A modern building in Cheltenham town Centre with plenty of on-site parking, Highbury is an ideal venue for a Cheltenham wedding.
Recently re-furbished with comfortable seating it is readily accessible for people with disabilities and is equipped with a loop system and fully wheel-chair accessible toilets.
Getting married is one of the most special things any couple can do. It’s worth thinking carefully about, and preparing really well for.
Once you have taken the decision to get married there will be all sorts of things to do, getting plans made, organising the day and everything that goes with it.
It’s not only the day itself that’s worth preparing for ... Getting married involves entering into a whole new kind of relationship ... And that’s worth thinking through.
What does marriage mean/ What can make it go well? What can spoil it? Why do marriages so often break down? What can we do to prevent such a thing happening/ Why get married in Church? Is there anything to the words of the service? Why bring God into it anyway?
All sorts of questions ... And they really are worth thinking through.
At Highbury as a church family we are delighted to welcome people who are thinking of getting married ... We feel that we have more to offer than just a lovely service on the day of the wedding itself. We feel that a Christian wedding can be the beginning of a lifelong Christian marriage and it’s worth taking time to get ready for what can be a real adventure.
Getting ready for the day
Getting married in church can be very special indeed. Getting ready for Christian marriage together is also very special.
We like to have about five preparatory sessions to explore what Christian marriage is all about, and to get ready for the wedding service itself.
It’s good to start with An Introductory Session when we can share thoughts about marriage, get to know each other and begin to get ready for the wedding.
Then we take a look at what Marriage is. We’ll look at the things that help to make marriage work, and the the things that can damage it. We’ll take a look at the problems that can arise and at ways of resolving them.
Next we’ll have a look at what Christian Marriage is and what’s really special about getting married in Church. During the Service we shall be using lots of fine sounding words, but it’s not much good using them without thinking about what they mean.
In a couple of sessions we look at The Wedding service and the wording of the service especially. It’s very important to get the wording right for the service. Spending time on the words of the service, making sure that they say exactly what the couple want to say is really rewarding.
To get married at Highbury Congregational Church one or other of the couple has to be resident in Cheltenham for seven consecutive days leading up to the point at which they give notice of their wedding.
No more than a year before the wedding and at least sixteen days before the wedding, both partners have to give notice of their intended wedding at Highbury at the Registry Office. Fifteen days later each will pick up a certificate which can be handed to the Minister at Highbury. Richard Cleaves will then be able to complete the registers and issue a marriage certificate on the day.
The service has to take place between 9-00 am and 6-00 pm at the church and it has to be open to the public. It has to be conducted in the presence of at least two other people who will act as witnesses. The service has to contain a very small number of set words that the law requires. Other than that there is great flexibility in shaping the service to make it as personal as possible.
The great thing about getting married at Highbury is that we are free to shape the service so that it is as personal as possible.
It is always a great joy to be able to share in planning the service. Some people like a very traditional service: other people prefer to make it very different. Most are somewhere in between!
To help you choose the right hymn and find the right reading for you in the Bible take a look at Hymns and Readings for Weddings.
Tradition has it that the groom arrives first and the bride is escorted into the church by her father who later ‘gives her away’. Some people love those traditions and many of our weddings follow them.
Other people like to think differently. Sometimes the couple have arrived together; sometimes both the groom and the bride have worked in escorted by their parents, or maybe by their mothers.
Our Minister, Richard Cleaves, usually takes the Wedding service - but usually relatives and friends take part doing readings, or contributing to the music.
The service opens with a welcome and maybe some words of praise from the Bible, marking just how special the day is.
A Hymn of Praise
It’s great to begin with one of the great hymns of praise that everyone can join in with. We have a team of organists who will help to make the music come alive. We also have sound equipment for a worship group to lead worship songs during the wedding. We have special licenses that permit us to copy and print copyright hymns, songs and play recorded music.
An opening prayer seeks God’s blessing on the Wedding service and everything that’s going to happen in it.
The Christian Teaching on Marriage
A short statement about Christian marriage explains some of the basic principles underlying the Christian marriage that the couple are about to enter into. We shall think through these words before the service and they will have been the basis of some of the sessions that we shall have shared together.
A Hymn Celebrating Christian Marriage
There is often a second hymn at this point celebrating the love that the couple have for each other and are about to commit to in their marriage vows.
The Marriage Vows
These fall into six parts:
First, there are the legal preliminaries during which the couple declare that they are legally able to get married.
Second, the couple are invited to make promises to each other about the life they will share together.
