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  • Writer's picturePhoebe Taylor

Ceremonies 101: Your complete guide to choosing which, why and how when it comes to saying 'I do'.

Religious services. Humanist blessing. Civil ceremonies. I don't know about you, but when I entered the world of weddings, I was totally overwhelmed by the options and possibilities when it came to weddings ceremonies. Sorry, you mean you don't just say a few nice words, slip on a ring, sign a bit of paper and you're married? Nope! Marriages are solemn, legal binding contracts and there is a reason why there are so many rules around each option. So grab a cup of tea, your favourite biscuits and settle in, because it's going to be a long one!

So I'm going to break it down for you into the main options that are used in England. Most of theses options will also apply in the rest of the UK but some rules vary from country to country, so for the rules outlined by the government please head to GOV.UK to make sure!

Religious ceremonies

Religious wedding ceremonies are like a tree - it all really depends on what 'branch' of your religion you have chosen. To keep things simple, I will be talking about Christian churches and ceremonies as biggest Christian denominations in the UK are Church of England and Catholic and they are not dissimilar to each other. Each have a similar order of service, with an entrance, vows, hymns and readings.

To make things a little clearer, I've put together a comparison of the two types of Christian services that I've mentioned:

So what are the requirements of booking a church wedding?

Church wedding ceremonies must be witnessed by at least two people. Before your marriage, you will need to have your banns read, which signifies your intent to marry. Your banns will be read out in the parish where each of you lives as well as in the church where you’re planning on marrying on three Sundays in the three month run up to your wedding. This is an ancient tradition but means that anyone in your parish can come forward with any reasons why you cannot be lawfully married.

The Church of England are allowed to register a marriage at the same time as performing the religious ceremony. This means you do not need to give notice of the marriage at a register office unless you or your partner are a non-EE national.

A Catholic church ceremony is slightly

different when it comes to booking and you will need a dispensation (special permission) to marry in a Catholic ceremony if one of you is not Catholic, but having banns read out isn't something that needs to happen. However, this means that you will need to give notice at the register office as if it were a civil ceremony. I will get onto registering your marriage later!

In terms of documentation, this differs between the two 'branches' of Christianity too. For Church of England weddings, you will need to provide your vicar with a passport or proof of nationality. If either of you are divorced you will need to a copy of your decree of absolute as proof that you are no longer legally married. You may also need to provide proof of connection to the church, for example a parent's marriage certificate.

You will need to register your marriage, which allows members of the public to come forward and declare why your marriage may not be legal. This needs to be done no later than 28 days before your wedding date and usually no sooner than 12 months before, but this isn't always the case and I have known some cases where you are able to pay to secure a date longer than 12 months in advance.

For a Catholic wedding, you will need a baptism certificate. If one of you was not baptised as a child, you will need to go through this process as an adult. In order to marry in the Catholic church, both of you must not be legally married. If one of you was legally married, the previous spouse must either be deceased or there must have been a declaration of nullity from the church, meaning there had been contractual defects in the marriage.

So what is a blessing? A blessing can be performed in a church for a variety of reasons, and is not a legal ceremony. This means that you do not need to register your marriage, have your banns read or sign any paperwork. Couples choose to have a marriage blessing if they were married abroad, have already had a legal civil ceremony or have eloped and want to have their ceremony blessed in a religious setting. Couples of mixed faiths may also want to choose this option so their faiths are both recognised while getting married. Blessings can be as simple or as extravagant as you like.

Civil Ceremonies

What is a civil ceremony and why should you choose one? A civil ceremony is a legal marriage without any religious connotations, performed by a registrar. There are many reasons why couples choose a civil ceremony, for example if they have been married abroad and want to ensure that they are legally wed in this country, if they would prefer a humanist ceremony or religious blessing but still want the marriage to be legal, or if they just want a civil ceremony to be their main and only ceremony.

You will need to register your marriage and give notice, which allows members of the public to come forward and declare why your marriage may not be legal. This needs to be done no later than 28 days before your wedding date and usually no sooner than 12 months before, but this isn't always the case and I have known some cases where you are able to pay to secure a date longer than 12 months in advance. You must also make sure that any registering of the marriage or giving notice is done by you, as the venue is not able to get involved with this process.

There is a myth that civil ceremonies are devoid of personality, which couldn't be further from the truth, but they're not a flexible as a blessing or humanist ceremony (which I will go into later!). As the ceremony is legally binding, there are certain aspects that you cannot change, however you are always welcome to add readings or music to add your personality to your ceremony.

So what is the deal with where you can have a ceremony? This is a tricky one because due to COVID-19 things have changed slightly and we hope (fingers crossed!) that this will be a permanent change. Usually, you can only have a legal ceremony under a licensed structure (has to be a permanent structure with a roof) as this is the legally recognised space and has been checked for suitability by the local council. However, as we are trying to allow for social distancing and keeping celebrations outside as much as possible due to coronavirus, marriages are now considered legal if they take place outside in a legally registered venue. For example you may have your ceremony in the gardens of a hotel that is licensed for ceremonies.

Humanist ceremonies

We're nearly there - I promise! So what is a humanist ceremony? A humanist ceremony is performed by a celebrant and is becoming a more and more popular option for couples in the UK, with numbers growing each year.

The main reason why couples choose a humanist ceremony is because there is no script, instead couples will choose the celebrant that they would like and the ceremony is written by the couples and the celebrant, which gives them the opportunity to express themselves through their ceremony.

The biggest hurdle with humanist ceremonies is that they are currently not considered as legal marriages in England and Wales. However this isn't a huge problem, as you can register your marriage officially either before or after the day to make it legal - the humanist ceremony is just the celebration of your marriage in front of your loved ones.

A huge part of a humanist ceremony is the 'symbolic act' that a lot of couples choose to have during their ceremony. There are so many examples, but here are a few of the most popular:

I recommend 'shopping' around for celebrants to find the perfect fit for your wedding. There are endless possibilities which is the beauty of humanist ceremonies!


So hopefully by now, you are slightly more clued up on the type of ceremonies available! The best thing to do is to sit down with your partner and work out what is the most important part of the ceremony is for you and then decide on which kind of ceremony is for you.

Whether your ceremony is religious, civil or humanist, you are marrying the person you love in the way that reflects you as a couple!

As always I would love to hear what you have to say, please feel free to drop me an email on or follow me on instagram on @cloverandfernevents

Phoebe x

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