Wedding Civil Ceremony vs Church vs Celebrant Service - which to choose?!

When couples are first engaged, they are quick to start thinking about their perfect reception venue, which colour palette they want and who the photographer will be, but the ultimate goal of the day is to legally be wed. Some couples don’t realise that there are different options when it comes to the physical ceremony, some which may work for you and others which may not. We are going to help by explaining the differences between the three options.

Please note – the information below is applicable in the UK. If you are getting married abroad, the legalities change.









Brendan Foster Photography

Church Service:

Churches are a popular place to get married due to how beautiful some of these places are worship are, whether you are religious or not. Although you may not be religious, you may feel that a place of religion is the right place for you to be wed with the added assurance of god overlooking your relationship. To get married within a church, you will still need to give your notice of marriage at the registry office.


Church services differ between Church of England and the Catholic church – make sure you are aware which of these the church is you would like to get married at. Many vicars/priests/ministers are legally able to marry, but you will need to check directly with your church as this may not be the case and you may also be required to hire a registrar.


You must be 18 to get married, unless you have permission from your parents, then you are able to be wed from 16. All churches will differ in what they require from you and what the cost is to get married. Most will require for the banns to be read out in church before you can legally marry.


What is reading of the banns?


The reading of the banns is required in Church of England and is an announcement within your church to make the parish aware that you intend to marry. This will happy on three Sundays within three months, generally on consecutive weeks but they don’t necessarily need to be, although this is at the churches discretion. The church will encourage you to invite friends and family along as this is an exciting time for you both and should be witnessed by those close to you! The reading of the banns will give anyone a chance to contest if they believe the marriage may not lawfully take place.


Brendan Foster Photography

Catholic churches work slightly different. You are required to meet with the priest and spend time with them, discussing the sanctity of marriage. The Catholic church wants you to know what marriage means and what is takes for a couple to live and long and happy marriage. They would prefer for a catholic to marry a catholic but in more modern times, this has changed and you are best to speak with the priest directly. There are two types of Catholic services, one with mass which will take around one hour and one without which will be a minimum of 20 minutes.

Celebrant Service

Froyle Park - Abu Bakar Sarfraz Productions

You can hire a professional celebrant to perform your ceremony or you can even use a friend or family member! You can get married anywhere you like with a celebrant, as this service isn’t officially legal. To make the marriage legal, you just need to go to the registry office before the day to complete the legal paperwork. The positives of having a celebrant service are that the service is completely personal to you. Your celebrant will work with you to write your own vows which match your personalities and relationship. You can read further about a celebrant service here.

Civil Ceremony

Northbrook Park - Lauren Mitchell Photography

Many venues across the UK are licensed to legally hold ceremonies. This means you can legally be married by an official registrar at your venue which makes it easier for you on the actual day so save travelling from venue to venue.


Once you have agreed on a wedding date and have a potential venue, speak with the registry office to find out their availability for that date within that area. You will need to call the registry office within the local area of the venue, not a registry office local to you if your area differs. The registry office will need to know which venue the ceremony is being held at before making a booking. You can then secure your date and time.


You will need to attend a meeting at the registry office to give your notice of marriage. You can do this up to a year before the date but it must be completed 28 day before (top tip – get it done as soon as you can!) The notice of marriage can be completed at your local registry office to save you travelling.

You can also have a civil ceremony within a registry office. Fees for a ceremony differ between registry offices, so make sure you check when booking.


Emily Ladbury

You will choose your readings prior to the day, then on the day, the Groom/s is/are required to meet the registrar 30 minutes before the ceremony to confirm your personal information and what will be happening during the ceremony. The Bride, or both Brides if same sex marriage, will be met just before the ceremony starts – this meeting won’t take as long.

Registrars complete several ceremonies a day, travelling from venue to venue, so timing is key and they will not go ahead with the ceremony if they do not have enough time to complete a ceremony. A basic ceremony can take as little as 15 minutes, with the signing of the book midway through.

You can choose your own music for the ceremony and also your own readings but you cannot change the vows.

Your day is about the two of you, and yes, the celebrations are important, but you are celebrating the service which your family and friends have just witnessed, so make sure to take the time to ensure that the service you decide upon is right for you as a couple.

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