by Nicholas Henderson
from Signs of the Times No. 63 - Oct 2016

The recent changes in residential and allied qualifications for marriage in Church of England churches granted by the General Synod (Marriage Measure 2008 Qualifying Connections) are helpful but do not go far enough in enabling clergy to reach out to those many enquirers seeking a religious service of marriage.

(I understand that the Synod did at one point - before a call for a vote by Houses - vote to remove all residential restrictions from those seeking marriage in Church of England churches. The subsequent vote by Houses restricted this to an easing of the very strict previous qualifications required).

Given the current haemorrhage of marriages from the Church of England to secular venues, I wish to propose that a way be found to license ministers to enable them conduct religious marriage ceremonies in non-ecclesiastical venues. I believe that this would represent a fresh expression of ministry and be broadly welcomed.

However, the Church of England, in its unique position vis a vis the legislative power of the General Synod, could take a lead in promoting such a change. This would offer serious pastoral and evangelistic opportunities. A model for such practice can be found both in Scotland and in the United States of America where ministers are free to conduct religious wedding ceremonies in buildings and venues other than their churches.

A possible wording for this motion to Synod could be:

'That this Synod requests moves to enable Church of England clergy to conduct religious wedding ceremonies in venues other than churches. This to further the considerable evangelistic opportunities available by enabling ministers to marry people in secular venues.'

A simple legal solution could be to extend the remit of the existing ‘Archbishop’s Special Licence’ currently used to enable couples to marry in churches other than their own, or in hospital or prison.