Monday, June 8, 2009

Wedding Etiquette: Marriage Ceremony (Part I)

Before the ceremony itself takes place, there will almost certainly be an opportunity to attend a rehearsal in the church. The minister will run through all the details of the service and explain the roles of each of the principal members of the wedding party.

It is best if the whole wedding party can attend the rehearsal, but if that is not possible it will help if the best man can be present so that he can later advise anyone who is unsure of the correct procedures.

If you are getting married in an Anglican church, you should have already discussed with the minister whether the service is to be traditional or if it is to be conducted according to an Alternative Service Book version. The minister may have his or her own very definite opinions about this, but both ceremonies are very moving.

If the parents of either the bride or the bridegroom are divorced, a little tact and co-operation all round will help to ensure that the wedding is still a happy occasion, both for them, and for the couple about to be married.

In these circumstances the seating arrangements at the church are slightly altered. If the bride's parents are divorced, her mother will be shown to the first pew on the left-hand side of the church. She may be with her new husband, or, if she has not remarried, with a close relative. The bride's father takes his seat in the second or third pew, also with his new partner if he has remarried. The same arrangements apply to the bridegroom's parents if they are divorced.
Twenty minutes or so before a Church of England wedding is due to begin, the guests will start to arrive. The bride's family and friends are conducted to the left-hand seats of the church and the bridegroom's family and friends to those on the right. The bridegroom and the best man are seated in the front pew on the right-hand side. The bride's mother usually travels to the church with the bridesmaids, who remain in the church porch until the bride and her father arrive.
When the bride has taken her place at the church entrance, the organist will play the entrance music. At this point the congregation rises. The bride takes her father's right arm and they walk down the aisle followed by the bridesmaids. If it is a full choral service the minister may meet the bride in the porch and the procession will be led by the choir, followed by the minister, the bride and her father and the bridesmaids.

The bridegroom and the best man meet the party at the chancel steps. The bride stands on the left of the bridegroom, and her father to her left, but slightly to the rear. The best man positions himself on the right of the bridegroom and, like the father, slightly to the rear. (After the bride's father has given away his daughter, he can take his seat next to his wife in the front pew. The best man can also step to one side after he has presented the ring.)

At this point the chief bridesmaid steps forward to take the bride's bouquet or, if there are no bridesmaids, it may be handed to her father, who in turn may give it to his wife. The bouquet should be returned to the bride before she leaves the church, usually at the signing of the register.

The ceremony then begins. The minister first explains the significance of marriage according to the Scriptures. He or she then calls on the congregation - and the bride and bridegroom - to declare if there is any reason why the couple may not lawfully marry.

The minister then asks each of the couple in turn whether they promise to love, comfort, honour and forsaking all others (in the modern version) protect the other ... 'as long as you both shall live', to which they reply 'I will'.

The bridegroom takes the bride's right hand in his, and they exchange vows 'to have and to hold, from this day forward; for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish till death us do part'.

The best man gives the ring to the minister, and the bridegroom places it on the third finger of the bride's left hand, or sometimes rings are exchanged. The bridegroom then makes his promise to the bride as follows (in the modern version):
'I give you this ring
as a sign of our marriage.
With my body I honour you,
all that I am I give to you,
and all that I have I share with you,
within the love of God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit.'

The bride responds with the same promise, beginning 'I receive this ring ...' and the minister then pronounces them man and wife. After the marriage, and before signing the register, the minister will sometimes give a short address, especially if one or both of the married couple are known to him or her.

When the service is ended, the wedding party move into the vestry to sign the register. The best man and the chief bridesmaid usually act as the two witnesses. Everyone has a chance to relax now, and one or two photographs are usually taken at the signing.

Coming out of the church, the bride takes the left arm of the bridegroom; they are followed by any small bridesmaids; the chief bridesmaid and the best man; the bride's mother and the bridegroom's father; the bridegroom's mother and the bride's father; and other bridesmaids, often escorted by the ushers. Relatives leave next, followed by special guests and then friends.

Outside, there will be a good deal of milling around as the wedding photographs are taken. Confetti (if it is permitted) will most likely be thrown when the bride and bridegroom decide it is time to leave for the reception.



