Marriage fee need to rise, say clerics

SHAUN LOWTHORPE Clerics across Norfolk are urging Church leaders nationally to increase dramatically the current £123 marriage fee, saying it comes nowhere near covering what it costs to conduct a ceremony.

SHAUN LOWTHORPE

Couples wishing to marry in church could face higher charges to add to the ever-rising price of modern weddings.

Clerics across Norfolk are urging Church leaders nationally to increase dramatically the current £123 marriage fee, saying it comes nowhere near covering what it costs to conduct a ceremony.

Delegates to the Norwich Diocesan Synod at the weekend agreed that the Church was losing out when the cost of preparing for weddings, including paperwork, heating and maintenance charges, were taken into account and backed a call to the General Synod to overhaul charges.

With the cost of the average wedding now a staggering £17,000, church leaders were keen to increase their share of the ever-profitable wedding cake.

They overwhelmingly backed a proposal put forward by Yarmouth Deanery to give local churches powers to charge couples more.

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The Rev Tim Thompson, from the Yarmouth Deanery, who proposed the motion, told the meeting that churches facing high heating bills or administrative costs should have the powers to raise discretionary fees in addition to the set charges.

“The statutory fee of £123 for a wedding is very small compared to what is charged in the market and what the market will bear,”

he said.

“One hotel in Gorleston charges £200 plus a registry fee and another charges £300 - and that's before the catering and the bar profits.

“People spend quite frightening amounts of money on weddings - far more than they used to.”

Ironically, the meeting also looked at ways of boosting the number of men and women willing to tie the knot in church. Nationally, the number willing to walk down the aisle has fallen by a third to fewer than 60,000 a year.

Their ideas included clerics attending wedding shows to highlight what is on offer and loosening the rules governing which church can be used.

The Bishop of Lynn, the Rt Rev James Langstaff, who chairs an influential Church of England committee looking at the fees issues, told the meeting that a draft report was set to recommend significant changes.

“One of the proposals we are trying to get the Archbishops' Council to adopt is to take account of the real costs that are involved,” he said.

“One of the things we have discovered is that the level of fees, as currently set, bears no relationship to anything at all. They are basically what was charged last year, 'plus a bit'. Quite where they originated from nobody knows.”

He said estimates of the real costs of running churches and preparing the paperwork for weddings and funerals showed the figure was thousands of pounds more than currently received from fees.

Any recommended changes to the fee structure would need to be approved by Parliament.

But the bishop said: “We think the fees need to be proper, realistic and sensible. It's counterproductive if we are seen to be using it as an opportunity to make money.”

Jonathan Charles, a rector for the Burnham group of parishes, said he asked for collections from the congregation at the end of a wedding service and sums received varied between £50 to £3,000. But others complained that too few people were prepared to put their hands in their pockets.

The meeting also heard of a series of initiatives to boost the role of the church in rural areas, including improving links with farmers, encouraging the use of church buildings as venues for language lessons for migrant workers, and a campaign to increase the community use of churches.

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