Monday, 22 February 2010

why do i think i want a church wedding?

Let me preface this with the fact I am an agnostic teetering on the brink of atheism.*

So as an almost atheist why do I think I want a church wedding?

Well maybe because the first words uttered to me by most are, "So are you getting married in a church?"  I see optimism spark in their eyes for only a true wedding is held in a holy place.  As a reluctantly (why reluctant I cry inside!) explain that we shall be married outside of church.  Their eyes flicker to condolence, "oh well I am sure it will feel just as lovely." It is this doubt which cuts deep into me.  Can I have a wedding without a church? 

Let me begin with a little background. Things in England and Wales are somewhat different in regards to wedding rules and regulations, even in comparison to the rest of the UK.  For example, weddings may only occur from 8am! until 6pm and it is a specific room not the celebrant which must be approved.  It is only in recent years that registry office weddings have become more readily accepted by society.  (Thank you 60s!).  This cultural shift in the era of free love allowed for a move away from church and into the registry office.  It allowed for a more relaxed approach to weddings.  It wasn't until the 1994 Marriage Act (which came into force in April 1995) new premises were allowed to be licensed.  The proviso being they have are roof and are a permanent building.  So one can now marry at the London Eye, the zoo or down a mine.

So what is so special about "the Church".  Why do people (and I include myself in this) assume that not being married in a church is improper.  Improper!?  What the eff? (Thank you A Los Angeles Love).  Why am I so worried about the improperness of my nuptials?  Indeed why is marriage deemed improper outside religion?  The first obvious reason is that it is perceived as the cultural norm for centuries past.  Although it was not until almost 1800 that the church decreed that weddings should take place at the altar with a formal ceremony and indeed as early as 1836 civil marriages were also recognised as legal.  So is it just habit that one blindly assumes a church wedding is a tautology? 

Mother asked me only last weekend whether we would marry in a church.  I assume it was the alcohol talking but I did mention the little fact that she saw fit to not have me christened or instil any spiritual beliefs! "Well you could get baptised now?" and "I didn't know where there was a church and daddy was in Saudi."  She does come across as rather meek. Ha! The lady could do anything if she were so inclined! Indeed I could now marry in church as the Church of England recently relaxed rules and regulations. Whilst still limited to certain parishes the options are greatly increased to couples with one spiritual partner or a family connection to a particular church. 

Yet I am not believer.  Sometimes I wish I were, yet as a "scientist" and by virtue of my country of birth I find it incredibly hard to have faith.  So there is no obvious reason as to why I would want a church wedding.  Yes, I have attended weddings in the eyes of god (find it hard to capitalise) previously and enjoyed the service.  The hymns, oy vey, how I adore thee. Without a doubt the pinnacle of any time spent in church when one and all are singing with vigour.  I would adore to sing Jerusalem and Dear Lord and Father of Mankind and maybe a little I vow to thee my country.  Heaven (for want of a better word!).  However, I'm not sure that this is reason enough to wed in church.

The only other reason I can fathom is the fact that older English churches are simply beautiful.  My home parish church is quite breathtaking on a sunny day, the churchyard is strangely enticing (and entice me it did as a child) and there be perhaps the oldest lychgate in the whole of England. Some may pretend that this is not the reason they have chosen a church wedding but I have a sneaking suspicion more than a couple may relish the idea of the prettiness over the sacredness.  The photographs swooning and the uproar at the merest hint of scaffolding tends to give those people away!  I know I will be toiling away on little details which I hope will prettify the day but I am entirely sure that I cannot undermine my beliefs for the sake of a pretty memory.  

Does a church confer more solemnity or grace to marriage ceremony?  Can I be expected to divorce because I have nor married in a "proper fashion"? I effing think not. How dare I be judged for my beliefs and the assumption that I believe in marriage less because I do not want a spiritual blessing. I have casually browsed our national divorce statistics.  They do show a decline in divorce (understandable in recession where people cannot afford to part, sadly) but they are not available grouped by type of wedding.  Do I think there will be a difference?  I would think so although the I'm sure the difference has nothing to do with the way in which people are married but more to do with how people are entering marriage.  So as an almost atheist I think I am somewhat reconciled by my decision.  I am sure I will still feel a pang of resentment to the age-old question but I am entirely sure our ceremony will be full of joy, laughter, a few tears and sense of grandeur for the new life we are undertaking together.

Luckily(?) we are moving on in wedding legalities with the (proposed) introduction of licensing of the celebrant which should hopefully increase options of matrimony for generations to come.  Assuming marriage still a viable option in the future. (Oh a whole other kettle of fish for another day!).  Although as a November bride I fear I would still not choose an outside wedding but it would be awfully tempting!