1. Minister
2. Bride
3. Bridegroom
4. Bride's father
5. Best man
6. Chief bridesmaid
7. Bridesmaids


1. Minister
2. Bride
3. Bridegroom
4. Chief bridesmaid
5. Best man
6. Bridesmaids
7. Bride's mother
8. Groom's father
9. Groom's mother
10. Bride's father

The reasons that couples opt for a register office wedding are various, not least of them, of course, being financial. The cost of a full-scale church wedding is now said to average more than £6,000 (at 1998 prices). No matter how that sort of cost is shared, many couples obviously feel that there is a strong case in favour of a register office wedding.

Because there are generally size limitations in a register office there will be room for only a small number of guests to accompany the couple and their two witnesses. Everybody should arrive about ten minutes before the ceremony to ensure that it starts on time, as there will probably be another wedding following shortly. The tradition of the bride arriving with her father is not always, followed; sometimes the bride and groom arrive together.

The ceremony takes about ten to 15 minutes and will be conducted by the Superintendent Registrar. The couple must state that they know of no legal impediment to marrying and will be reminded of the solemn and binding nature of the vows which they will repeat after the registrar. The ring or rings are exchanged and the relevant documents signed by the couple and the witnesses.

The Marriage Act 1994 changed the law in two ways; firstly, local authorities may license 'suitable premises' for the solemnisation of marriage, and secondly there is no need to live in the district in which the marriage is to take place.

It is the intention of The Marriage (Approved Premises) Regulations 1995 to allow civil marriages to take place regularly in hotels, stately homes, civic halls and similar 'suitable premises' without compromising the fundamental principles of English marriage law and maintaining the solemnity of the occasion. A private residential house is unlikely to be an appropriate building as it would not be known to the public as a marriage venue or regularly be available for use. The Regulations preclude marriages from taking place in the open air, in a marquee or any other temporary structure or in most forms of transport. A directory of registered premises in England and Wales is kept by the Marriages Section, P.O.Box 2, Southport, Merseyside, PR8 2JD (telephone 01704 569824).

Couples who choose approved premises generally have the ceremony at the reception venue, since this is much more convenient for the wedding party and guests.
The setting must not resemble a church in any way; for example, prayer books would probably not be allowed. The marriage room must be separate from any other activity on the premises and accessible to the public without charge so that they may witness the marriage and be able to make any objections. No food or drink may be sold or consumed in the marriage room for one hour before or during the ceremony.

As for a register office, the ceremony must not include any religious elements. Any reading, words, music or performance which forms part of a civil ceremony of marriage must be secular. • Many Superintendent Registrars insist on confining the ceremony to include only the legal elements, with perhaps one or two very minor additions, and conduct the proceedings in registered premises rooms in the same way as they do in register offices.

On arrival at the approved premises, the Superintendent Registrar meets the couple privately to explain the procedure. Meanwhile guests gather in the marriage room. The Superintendent Registrar, the bride and groom then enter and the ceremony takes place. After the register is signed and the ceremony is ended, the Superintendent Registrar leaves the premises.

Most of the Free Church buildings have been registered by a Superintendent of Marriages as buildings in which marriages may be solemnised. Ministers of these churches, be they United Reformed, Baptist, Methodist or other Protestant churches, are generally registered as 'authorised' persons to conduct the marriage service and to act as the registrar, which simply means keeping the marriage register. If such authorisation has not been obtained, a Superintendent Registrar or his or her deputy must be present to record the wedding, although the minister may still conduct the ceremony. Alternatively, a civil ceremony may be conducted by the Superintendent Registrar in his or her office.

The order of service is very similar to that used in the Church of England, with variations within the different denominations. After the bridal procession arrives in front of the minister, together with the bridegroom and best man, the service begins with a declaration of intent. The bride and groom in turn will say:
I do solemnly declare that I know not of any lawful impediment why I.....may not be joined in matrimony to .....'
After the minister has asked the congregation if they know of any lawful objection to the marriage, the couple exchange vows and proceed with the ceremony of the ring followed by the blessing. After the service the newlyweds and two witnesses sign the register.

The question of remarriage of divorced people is very much a matter for each minister considering each case on its merits. He or she may have very strong views on the subject or may be willing to give careful consideration to the matter and agree to conduct a church service.

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