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Synod, wedding fees and the other side of the story

A photo of a pretty church building and a pretty wedding!

In my previous post on this blog, I had a go at Synod for rejecting the proposals for wedding fees since it allows some churches, some not too far from me, to continue taking advantage of couples with exorbitant prices.

Since then, I’ve not had any public comments but I’ve had a few private emails from clergy colleagues who have been wise to give me another side to the story. They have made me think further and I want to share some of that thinking here.

As with all things, there are always (and at least) two ways to look at a situation and I guess much of people’s engagement with this particular debate depends on where you stand. I currently work in a fairly non-descript, sixties church building that is relatively easy to heat, isn’t falling down, but also does few weddings. One of the reasons we do very few is because a very pretty medieval church nearby absorbs them all (with some hefty fees to match).

However, if you are working in a very old church, or one that is very large in size (either of which could make it difficult to heat) you might read this debate differently and the basic problem is that ‘one size fits all’ doesn’t really work because one size doesn’t fit all.

If you work in a very large church or a very old church or one with an inefficient heating system, £425 for a wedding would leave you ‘making a loss’ on every wedding conducted. One colleague had a meticulous church treasurer spend a long time taking gas and electricity readings and came to the conclusion that to have the church heated for a wedding on a Saturday at any time other than high summer would cost anywhere between £100 and £150. And at the moment, the “official” sum coming to the PCC for a wedding is £136. The sums don’t work unless they charge extra.

I still don’t think that this review of fees was entirely wrong but I’m starting to learn that they weren’t entirely right either. Clearly, there are some parts of the fees (as is the case now) that ought to be the same the whole country over. The reading of Banns or the provision of a Priest ought to be consistent nationally.

It does seem, however, as if energy bills (amongst one or two others) are the biggest area that simply won’t work in a single, national, fee. It’s just not feasible to try and ask all churches, from the smallest 40 seat chapel to the largest 500 seat minster, to charge the same for gas and electricity. There were other issues with the revision of fees that have been pointed out to me, but fuel costs seem by far the largest and most expensive of the issues involved. Of course, that also raises a much bigger and equally complex issue regarding the environment, energy costs and how churches could and should be pioneering new technologies but that’s for another day.

I also continue to think that there needs to be some way to regulate and curtail the practices of the fee ‘offenders’ to avoid couples being taken for a ride, but thanks to my colleagues for making me think and helping me see things from other perspectives.

Comments

Fr Levi
Reply

Hi David,
Let’s not forget that couples are willing to pay pretty outrageous prices for things that are fairly peripheral to the wedding ceremony itself – flowers, luxury cars, expensive venue with a lap up feed, foreign hoey-moon, etc. I see no reason why the church fee shouldn’t represent a reasonable fraction of of the overall total cost. It’s not just about meeting the costs incurred on the day – the church needs money to keep it going so that it will be there on the day. God bless,
Levi+

Tiffer
Reply

It’s really difficult. We have had people upset at the “hidden fee” of a verger (which was £30 at the time). Here the clergy don’t have keys to the churches or the safes which contain the registers, and most of our churches are cleaned monthly rather than weekly – the clergy could borrow keys for the rehearsal and then the wedding – ensure the church is cleaned, turn up an hour and a half beforehand to open up for guests, move furniture around etc, but is it a good use of our time? Indeed it simply isn’t possible when we have two weddings in the same afternoon. And yet the couple don’t always get why they have to pay for this, and it sounds a bit rum to say it makes the clergy’s life easier. A slightly higher fee that included verger’s fees would make this easier.

We also have a 20 pound utilities fee which is paid by everyone, regardless of whether heating or electricity is used. Not sure how I feel about that, but it simplifies things! I think if your church/cathedral really spends hundreds heating the building for a couple of hours though, that is a legitimate fee – as long as it is clear it is optional!

Tiffer
Reply

Following up Fr Levi’s point – most of our couples are very grateful for our wedding ministry, but I have experienced some who are paying a huge amount for their wedding (or who have friends who are!) and find those who are providing them with services professional and costly. An example would be a private hall in the area which has a dedicated weddings manager, who really spends most of their time looking after couples in the run up to their wedding. We, on the other hand, ask the couple to go and talk to another vicar “in the same organisation” to organise banns, ask them to appease flower ladies, make them go through a laborious discussion process if they have been divorced, we don’t get back to emails within the hour and we don’t offer a service book printing service. We would start making a financial loss and/or a serious drain on ordained ministry time if we were to seek to offer the same kind of costly service with the fees as they currently stand (not that everyone expects it from small village churches). We have over 10 weddings a year, most in a short time period – and it is a challenge – a worthwhile one, but I can see both sides of the argument on this one.

David
Reply

Thanks for posting Levi and Tiffer. I must admit I do struggle a bit with the argument that, because the couple pay for everything else, they ought to pay for us too.

At root, I guess I’d much rather see the church approach its finances in a different way and see such moments and ministries as baptism, funerals and weddings as part of the free grace of God; a chance to weave our story into God’s story. I know reality makes that almost impossible but that’s my ideal.

Even if you accept charging is okay and necessary, charging just because everyone else does doesn’t really make for a decent reason… in my humble opinion.

Tiffer
Reply

I agree, and I actually think we should be standing for cheaper weddings. What I am saying is that in comparison to what else is on offer we can seem the poor relation (pretty buildings notwithstanding). That is a problem with the wedding industry and the over commercialisation of pretty much everything rather than us. I personally love the fact that the actual church wedding doesn’t cost much at all – indeed waiving the fees is even an option on occasion, so that pretty much everyone can afford to get married. The best weddings I have been to have been the simplest, and often the cheapest, and I am glad that our fees help that to be the case.

Alan T Perry
Reply

Just a few thoughts from another (non-Established) context:

First, one of those extra fees you refer to in your previous post may be a deterrent fee, even though it’s not phrased as such publicly. I know of some very pretty churches where if they said yes to every passing couple wanting to get married there, the vicar would literally do nothing else but organise and prepare for weddings, and would be working well in excess of 60 hours per week. There would be no time to bury the dead, visit the sick or prepare a Sunday sermon. So they charge high fees to people who aren’t regular parishioners in order to avoid being swamped.

And even where that isn’t an issue, at the risk of being crass, it seems to me that the parish provides a building and a vicar and could use the extra fee. The Gospel is free, salvation is free, but someone pays to have that building there in good repair, and a vicar on site, and it is hardly unfair to ask a couple availing themselves of these to contribute.

On the other hand, where I am we simply don’t charge for baptism. There is no fee. And whilst most people offer a contribution to the church for a funeral, there is no fee for that either.

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