Roman Catholic weddings. Find out if the Church provides performers.
3-4 Months Before
Decide who will be part of the ceremony. Most churches allow two family members to read biblical passages during the ceremony.
Consider ceremony and reception decoration needs, such as an aisle runner, flowers, wine glasses, and candles.
Book a rehearsal dinner site and finalise your guest list.
If you are marrying in a Roman Catholic Church and wish to receive a Papal Blessing, contact the chancery office of your local diocese.
They will send you an application to fill out and return to either the diocese or directly to an address in Rome (noted on the application).
Some of the information that will be requested is the date of your ceremony and where it will take place, the phone number and address of the priest presiding over your wedding, and so on.
There is a small donation fee, which varies from diocese to diocese. Return times also vary, from six weeks to two months.
2 Months Before
Order ceremony programs if you plan to use them. It helps to have programs so your non-Catholic guests will understand the rich spirituality and symbolism.
Contact your Church about posting Banns (a notice of your intention to wed).
In the past, they were posted outside the church doors to allow anyone with a valid reason to stop the wedding.
Presently, Banns are printed in the church bulletin or announced during a Sunday service.
Prepare and mail invitations. If you’re concerned that your ushers won’t know where to sit, honorary guests, consider including pew cards for family and friends who should be seated in the first few rows of the Church.
Guests can present these cards to ushers at your ceremony to signify that they should be seated in the reserved area. Otherwise, be sure to make introductions at the rehearsal dinner.
3-4 Weeks Before
Have a final meeting with your priest.
Finalise vows, readings, and other unique ceremony details.
Send rehearsal dinner invitations.
1-2 Weeks Before
Touch base with your priest.
Rehearse the ceremony.
What to Expect from a Civil Ceremony?
Although civil marriages are more popular than religious ones, many couples still don’t know what a civil ceremony is and what it entails.
Simply put, a civil ceremony is a non-religious, legally binding marriage. A legal representative or polite representative officiates it.
Usually, these take place in a registry office or town hall, but couples also have the freedom to marry in any approved venue or otherwise.
This appeals to many couples who wish to say their vows on stunning backdrops, like beaches, mountains, or the countryside.
It tends to be a more relaxed gathering, where the couple can dress as they wish and set the ceremony to be as short or long as desired.
Couples have the flexibility to include bible readings, poems, or extracts meaningful to them, rather than prescribed copy.
Civil marriages also lend themselves to same-sex couples, of which there were 15,000 marriages between March 2014 and October 2015.
Planning a Civil Wedding
A civil wedding can be organised in as little as a month. However, as with any celebration, it’s best to book your chosen venue as early as possible to avoid disappointment.
With a civil ceremony, you have a lot more choice and the freedom to style your ceremony how you wish, the option of saying ‘I do’ on the beach, or in our festival style wedding.
There are more options for a civil ceremony and more flexibility with doing it how you want to do it.
Unlike churches, registry offices can undertake several bookings on any given day, so they tend to have better availability.
In any case, you will need to register your intention to marry at the registry office at least 28 days in advance, which is displayed in the public register.
You will also need to reside in the district for at least a week before giving notice.
Which Is Right for Me?
Most couples will already have an idea of the sort of wedding they want.
Be it a tropical get-away with vows on the beach, a traditional church wedding ceremony, or any other kind of gathering to celebrate their nuptials.
In some ways, their choice may already be determined before they begin.
Choosing a civil wedding is ideal for a relaxed non-religious gathering, offering greater flexibility on venues too.
However, a church wedding ceremony integrates much-loved traditions in a religious context that many feel underpin marriage’s constitution.
There are advantages and challenges to both. However, the most critical factor when deciding a civil marriage versus a church marriage is that the happy couple is exactly that – happy.
After all, marriage is the union of two people very much in love, wishing to pledge their unwavering allegiance to each other for the rest of their lives. Naturally, therefore, the context in which this takes place should reflect the couple and their values, as much as religion, venue or tradition.
Only then can a couple decide which is the right way to start their long and exciting future together. Check out our extensive list of Wedding Photographers in Melbourne to help capture your special moments.