Wednesday, February 08, 2012

The Weddings Project vs Church Economics

Only last month, the CofE was celebrating the rise in church weddings, on the back of the Weddings Project and the relaxation of rules on where people could get married. We seemed to be getting something right. The CofE has an excellent weddings website, and is starting to identify and spread good practice on how to help couples through the marriage process.

It's lasted less than a month. Yesterday General Synod voted through an increase in wedding fees of 40%, (and of funeral fees by 50%) to £402 from the start of 2013. This was rejected back in July, but adopted this time round. The explanation is that the new fees level include various 'extras' that used to be charged for separately, or in an uneven pattern across parishes. This includes lighting and administration. It costs in use of buildings and clergy time.

Thinking Anglicans has the background papers for the debate. It may make sense financially, but the message that it sends is the exact opposite of the welcome extended by the Weddings project.

Even the idea that it will lead to a rise in income is questionable. If it reduces the number of weddings, we lose both the fees, and the cash collection from the service.

On Monday I met with a couple who wanted to be married in 2013. They asked what the fees were likely to be, and foolishly (?) I replied that there was likely to be a slight increase, but nothing drastic. Now I have to explain to them why the bill has gone up by over £100. It's me, and thousands of other vicars like me, who have to explain this to couples in our parishes. It's not a job I look forward to, and I feel that General Synod has placed me and my colleagues in a very difficult position. But if someone can explain it better to me, then that would help.

PS there are some good things in the measure, such as the abolition of any funeral fee where a child is involved. That makes sense on every level.


  1. Absolutely. I have already taken a couple of wedding bookings for 2013 and given my usual line about fees "perhaps increasing by a few pounds." Like you, I am now wondering what and how I am going to tell the couples involved.

    I am bemused by the lack of joined-up thinking at the top, and wondering why this was not given the thrashing it got last year at Synod. I can only think that the exclusion of heating from this fee made the proposal seem slightly less ridiculous than last year's. While there are good things here, as you acknowledge, they are far outweighed (IMHO) by the bad publicity this will generate.

  2. I was in the hairdresser when radio Gloucester reported this on their 4.00 bulletin. In the midst of my community, surrounded by women whose daughters I had married or was due to be marrying, whose parents I had buried. I have seldom felt so uncomfortable being seen as "the vicar"...Occasional offices are the heart of my ministry here and on a fairly deprived estate this will deter many from even approaching us. I hate it :(

  3. The thing I can't fathom is how this is now to include "Administration". I have always treated the fee that was set as including everything compulsory - i.e. not organ, bells etc, but everything that is needed to conduct a wedding. What is this "administration" fee which churches have apparently been charging? How is it possible to arrange a wedding without administration - surely it was always included? Ditto, lighting - how can churches have charged for this? I know that such things happen - a pretty church in my diocese charges £1000 as standard, apparently under the heading of "it's a pretty church, and people are desperate to marry here, so if we can get some money out of them we might as well..." - I think they call it a "facility fee" or something like that. It seems to me that what has been needed is education and enforcement on parishes of the existing rules, since this arbitrary charging of extras has always been against them, not an increase in fees.

  4. Given the average wedding costs £ridiculous, the relative cost of the church part tends towards £nothing. I think you're all worrying about nothing at all.

    Indeed, if we actually wanted to make a difference to those in later married life, we'd be working much harder to find ways to reduce the cost of weddings (in the round) rather than getting too hung up on the church part. After all, finances are a major cause of divorce, and the overspending at a wedding must be a significant factor in many.

  5. Joe, you are not quite right, I entertain at 100 weddings every yer nd can speak from experience. Brides tell me that the Church is too expensive at the current level and so they chose the cheaper option of a registry office wedding, which will usually come out to the wedding venue. The number of weddings each year that I am hired to entertain at, that have a church wedding, I can count on one hand! Cost is a big factor and by increasing such ousts in 2013, the CoE is cutting their own throats!

  6. There's a prior question, of course - what biblical justification is there for us to be performing Christian wedding services for people who are not regular attenders at our congregations? That's a real Christendom holdover for you!

  7. Tim - or you could see it as an extension of God's welcome to people. Yes there are Christendom elements to it, the fact that clergy are 'clerk in holy orders' and registrars at the marriage, but it's also a chance to offer a generous welcome to people, regardless of their attendance or otherwise. I'd rather err on the side of generosity.