The Archbishops’ Council wanted to understand why, in a culture that no longer expects it, couples still choose to have a church wedding, and why many do not. Researching couples’ thoughts and feelings about the church before they even make an enquiry about a wedding gave revealing new insights.
And, the research discovered how the vicar’s response to an initial wedding enquiry can win or lose a couple’s interest, and how it can affect their long term view of the church for better or worse.
When a couple first get in touch about a wedding, they are likely to:-
- Be feeling nervous because they feel hypocritical about approaching the church for a wedding. This feeling may be influenced by how often they go to church, or how ‘religious’ they think they are.
- Be anticipating they will be judged on whether they ‘measure up’ to the church’s standards of marriage. If they live together or already have children, they may believe this will go against them.
- Believe the vicar holds all the cards as to whether they are allowed to have a church wedding or not.
- Despite these fears, many couples would still really love a church wedding.
- The top reasons for wanting a church wedding were expressed in several different ways but essentially came down to one thing – they wanted God there with them at the moment of their marriage.
- NB: To prepare themselves, couples may look up your church on the internet before they call. They’ll get an impression of what the church and its people are like from the information provided, and from the tone in which it is written. It’s a good idea to review the parish website , looking at it from the point of view of a stranger. At the very least, make sure it has contact details clearly displayed, (and ideally with a smiley photo and welcome message from the vicar.)
- Most couples will make contact by phone. So whoever answers the phone needs to be able to reduce those anxieties and show the warmth and welcome of the church. This can be done by:-
- Answering the enquiry quickly. If a couple leave a message, call back as soon as possible. Waiting increases their anxiety. The couple will feel rejection if their call is not answered at all – research showed that 1 in 4 vicars never calls back! If the couple has enough courage to call back and try again, their anxiety will be greater than it was previously.
- Being friendly and showing an interest in them and their story before discussing legal requirements. It instantly makes the couple feel more relaxed. Ask how they met and how long they’ve been together.
- Showing enthusiasm for marriage and doing weddings by saying something like: ‘Congratulations on getting engaged! I’m so pleased you’re thinking of a church wedding.’
- Saying ‘Yes, you are very welcome to get married at this church’ to the couple if it’s clear cut they can marry at the church.
- If it’s not so clear cut, remaining positive to avoid generating feelings of rejection. Arrange to meet to discuss it further if possible, or offer to assist them in exploring marriage at another church, or to consider other service options.
Moving a couple from a place of anxiety and fear to a feeling of relief and excitement is the first step on the way to a lasting friendship. Administrators and others who may answer the vicarage or church office phone will need to know this and be trained in giving the right responses.