Choosing whether to get married in a church or to have a civil wedding ceremony is an entirely personal choice and should be made by the couple. This article can help couples decide what is right for them when it comes to saying ‘I do’; from tradition to the logistics of your day and more…

Church or civil wedding ceremony: how to decide?

Most couples have an idea in their mind whether they’re hoping to have a church wedding. In the modern day, when strong religious association is gently subsiding, there are nonetheless huge numbers of couples who wish to tie the knot in the sight of God for reasons of tradition as much as religion itself. One thing to think about when making your decision on this is whether you’re going to mortally offend any of your key stakeholders by taking one course or the other.

The vehemence with which someone who went to a convent school in the 1960s might object to their offspring getting married in a Catholic church is matched almost pound-for-pound by the offence that a strongly religious parent might take at a secular ceremony. And as a word to the wise – be careful if you think you can get the best of both by having a civil ceremony that smells like a church wedding. It depends on the individual registrar you’re dealing with, but many of them won’t allow candles or any religious readings whatsoever in a civil ceremony room.

If you’re already set on a church wedding, your path is fairly clear. You need to find the church (if you haven’t already) and then you need to find a venue for the reception which, ideally, isn’t too far away. The longer the distance between the two the more room there is for things to go wrong. If you can walk from one to the other – all the better!

If you’re already set on a registry office wedding – your path is equally clear. Registry offices are usually towards the middle of conurbations (large or small) so you’re likely to need to drive if you’re going for a countryside reception venue.

If you’re unsure, then it’s worth thinking about the third option – reception venues with wedding licenses – and then weighing up the three options. A key thing to consider is whether you’re happy having the day split into two, or whether you’d rather keep everyone in one place for the whole day. An added bonus of this third option is the potential, given a nice sunny day, to hold your ceremony ‘outside’.

Wedding day coordination

The more traditional model, given that historically weddings most often took place in churches, is the separate ceremony and reception. Anyone having a church wedding is likely to need to take this route although often it is possible to find venues and churches that are reasonably close to each other, so as to minimise travel time. Having the separation of the two elements of the day offers some key benefits – notably the fact that your reception can take place anywhere and this therefore offers more flexibility for you to personalise that element of the day. The marquee in the garden is a perfect example of this – you’re not going to have to worry about licensing restrictions on music or alcohol, you don’t have to worry about clearing out by a certain time the next morning, and there are none of those pesky health and safety considerations that more “professional” venues need to worry about and impose on you and your celebrations. You don’t even have to have the reception on the same day as the ceremony of course – or even in the same country! It’s not all upside though – choosing such an approach opens up a lot of extra work in the planning phase, as well as creating far more opportunities for things to go wrong. There are the obvious bits (less professionalism is, of course, a double edged sword) and the ones you might not immediately think about (think traffic and rain – even if it only gets you on the walk to and from the car in that beautiful dress!) but if you’re lucky you might just pull off the unique wedding to end all unique weddings.

Keeping everything in one place

If you’re hoping to get married (ceremony-wise) and celebrate (reception-wise) in the same place, your options are slightly more restricted. Not many registry offices or churches also have banqueting facilities so, if you want the all-in-one-place solution then you are probably looking at choosing between hotels and dedicated, specialist, licensed wedding venues. There are, of course, lots of couples for whom this is a deal breaker – not everyone wants a wedding day that needs to fit within the relative constraints of somewhere that does this for a living. If that’s not you, however, there’s a long list of advantages to keeping the two elements of the day in one place. Queuing theory will tell you that queue lengths increase exponentially when you add variation to the system. Moving all of your guests from one place to another in a time-sensitive part of the most important day of your life is about as bad as it gets. Just picture the scene – you know you need to get started on photos at 3pm in order to sit down to the meal on time (and you need to sit down to the meal on time in order to cut the cake and have the first dance on time in order to get a minimum of two hours of boogying in before crashing out), but Uncle George has had to stop for fuel and a nappy change and Granny Margaret hasn’t updated her TomTom since 2004 so is currently searching for a roundabout that no longer exists. Not to mention the photographer himself – was he supposed to be getting a lift with Uncle George? Throw a fine British summer downpour into the mix and bang – you’ve got yourself a wedding day nervous breakdown. Getting everyone to one place and keeping them there is a huge stress–reducer for the day and anything that’s a stress reducer for the day is a MASSIVE stress reducer for the months leading up to it