Church wedding vs. civil ceremony – what’s the difference?

Marrying couples have so many options when tying the knot. Personalising your special day has never been so easy, and this tailor-made approach isn’t restricted to your wedding reception. Your wedding ceremony can also be adapted to suit your preferences and reflect your personal choices. Whilst big old church weddings were the norm, more and more couples are opting for the freedom and flexibility of a civil ceremony when getting married.

Wedding ceremony

As the main types of wedding ceremony in the UK, we thought we’d use this blog post to highlight the differences between church weddings and civil ceremonies so you can find the best ceremony type for you.

The church wedding

Getting married in a church setting is a time-honoured part of a wedding. The religious ceremonies conducted at churches are still popular, with many couples choosing to get married not just in front of those closest to them but in the eyes of God. That being said, the latest Marriages in England and Wales report reveals that couples getting married in religious ceremonies has decreased by 8% since 2014. It may be that the classic view of a wedding ceremony is changing.

Marrying in a church or other place of worship comes with its own set of rules and conventions compared with less strict civil ceremonies. In both religious and civil ceremonies, the celebrant, i.e. the official marrying you, must fulfil government enforced requirements to make the marriage legally valid.

The civil ceremony

Despite the lack of religious basis, civil ceremonies can be just as magical and atmospheric. In fact, many couples favour civil ceremonies due to the freedom to personalise readings. Civil ceremonies have evolved far beyond their original registry office setting, and many wedding venues, including ourselves, hold licences to host civil ceremonies on-site. Whilst civil ceremonies offer couples more flexibility than church weddings, most registrars won’t allow candles at the ceremony venue. Readings or songs with religious connotations are also not permitted during civil ceremonies. There are other conditions associated with civil ceremonies as Confetti  details:

“A civil ceremony is conducted by the superintendent registrar or deputy and can take place in a register office or a licensed venue after 8am and before 6pm, subject to staffing arrangements. The registrar has to receive an ‘authority’ for your marriage to be able to proceed, which can only be obtained by giving a notice of marriage, which you must do at your local register office (or offices if you live in different areas) at least 15 days before the wedding. You will need to bring at least two other people to the ceremony who are prepared to witness the marriage and sign the marriage register.”

Other types of ceremonies

If a civil or religious ceremony isn’t right for you, there are a number of other ceremony types to explore. For couples who want a meaningful ceremony that isn’t religious but wish to marry outdoors or at an unlicensed venue, a humanist ceremony is a great choice. Pagan weddings are another traditional ceremony type that marks the union of two people in a formal yet loving manner.

Want the best of both worlds? We host magical civil ceremonies in a stunning church-like setting. Explore the beautiful Ballroom where ceremonies at Clearwell take place here.

To get in touch with a member of the team, please email or call us via the contact details below. Alternatively, if you'd like to request a brochure or enquire about date availability, please click 'request a brochure' in the menu at the top of this page.


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