We ran a church stall at the local wedding fair yesterday at the Westlands leisure complex in Yeovil. There's a first time for everything and thankfully it was a world away from the hard sell Apprentice version, and quite fruitful.
The stall had 2 goals:
1. To be an information point for church weddings, and to explain the changes in rules on these. We'd booked the stall months ago, so to then find that the rules had changed on Oct 1st was great timing.
2. Marriage Preparation: we use the 'Marriage Preparation Course' from HTB at our local church, and it's 95% suitable for people who aren't having a church wedding, so we offered folk the chance to come on the course.
On the Stall
The fair gave us a standard 6-foot table for our £80 booking fee. Thankfully I'd thought of a tablecloth just before leaving the house, which made it look a lot nicer. On the table we had various freebies: the 'Ready for Marriage' booklets from htb (£1 each, we give one to everyone who books a wedding with us), and the CofE's guide to weddings, which needs revising to include the new wedding rules. Also a basket of Celebrations chocolates - I was surprised nobody else had any, but that gave us a good pretext for going round all the other stallholders, plying them with chocolate.
We also had a laptop running the Marriage Prep DVD throughout the day. With background music, you couldn't really hear the soundtrack, but it has a subtitles option so that came in really handy.
There was a sign-up sheet for copies of the leaflets, or to ask for more information about the marriage prep course. Everyone who signed will get an invitation to the course February, but we'll not use their details for anything else. I also had some 'business' cards which we gave out to folk who were interested, but not interested to the point of writing their name down, so that they could get in touch by phone or email at a later date.
At the back of the tabe we had 2 panels of a display board, with a marriage prep poster, header poster, some pix of local churches, A4 poster of new wedding rules, quotes from folk who'd done the marriage prep course. The fair was set up for stall holders to sit behind tables, so this was a bit awkward, and if we'd used all 3 panels then we'd have been invisible! Having something to catch people's eye is important, and what I really missed was high-resolution versions of the CofE logo, or the 'yourchurchwedding' logo, to print out.
Sadly we didn't have wireless access, otherwise we could have had the new YourChurchWedding site up and running, though it would have needed a 2nd laptop. It would also have worked better with a double-decker display board behind the table, which would have given more space. But they cost money...
The Fair was in the ballroom, so there were a couple of wedding cars down one side, gowns and suits in the corners, and a chocolate fountain bubbling away. Talking to other stallholders, most remarked that it was quieter than usual. The stalls around us were mainly photographers, plus some doing jewellery and makeup.
We gave away booklets to maybe a dozen people, and chocolates to several more. 3 couples signed up for the marriage prep course - all were already getting married in local churches. We had a couple of other good conversations, and maybe spoke to 12-15 couples in all. 3-4 others seemed interested in the course, and took details, and may (or may not) get in touch.
Everyone we spoke to got a copy of the htb booklet, a business card, and a CofE wedding leaflet if they showed an interest in that.
I didn't make much attempt to grab people - not a great expert at it anyway, though Tim from Holy Trinity came to help for a couple of hours and showed me how its done! There was also time to talk to other stall-holders as well, some of whom I had tenuous connections with, or had seen at weddings we've hosted in the last couple of years.
All in all it was worthwhile, though quieter than I'd expected/hoped. It cost us £80 for the stall, and quite a bit of setting up, but having done it once it should be simpler next time.
It helped to have 2 on the stall - for the first couple of hours I was on my own, but having 2 people gives you more scope for chatting to people and engaging with them. Also having 1 in a dog collar and 1 without is probably best: I was in my clergy kit, which might have scared a few people off. Maybe in January we could try a dog-collar free zone and see if more people stop by. The couples tended to go to stalls they were interested in, so to have a church/marriage prep stall was probably off their mental shopping list anyway. Pretty much everyone else was selling an obvious product (photos, cars, clothes) which could be seen and handled.
They have another in January '09, which is supposed to be busier, so we'll do that one and then take stock. Unfortunately the biggest local wedding fair is in Sherborne, which is in another Diocese, and there's a whole set of negotiations needed before we try that one!
The other thing we might add is more information about 'Green Weddings' - with a display board behind the table, that would give us room for a 'green' section. It would also be another reason for people to stop by.
For more reflections on weddings, see this recent post from Bishop Alan.