*Also it should be obvious by now that I have no qualms with those who do have faith, it's just not for me.  But never say never!

P.S. I did not realise this would turn into a Sociology tutorial.  My apologies!


  1. Great post! I never had many of the "are you getting married in a church?" questions when we first got engaged but I can definitely understand how you feel. My grandparents seemed disappointed when they found out it wouldn't be a church wedding, but I think we found the second best thing for them and the best thing for us since we've decided to host it at the summer cottage which they own, but the whole family uses. Although I am a person of faith, we have two good reasons for avoiding the church wedding 1) he's a non-believer and 2) neither or us is actively involved in a church, so it would be an arbitrary choice.
    While I understand why people want church weddings (for reasons of faith or just because of the kiss ass architecture) I've always felt closest to God in nature, so a June wedding with an outdoor ceremony was a no brainer. I've never understood the disappointment on people's faces when it's a non-church wedding. Honestly, we're not going to be any less married. Our marriage isn't going to be any less great. It'll just be different.

  2. Anna, it is like you have read my mind! I was raised Catholic but I haven't been to church (unless my mother has nagged me when visiting home) since starting university. The boyfriend and I are both atheists and he we never go to church.

    I have no problem with someone else's faith or their decision to go to church but, to be honest, I kind of hate it when people who never ever go to church get married in church just because they feel that that is the only way to have a 'proper' wedding. Why start your marriage, one of the most important things you will ever embark upon, with a fallacy?

    Dr. D and I shall marry in Islington Town Hall with no prayers, no hymns, no mention of God. But there will be friends, family, music, poetry and hopefully fun and laughter and I for one cannot wait as it will mean that our wedding ceremony will reflect who we are and what is important in our relationship. It will not be dictated by good architecture (although Islington Town Hall has that too!)

  3. Wonderfully put! I was raised [Italian] Roman Catholic, veering more towards agnostic, if not atheist, as I age. As Einstein said "If there is something in me which can be called religious, than it is the unbounded admiration for the beauty of our world so far as our science can reveal it". My guy is ambiguous about religion. (He didn't believe in evolution until he saw a monkey smoking a cigarette on America's Funniest Home Videos). Our families are religious- but Nature's beauty trumps that of a church (though you are right about how breathtaking those old English ones are). We wont be married in a church, we won't mention religion, I think things of that nature should be kept as private reflections- not public declarations.

  4. I wasn't even asked the church question, by the Australians or Irish.

    The Australians assumed I'd get married on the beach or in a garden.

    The Irish couldn't comprehend that a wedding could be held outside of the church.

    Lucky we're doing both :)

    I guess living somewhere that you can literally get married anywhere, I take it for granted. Why should it matter whether you get married in a permanent structure or not? As if it is going to ensure the marriage is permanent or something??

  5. To my conservative Catholic family, our wedding doesn't count if it is not blessed by God, meaning married in a church by a priest. But if you dont believe in that and you dont think you will anytime soon why do that? In the same vein, if someone wants to get married at a church because its pretty or traditional, and for no other reason, then more power to them. Just do you, you know?

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  7. Sorry my post messed up!

    Speak it girl!

    The majority of people aren't used to the atypical. It absolutely doesn't make sense to get married in one if it's not significant to you. There are great views if you get married in an old mansion or overlooking the ocean too.

    I'll admit that we didn't go to church much at all but having my wedding in a church was strangely huge for me. I wanted to respect the tradition for myself and have our marriage blessed appropriately and learned that was important to me. Ultimately, I do see the church in my life and so wanted it at the beginning of our union.

    p.s. I am trying to convince my brother that I will get ordained by the internet and officiate his wedding. He thinks I'm funny but I'd love to marry them.

  8. You know in Australia you can literally be married anywhere you like.

    We chose the venue we did because it reminded me of a church, and I could walk up an aisle. I don't even go to church, but something about that image in my head from all the movies you watch made me want a church wedding. But then a church just wasn't us. It was a good compromise for us.

    I don't think it makes a difference WHERE you get married. It's all about WHO you get married to!

