The number of Anglican church weddings in England and Wales has fallen to a historical low, with more people choosing to have civil weddings, statistics show.
Premier reported on numbers from the Office for National Statistics, which revealed that Anglican churches hosted only 49,717 ceremonies in 2014, which is the lowest number of weddings recorded. On the other hand, there were 179,344 civil weddings reported in 2014.
Overall, among all opposite sex marriages in the two countries, only 28 percent were religious ceremonies.
Venerable John Barton, who is the Oriel and Laing Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture, Emeritus at Oxford University, and an ordained priest, believes that some unmarried couples may be feeling unwelcomed by the church.
"A lot of people feel 'Oh, we're not good enough. We're living together, we know that's not approved by the Church,'" Barton told Premier. "I want to say — and the Church wants to say — 'Listen, God loves you. If you're putting your house in order, we're here to help."
When couples marry in a church, they're asking for God's blessing and that's what Barton believes that many couples are missing when they marry somewhere else.
In 1964, 69 percent of all weddings were religious ceremonies, according to ONS. But for the past 25 years, civil marriages (usually conducted at hotels, historic buildings, stately homes licensed for civil marriages, or a register office) have consistently outnumbered religious ones.
Religious belief in the U.K. has been on decline for years, with research from May 2016 showing that the nonreligious outnumber Christians for the first time in England and Wales.
According to the British Social Attitudes surveys, 50 percent of the British public say they do not belong to a particular religion, which is up from 31 percent in 1983. Affiliation with the Church of England has halved during that same time period from 40 percent to now 20 percent. And even among those who belong to a religion or were brought up in a religion, 56 percent never attend religious services or meetings. Only 14 percent attend weekly.
"What we're seeing is an acceleration in the numbers of people not only not practicing their faith on a regular basis, but not even ticking the box. The reason for that is the big question in the sociology of religion," Stephen Bullivant, senior lecturer in theology and ethics at St Mary's Catholic University in Twickenham, said.
A ComRes research study from November also found that as many as one in four, or 23 percent of respondents, said they are worried their children might be sidelined by their friends if they were to find out about their faith.
Nick Spencer, head of research at think-tank Theos, said that parents are growing increasingly worried their children will be targeted.
"Just calling yourself Christian makes little difference here; the more serious parents take their own faith, the more concerned they are to want to pass it on," Spencer commented.