Before a vote on the matter takes place the following week, a vicar has stated that the Church of England should stop charging for weddings.
According to the Reverend Tom Woolford, who will present a resolution to the church’s parliament on Tuesday, charging couples hundreds of pounds is a “major contributor to the decline in church weddings.”
Ahead to the General Synod vote, the vicar of New Longton in Lancashire, close to Preston, compared marriage payments to a “poll tax.”
Church of England fees for 2023 state that those who get married in their home parish must pay a maximum of £539, or £641 if they get married somewhere else.
A motion to eliminate or at least scale back the costs imposed to couples who wish to get married in church will be put to the Synod’s vote for approval next week.
Given that marriage is viewed in the church as a gift from God, Mr. Woolford asserted that it “should be a free gift.”
To the PA news agency, he stated: “With cost of living, the cost of a wedding can be phenomenally expensive. So we just want to make it really easy for people, financially make it easy, for them to get married in church.
“We believe it’s (marriage is) a gift of God, and we even say that in our literature – we say marriage is a gift of God in creation.
“Well, if it’s a gift, why are we charging for it? It should be a free gift.
“We should be wanting couples to get married in church, because it’s the right thing to do, because it’s good for them, good for society, good for the church, good for their children.
“So just encouraging it in every way, including this financial way, I guess seems the appropriate thing to do.”
He stated that he thinks bishops won’t vote to completely abolish fees out of concern for church revenue, adding that he thinks “they’d be wrong to do so.”
He said: “I think the chances of it just passing and weddings becoming free straight away is basically nil. General Synod is very risk-averse and the bishops will vote against it because they’re worried about loss of income for the churches and therefore having to find that money from somewhere else.
“I think that’s a short-sighted way to look at it because I think that, if the wedding is free, most couples will make a donation anyway. So you can’t just say ‘We’ll just lose all of the money’.
“I also think we’ll get lots more weddings if it’s free. And with more weddings, even if a donation is less than the fee, I think financially we’ll not be too far off.”
While he acknowledged that society is now more secular, he said baptisms – which are free – have not seen the same decline as church weddings, indicating “some correlation with the fees going up and up, and the number of church weddings going down and down”.
He said: “It’s not going to get to the same level as the 1950s, of course not, but I think that our fee structure is a major contributor to the decline in church weddings.”
As a starting step, Mr. Woolford said he would be pleased for a regional experiment to be permitted, in which weddings in a specific diocese are free for a while to see whether it may make a difference.
If we feel it’s (marriage is) sacramental, then to charge for it doesn’t sit well, the man continued, adding that he is making the motion “on social justice grounds, on believing in marriage grounds.”