A new wedding handbook has been published to help churches make the most of a couple's big day.
The Church Weddings Handbook explores the seven pastoral moments that matter and draws from five years of learning through the Church of England's Weddings Project.
It notes that only one per cent of couples were closed to further contact from the Church after their wedding and that they also wanted to meet their marrying vicar as quickly as possible.
Research found that 53 per cent of people think church weddings ‘feel more proper’ and that couples were more than three times more likely to "stick" with a church wedding rather than marry somewhere else if they felt free to choose elements of the service that were distinctly personal to them.
The project trained more than 3,500 vicars in 33 dioceses and equipped the church with brand new resources that have since been used to great effect.
The Church saw the Weddings Project as a way not only of improving its service to wider society, but also as an opportunity for growth.
Weddings in the project’s two pilot areas, Oxford and Bradford, increased by 10 per cent and 50 per cent respectively. Overall, the number of Church of England weddings increased by four per cent in 2010.
The handbook outlines seven key opportunities for the Church to build relationships with marrying couples.
These are: the first call, the first meeting, space to think, reading the banns, the big day, the warm glow, the first anniversary.
The handbook suggests tips for aftercare, such as encouraging guests to take away a prayer card to pray for the couple, inviting the couple to send feedback to the vicar 30 days after the wedding, and sending an invitation to a service on the first anniversary.
In addition, the book offers a simple guide to marriage law and the Marriage Measure, explains wedding fees, provides simple checklists, and a run through of newly available resources, including the popular website www.yourchurchwedding.org
In his preface, the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, praised the success of the Weddings Project and its accompanying nationwide roadshow, which shared the findings with clergy.
"Clergy who have been to these have felt affirmed, challenged, informed, and inspired to go out and put these ideas into practice …This book makes me profoundly hopeful," he wrote.
The Ven John Barton, who contributed to the Weddings Project, points out in his foreword that there is huge potential to build on the successful approach set out in the book.
“The Church of England could be conducting more than double the number of weddings than the 22 per cent we currently achieve," he said.
The Church Weddings Handbook: The Seven Pastoral Moments that Matter by Gillian Oliver is available in paperback (ISBN 978 0 7151 4278 5, £12.99) from www.chpublishing.co.uk
and from all good booksellers. A Kindle e-book is also available.