  9. i didn't realize that weddings are a lot more rigid than here in the states! having a wedding at a venue other than a church isn't anything new.

    i don't think having a wedding in a church makes it more special to God or anything. i have a friend who is very active at her church who got married at a vineyard. so it really is a personal choice.

    for myself, i'm also very active in my church and with my personal relationship with God and a part of me always gets a little sad about getting married in a place other than my church. not that getting married in my church will make our marriage more sactimonious or what have you, but that is simply what my heart desires. and yes, sometimes i do spend part of service picturing how i want to decorate. while i know i should be paying attention to the pastor, i like to think God finds it mildly amusing. hahaha.

    i understand your reasons for not wanting a church wedding, as you don't claim to share that connection. it makes sense and it's your choice. i don't think anyone should make you feel like your wedding will be less than one that happens in a church.

    the thing that i never understood was why some people feel that weddings should only take place in a church. it's not like God only lives in the church. He's everywhere!

  10. Good post Anna - I don't think we discuss these things enough. Happy planning your readings and vows. ra

  11. English churches are beautiful.
    Genuine conversation with a friend of mine before she got married two years ago (the rules are more relaxed in Scotland so she got married by a minister in a hotel) -
    Me: Why have you decided to go for a religious service I didn't realise you felt so strongly about religion?
    Her: Well his parents are religious, I wanted to have candles and it seems nice.
    Me: I'm sorry? You wanted to have candles?
    Her: Yes for health and safety you need to have a religious service if you want candles, the registrar doesn't allow candles. I wanted candles so we are having a religious service.
    Me: ............???!!

    So apparently it is ok for a minister to catch fire but the risk to a registrar is too great?
    O refuses to walk in church yards for fear he'll be struck by lightening as a heathen.

    My word verification is ament looks too like amen for me not to mention - I'm childish sorry.

  12. How weird - I've been mulling over a post on this topic for days! You have motivated me to stop thinking and start writing. Here it is

    What a very interesting post and an interesting discussion.

  13. Interesting stuff and the very topic of a conversation I was having tonight. We're getting married in a church - to be honest I didn't consider doing it any other way - but that doesn't mean, even for a second, I think it's the right way for everyone.

    In church the priest says before the service:

    "Matrimony [..] is commended in Holy Writ to be honourable among all men: and therefore is not by any to be taken in hand unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly..."

    and, other than the 'holy writ' bit I think this should be true for all marriages whereever they take place. As long as the couple in question take what they are doing serioulsy and into their hearts it doesn't matter if the form they use is religious, cultural, secular or even jedi!

  14. I think it's a tricky issue for anyone getting married – unless you're deeply religious I guess!

    We always knew that we wouldn't be having a church wedding and my only worry was that my family (Irish Catholics) would be offended. Thankfully and somewhat surprisingly they're all really cool about it – think they're just so happy that we're getting married that they don't care where or how we do it!

    (That said, the OH's family who are less religious have mentioned the 'not in a church' thing but currently they're still more worried that I'm going to make them eat veggie food at the wedding!) ;)

  15. I'm glad you get what I mean. Maybe it is because I do not 100% love my venue?

    P.S. Anon - ra, would love to hear about you. It would be great if you could drop me an email! Unless you already have and I'm all mixed up!

  16. I don't know if this helps but I'm a Christian, and seriously tempted by the idea of a registry office or elopement. Yet my mother is like, "But then your marriage will just be a piece of paper, you won't be married in the eyes of God!"

    This baffles me. Isn't God everywhere? Isn't he supposedly interested in me? Therefore surely if I'm getting married in a registry office or a garden or on the other side of the world, he'll be there watching? Why do I need a priest to do the ceremony to make sure that God will count me as married?

    Obviously by now you've noticed that I fail to fit in with mainstream Christians, in the sense of that I think if you take Jesus's teachings seriously, you'd realise that you don't need robes, candles, and holy water for something to be spiritual and infused with the love of Christ.

    Anyway, I think having a wedding that matches your heart and your values is most important. If a church setting is required for that, then great. If a garden, home, registry office or some other type of setting is required for that, then great. While mainstream Christians may not see it as spiritual, the God that I believe in has the most respect for people who do things honestly rather than just because they're "supposed to".

    We all (including ourselves) need to let go of our need for external validation. Your wedding and marriage are valid because of what's going on in your mind when you make the commitment (which outsiders can't see), not the external stuff that decorates that mental state (venue, decorations, rituals, etc).

  17. Wait, I'm confused. So will you or won't you church it?
    Of eff it. I say do what you want. Churches do make for lovely photographs. And who is to say what religion you believe in - how about the belief in marriage? I think that's enough for a church wedding! :)


So, I really love all the sweet and/or informative comments that you lovelies leave. Yet if you feel the need to be unnecessarily rude or offensive I will delete your comment and not feel bad about it. So just be constructive alright! Hugs to all you wondrous others.


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