Third, their families, friends and all in the church congregation are invited to promise their encouragement and support. (Many people like to include a response from the Bride’s father, mother or other family representative who is ‘giving them away’; some like to invite such a response from a representative of both families; others prefer to omit this response as a hangover from the days when women were quite wrongly supposed to be almost the property of their father until they were handed over to their husband - an awful and rightly out-dated thought!)
Fourth, they take each other by the right hand as a sign of mutual belonging and then the actual marriage vows are exchanged - each of the couple uses the same words to pledge their commitment to the other.
Fifth, they give and receive rings or a ring as a symbol of their love for each other.
Finally, there is a declaration declaring that they are now married ... and the bride may kiss the groom and/or vice versa!
Richard Cleaves, the Minister, usually gives a short address sharing the joys and hopes of the couple for their marriage together. They may want someone else close to give the address.
A Bible reading is usually built into the Address and often read by a friend of the couple’s.
Prayers for the Couple’s Future
These are the main prayers of the service and look to the future the Couple are going to share with each other.
A Hymn Looking to their Future Together
The final hymn looks to the future that lies ahead of the couple and may express their commitment to each other and to to God.
The Register is Signed
... On the Table at the front of the church in full view of everyone present. The couple each sign the register; each of them has a witness to sign on their behalf. It may be their fathers or their mothers, or the Best Man and the leading Bridesmaid. After the Minister and the Authorised Person responsible for registering the marriage have signed, the marriage certificate is prepared and handed over to the couple. At this point the photographer has an opportunity to pose a photo.
The couple return to their position at the front of the church. After the blessing they process out of the church to the accompaniment of the organ, the worship group or the CD track they have chosen.
Excellent photographs of the wedding service itself can be taken from the gallery. After the service the forecourt provides a lovely setting for photographs.
Facilities for little children
Little children are more than welcome at all our services - we have toys and games for them to play with in the porch if they need to go out during the service. Parents who accompany can see and hear everything going on.
Facilities for people with disabilities
Access to the church is by a gentle ramp and there are no steps in the interior of the building. We have toilet facilities for wheelchair users and a loop system for those who use a hearing aid.
The great thing about a church wedding is that it is not just for the wedding day ... It’s for life!
Our church offers a support network for couples that goes on throughout life. There’s the opportunity to have follow-up sessions after the wedding to see how things are going in your marriage and to talk through issues that have arisen.
There’s the opportunity to think through what the Christian faith has to offer in the whole of our lives. Each year we run an Alpha Course or a similar course exploring what Christianity is all about.
If children come to be part of your family then we provide support for children and a setting where they can grow up getting to know the Christian values that are so important in life as a whole. Baptism services are particularly special as they echo parts of the wedding service and enable parents to celebrate the gift of God’s love reaching out to their children and to make new vows to care for their children as they grow up.
We run toddler groups and a very special midweek Fish Club Service for under 5’s their families and friends. On Sunday mornings there’s a place for little children to be taken where they can enjoy playing with all sorts of games and toys while their parents looking after them can see what’s going on in church and hear the whole service.
For older children we run activities on Sunday morning, regular holiday clubs and a fortnightly puppet club. We also host Guides, Scouts and Cubs.
For young people we run a youth group on Sunday evenings and other activities too.
Not a lot of people realise that a church offers a professionally skilled pastoral care service and has access to professional counsellors who can offer skilled support in times of difficulty. In times of bereavement it is not only a funeral service that we offer but on-going bereavement support and a network of care.
People have lots of questions about getting married in church. Here’s how we at Highbury answer those questions: the answers come from our Minister, Richard Cleaves.
Can I get married at Highbury if I don’t already belong?
Yes. We are only too pleased to welcome people who want to get married at our church and to share in their special day. There are some anomalies in the law at the moment that mean that the law requires one of the couple to establish a seven day residence in Cheltenham prior to giving notice of their marriage at the registry office.
How much will it cost?
People imagine that it has to cost a lot to get married. Nothing could be further from the truth. We believe that a wedding service is part of belonging to church so if you belong to church there won’t be any charge for using the church or for preparation sessions. There are statutory fees for the certificates you need to get from the Registry office to enable you to get married at Highbury. They will cost £30 each and you will need one each. There is a statutory fee of £25 for the marriage certificate issued on the day of the wedding. In some circumstances this fee could be waived. That means that the minimum cost for getting married with no extras is £60.
For others we make the following charges:
£60 for the use of the church. £60 to the Minister for five preparatory sessions, a rehearsal and the wedding itself. £30 for an organist. £30 for the Authorised person to include the cost of the marriage certificate. Our flower arrangers are sometimes able to acquire flowers and arrange them. £100 will cover the cost of lovely arrangements in the church.
