This note is intended to update the position set out in our news item posted on 18th March following further guidance issued by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York after the Prime Minister’s Address to the Nation on Monday 23rd March and advice from the Church of England. It will seek to address some common questions which the Faculty Office has been receiving since the Covid-19 restrictions have been introduced and which weren’t covered in our earlier item which can still be viewed below.
Can weddings still go ahead? Sadly there can be no weddings taking place in church buildings until further notice. A wedding requires a minimum of five people to be present and this exceeds the numbers which the Government restrictions currently permit to gather together in one place.
What about emergency weddings in hospital, hospice or at home? The Faculty Office will continue to facilitate the issue of a Special Marriage Licence for a Church of England/Church in Wales wedding to proceed in a hospital, hospice or at home where one of the parties is terminally ill (whether through Covid-19 or otherwise). Clearly, any decision to proceed with a wedding in these circumstances will, as always, be one for the clergy and parties and will need to be based upon medical advice and with social distancing policies and guidance applied as regard the officiant and witnesses. The permission of the hospital or hospice authorities will always be required in writing. Clergy or others enquiring about a wedding in these circumstances are invited to use the contact form (click here) in the first instance for further advice.
We were seeking to establish a Qualifying Connection through habitual attendance at public worship but cannot continue as there are no services taking place – what can we do? For many couples who don’t already have the legal entitlement to be married in the church where they wish to be married, the way to attain that entitlement is to attend services in the parish at least once a month for a period of six months or more. Now that services have been suspended for a season, many couples who have not been able to attend for six months already will be concerned that they are unable to complete their ‘qualifying attendance’. However, where they have already started to attend and are only prevented from maintaining attendance due to the suspension of services, provided that couples resume as soon as services are able to resume, the ‘gap’ will still be capable of counting towards their ‘habitual attendance at public worship for six months or more’.
Where couples have been prevented from starting their attendance period due to the suspension of services, the situation is quite different as the six month period can only start from the date of the first actual attendance at public worship. If there is then insufficient time for couples to create the qualifying connection between services resuming and their intended wedding date, an Archbishop of Canterbury’s Special Marriage Licence is likely to be required. Whilst every application for a Special Licence is considered on its own merits, the Faculty Office will be very sympathetic where couples have shown a willingness and commitment to create a qualifying connection with their chosen church and have been prevented from doing so solely due to the suspension of public worship. Although ‘attendance’ at any virtual or live streamed acts of worship cannot be said to be attending public worship sufficient to count towards a qualifying connection, couples are encouraged to participate in such services as are available in the parish through social media or other channels.
Is the Faculty Office still open to callers? Our offices in Westminster are currently closed and all the staff are working from home in accordance with Government advice. We are having our post re-directed, so all the time postal deliveries are able to continue, post will be received although there may be some delays. The best way to contact us is by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The staff of the Faculty Office can also be contacted by phone:
For general special licence enquiries: 020 7960 7162
For specific enquiries on marriage law or Covid-19 related issues Neil Turpin: 020 7960 7126 – email@example.com
On 17th March, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York published a joint letter and on the same date a pastoral declaration was issued by the Bench of Bishops of the Church in Wales both stating that, in the light of Government advice, all church services and gatherings for public worship should no longer take place for the time being. A number of questions have arisen around Banns of Marriage and Weddings and this note seeks to answer those in general terms. Clergy and couples with specific questions should contact their own Diocesan Registry. The staff of the Faculty Office are also available to assist.
Banns of Marriage can only be called within the context of the principal service of public worship in a parish church on a Sunday. Given that there will be no public worship taking place, Banns cannot be called. Banns cannot be called via a ‘live-streamed’ or ‘virtual service’ to a wider digital community but with no congregation physically present nor by any form of ‘public notice’ on the door of a parish church.
For any wedding where Banns of Marriage have not been completed, and where the couple, in consultation with the Minister, do not wish to postpone their wedding (see below), a Common Marriage Licence will normally be required to authorise the marriage. Clergy and couples should talk to their relevant Diocesan Registry. A Common Marriage Licence is normally available if a couple would have been able to marry by banns. Common Marriage Licences are valid for three months from the date on which they are issued.
Alternatively, a Superintendent Registrar’s Certificate might be available. This is a civil marriage preliminary issued through the local Registry Office but which can still authorise a marriage in the Church of England or Church in Wales but only for couples where one, or both, live in the Parish where the wedding is to take place or where the Parish Church is their usual place of worship (usually evidenced by being on the church electoral roll). A Superintendent Registrar’s Certificate cannot be issued where the couple have a Qualifying Connection to a parish (under the Church of England Marriage Measure 2008 or the Marriage (Wales) Act 2010) unless one or both of the couple are non-UK/EEA/Swiss Nationals – in which case the SRC is the only marriage preliminary available. Note, however, that there is normally a 28-day Notice period between the giving of Notice of Intended Marriage and the issue of an SRC so this is not a quick fix. Once issued, an SRC is valid for twelve months from the date on which Notice was given.
Special Marriage Licences are issued from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Faculty Office. If the options set out above are not available and if all else fails, the Faculty Office is able to grant a Special Marriage Licence for a marriage to take place at any convenient time or place in England or Wales. The issue of a special Licence is discretionary. Please make an early enquiry with the Faculty Office if you think a special licence will be needed. Although Special Marriage Licences are normally issued with a three month period of validity, in view of the Coronavirus the Faculty Office is currently issuing licences with a one year validity period to permit greater flexibility.
Weddings – where Banns of Marriage have been completed, the marriage must be solemnized within three calendar months from the last publication. After three months the publication of Banns becomes void. The Banns will either need to be re-read, or if that is not possible, another preliminary for the marriage – common or special licence or superintendent registrar’s certificate (see above) – will be needed.
Unless the Government changes the law, the common law right of parishioners and those with a Qualifying Connection to be married in a parish church remains. However, the date, time and other arrangements are, legally speaking, for the minister to determine. It is for the minister, in consultation with the couple, to make a decision about how or whether the marriage can take place during the Coronavirus outbreak. It would also be for the minister to prescribe any conditions if the wedding was to go ahead in his or her church, such as a limit on numbers to ensure social distancing.
The Church of England’s advice is that wedding services can take place but subject to the rules and guidance on social distancing. Any wedding in church would need to be on a very small scale. Only five people need be present at a marriage service: the couple, and the clergy person, plus two witnesses.
The Church in Wales’ guidance states that weddings scheduled until 31 July 2020 should be postponed and any fees already paid refunded. Couples with a later wedding date should be free to cancel/rearrange without financial penalty. If for pressing pastoral reasons a wedding must take place, it should be solemnized with a maximum of ten persons present – the five who are required to be present (see above) and up to five others.
What if the officiating minister or couple fall sick? Arrangements should be made to ensure that there is a back-up Anglican member of the clergy with a licence or permission to officiate in case the officiating minister is required to pull-out due to sickness. A lay person or a minister of another Christian church cannot officiate in the place of the Anglican member of the clergy. If the couple fall sick, serious consideration should be given to whether the wedding should proceed. That would be a matter to be risk-assessed in view of all the relevant information at the time.
The above advice is of a general nature intended for clergy and couples and addresses some of the key issues. This note is considered to be correct as of 18th March 2020.