Couples getting married in church still prefer traditional 'of the shelf' weddings

Many couples getting married in church still prefer atraditional, 'off the shelf' wedding and are happy to let theminister decide what to include in the service.

When it comes to picking hymns for their wedding, couples steertowards old favourites. 'All things Bright and Beautiful' was theclear winner in a list of favouritehymns for those getting wed in Methodistchurches.

Methodist ministers have expressed disappointment that couplesare not more adventurous in planning their wedding service,according to a Methodist Church survey. Despite encouragement, manycouples are happy to stick to a set service for their big day.

The findings, to be published in a report to this year'sMethodist Conference, provide a snapshot of current marriagepractice in Methodist churches. The report goes on to identifychallenges facing Methodist ministers in preparing couples formarriage at a time of great social change.

The report will call on the Methodist Church to continue todevelop thorough marriage preparation and other support for familylife at all stages in the life cycle. This includes offering moresupport over social concerns such as domestic violence, and theabuse and neglect of children. More than four out of five Methodistministers provide couples with some form of marriage preparation,but less than two out of five work in churches that provide ongoingsupport structures for marriage and family life.

The Methodist Conference will be asked endorse work to respondto major legal reforms of marriage practice in Britain. The recentWhite Paper, 'Civil Registration: Vital Change - Birth, Marriageand Death Registration in the 21st Century', isrecommending the setting up of 'civil celebrants' who will enjoygreater freedom to officiate at weddings anywhere and at any timeof day. These changes would see ministers becoming 'religiouscelebrants' - able to conduct weddings in places other thanMethodist churches for the first time.

"This change has considerable implications for marriage practicein the Methodist Church," says the report. Church officers areconsidering whether to offer guidelines to ensure that weddingsconducted by Methodist ministers continue to be an expression andthe concern of the whole community and not simply a private matter.They will, for example, need to consider whether it is appropriatefor a minister to conduct a wedding at a couple's home or at afavourite beauty spot.

One challenge facing the Church is the possible legalintroduction of 'civil partnerships' - giving cohabiting couplesincluding gay and lesbian couples similar legal rights to marriedcouples. Another is the idea to allow civil celebrants to officiateat baby-naming ceremonies and secular marriage reaffirmationservices, which "some Christians will see as meaningless orthreatening".

An ongoing debate in the Church is whether ministers shouldstick to conducting marriages of members or whether being involvedin the weddings of those who do not attend church can be aworthwhile pastoral or evangelistic opportunity.


  1. Two surveys of Methodist ministers were conducted in Spring2001 and January 2002 on current marriage practice in the MethodistChurch. In total 222 ministers were interviewed in detail by post,email or telephone. This represents more than one in ten of the2090 active Methodist ministers in Britain.
  2. A summary of the result of the surveys is published in thereport 'Marriage in the Methodist Church', which will be consideredby the Methodist Conference in Wolverhampton in July 2002.
  3. Other parts of the survey found that ministers conduct fiveweddings per year on average - with some conducting no weddings atall but others conducting up to 25 weddings annually. A majority ofweddings in Methodist churches involve at least one partner who hasbeen married before.