Is it possible to get married at Highbury if one or other of the couple have been divorced?
Yes. Christianity is all about making new starts. When a divorce happens there are usually hurts that need healing and often wrongs that need setting right. Christianity is all about healing hurts and setting wrongs right. It is possible to make sure that the wording of the service is appropriate to the circumstances of the wedding.
There is one circumstance that would cause problems: that’s when the relationship of the couple coming to be married has been the substantial cause of the breakdown of the first marriage.
There will be no prying into anyone’s past when you come to visit our minister. He will explain his thinking without going into your past at all and then leave it for you to decide whether you want to go ahead with the wedding at Highbury or not.
Services in these circumstances can often be very special and very moving as they mark a new beginning and open up all sorts of channels for healing and re-building.
Are there any circumstances in which Christians should live together without being married?
No. Christian teaching encourages people to enter into a Christian marriage at a wedding service and then live together afterwards.
Lots do. Should they feel guilty?
No. I think we need to seek to understand what couples are doing when they live together, and what's going on in our society. At the same time I think couples living together need to understand what they are doing. It doesn't help at all to use the term 'living in sin' to describe such a relationship. That leads off in the direction of guilt trips that are not at all helpful. Better by far is the term 'common-law marriage'. I believe that our society at the moment practises three levels of marriage. I would think of them as a Bronze standard, a Silver standard and a Gold standard. There is 'common-law marriage' where people choose to live together with no legal under-pinning of their relationship and no religious dimension to it. Secondly, there is 'civil marriage' where people have a legal framework for all that they share in their relationship with each other but no religious dimension. Third, there is 'religious marriage', which for us who are Christians is 'Christian marriage' where couples celebrate the presence of God in their partnership together. There are no guesses as to which I think is the Gold standard!
If you found a couple were 'cohabiting' with no apparent intention of getting married and yet attending church regularly, what if anything would you say to them?
I would not go out of my way to raise it with them as I would recognise they are in a 'common-law marriage relationship' already. Should the situation arise in conversation, I would endeavour not to be judgemental, but I would try to be persuasive.
First I would explain my understanding of marriage and my view that they are already married, and in a 'common-law marriage'. The pastoral problems of any break-up they would experience in the future or any bereavement or any problems with children would be no different for them in their 'common-law marriage' than for anyone in a civil or a religious marriage. If they imagine they will be easier they are kidding themselves. It's not just they are as good as married ... they are married, albeit in a 'common-law marriage' which denies them the security of a legal framework for their relationship, and means that they miss out on the wonderful 'third dimension' that God offers their relationship too.
I would then persuade them of the value first of giving the marriage they already have a legal framework.
It is perverse in our litigious society that we would not dream of purchasing a TV without keeping the receipt in case it went wrong, we would not dream of allowing someone to drive us in a car unless they had a driving licence and motor car insurance, we wouldn't go on holiday without taking documentation about our reservations with us ... and yet we are prepared to take out a massive mortgage in a partnership with someone else and even bring children into the world without any piece of paper providing us with a legal framework. That beggars belief to me.
I once heard a member of the Lockerbie relatives group describing the way in which one of the first things they did after the Lockerbie disaster was to marry their partner. If you are in a common-law marriage and have no legal framework for your marriage then your partner will not be your next of kin. That can prove disastrously tragic and result in you having no say at all in the funeral of your loved one.
The marriage laws that provide the legal framework for marriage evolved throughout the Nineteenth and Twentieth Century primarily to provide security for both partners and where there are children for children too. They establish rights, not least to property, on the part of both parties within a clear legal framework, and define responsibilities, not least towards children again in a legal framework. Should the marriage break up they provide a framework within the law to resolve issues concerning child care, maintenance and property that are an essential security to all concerned.
'Civil marriage' is more than a ring and a piece of paper. It provides the security of a legal framework to the marriage relationship. That's why it is important to up-grade from a 'common-law marriage' to a civil marriage.
Now comes the good news ... and it really is good news! There's another dimension to the lives you share with each other. Being in a relationship is not easy. There's a source of help and strength available to help that relationship grow and reach its full potential. God's presence can be in that relationship in all his power and in all his love. And that is something really special. That's where the third dimension of marriage comes into its own. That's where it really is worth inviting God to be part of the marriage relationship you share. That's why I reckon it's really worth while to up-grade to the gold standard of marriage and go for Christian marriage. That begins with a Christian wedding service ... but it doesn't end there. It goes on for a life-time too!