The Church of England is undertaking a major overhaul of the marriage preparation it offers to engaged couples in a bid to better reflect their number one priority on the big day – the vows.
New research from the Archbishops' Council's Weddings Project, published in this week's Church Times, found that engaged couples regard their vows more central to their wedding planning than any other aspect, with 43 percent welcoming the "opportunity to think about our wedding service and the vows we would make."
Thirty percent said that they would like a single-session course about marriage, and 44 percent of respondents agreed that the Church should offer marriage support after the wedding as well as before.
"The Church is in a unique position. In its marriage preparation, it offers something couples cannot get in a hotel or stately home, and tries to demonstrate its care about not just the big day, but all the days afterwards," writes Church of England marriage adviser Sue Burridge in the Church Times.
The detailed survey involved 411 engaged couples and 176 clergy in the Dioceses of Bradford and Oxford, as well as ordinands from two Cambridge theological colleges, and 1,800 brides-to-be at the National Wedding Shows.
The findings come just ahead of the launch of the Church of England Marriage Measure, which will make it easier for engaged couples to marry in the church of their choice after October 1.
The Church of England has responded to the findings by announcing plans to try newly devised single-session marriage preparation courses in the Dioceses of Bradford and Oxford within the first year of the new law.
The single session will focus on the wedding service itself and the vows to be exchanged by the couple.
The Weddings Project has also developed invitation cards for churches to use to invite couples to a wedding workshop that will give them the chance to think and talk about their vows and the difference those will make on their wedding day.
The new preparatory sessions also take into consideration the number of couples today already living together prior to marriage.
"When the researchers asked newly-weds about their church's preparatory sessions, they discovered a clear mismatch between what couples wanted and what was on offer," writes Burridge. "Many had already lived through the life lessons that the Church was eager to teach them, especially if, like most, they had lived together before marriage."
She said there was a "strong sense" among clergy that "the vows work extremely well as a teaching vehicle; that the couples' attention is very much on their wedding day; and that 'prep works best when you focus them on what they are promising.'"
The research also revealed that most newlyweds were positive about marrying in a church, with 9 out of 10 rating their church wedding experience good to excellent.