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Weddings can be the most exciting and frustrating times in the lives of couples about to be married. They can also be the most exciting and frustrating times in the lives of altar guilds, particularly if the parish doesn’t have an established, written policy and procedure detailing who does what and when and what is allowed — a parish “wedding customary.”

In addition to an altar guild wedding committee or wedding director, parishes need a wedding policy. Writing one can make life easier for all concerned … the priest, the altar guild, the bride and groom, and everyone else involved in the wedding.

A good parish wedding policy is the joint effort of the rector, the altar guild, the flower committee, the music director, the church office staff, the vestry, and members of the worship committee not part of the above. As with all matters having to do with the liturgical life of the parish, the rector has final say, but all these people have a role in the Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage and it is important that they understand the policy and have some input.

The policy needs to be in print so that a copy can be given to every bride and groom at their first appointment. They can then sign a contract stating that they have read the policy, understand its provisions, and will abide by it. By doing so, any possible misunderstanding or confusion can be avoided.

Your policy will have many elements. The committee should first write a statement about Christian marriage, another about the canonical requirements for marriage in the Episcopal Church, and another about special requirements of the diocese as to eligibility, acceptable music, and the like. We offer the following questions, compiled from several parish wedding policies, to help round out your Parish Wedding Policy.


Who may be married in your church? Some parishes have strict requirements, while others are more lenient. Canon law requires that one person be baptized.

What are the days and hours when weddings may NOT take place in your church?

If there is a wedding Eucharist, will the bride and groom present the oblations and will all baptized Christians present be invited to participate? If there is no Eucharist, will the couple be given an opportunity to offer their new marriage at the altar at another Eucharist?

In what ways may outside Episcopal or other clergy participate in the service?

Is the altar/flower guild solely responsible for wedding flowers, or may florists decorate the church in consultation with the altar guild?

Are there restrictions as to flower selection and placement or other wedding “extras” such as aisle runners and special pew markers?

Will an effort be made to discourage the use of a “unity candle” since it has no liturgical significance?

What fees are expected for the church, the parish hall, the organist, the sexton, the choir, service bulletins, and the flowers if provided and arranged by the altar guild? Will the fees be paid as a lump sum or individually? When? Will fees be higher for non-members?

Who will select the acolytes, lay readers, chalice bearers, and lectors? (Are there any limitations?)

Is the organist or the rector responsible for approving music, soloists, and additional instruments?

Will the number of attendants be limited? The age of flower girl and ring bearer?

What restrictions apply to the time and place for all photography, both professional and personal? Who supervised photography for the parish? Is tape recording allowed?

Will there be a special service booklet? Including what?

What are the arrangements for premarital counseling, which is not an option?

What time is the wedding rehearsal? Who participates? Who conducts it? What “paper work” is to be completed at this time?

If the parish hall is available for rehearsal dinners and receptions, what church equipment may be used? What music and decorations are allowed? Who is in charge? Who cleans up? Is there a closing time?

What are the parish rules for the use of alcoholic beverages?

Are there restrictions covering rice, confetti, birdseed, and the like?

These questions will undoubtedly raise others pertaining to the particular parish. Answers to these questions will refine the resulting policy into a true parish “wedding customary.” Remember to update your policy periodically.

by Barbara McDonald, Epistle #111, Spring 1999



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