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church weddings

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For discussion – I certainly have no clear ideas about all this.

The Telegraph presented interesting statistics at the time of the pope’s visit to the UK. You can click on the map, diocese by diocese, comparing current statistics with 1982 when Pope John Paul II visited.

I guess I was surprised at the stability (with one glaring exception!). Basically the number of Roman Catholics has increased. The number of priests, women in convents, parishes, and Catholic schools is pretty much unchanged. The number of baptisms has increased slightly. The glaring statistic: in absolutely every diocese the number of marriages is at least halved, even down to a quarter in those 28 years.

What is going on?

I compared this to my own diocese. The total weddings in the Christchurch Diocese this last year was 341. In 1982 there were 823 weddings (no returns were received from Ashburton, Malvern and Parklands. Thanks to the Diocesan Archivist for this information). Again, that’s consistent – a drop of about 60%.

I recently wrote about the church’s lack of being proactive in presenting a positive image of Christian Marriage and certainly when I saw these statistics that IMO is a dimension of the change. [Since that blog post, I have had contact with the editor of that wedding lift-out and it is clear to me that the issue is the church and Christians – not anything from the media’s side.]

Discuss: what has caused such a dramatic and consistent drop in church weddings when so many other statistics have stayed steady?

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19 Responses to church weddings

  1. The “enlightened” have rendered marriage meaningless with innovations like “no fault divorce” not forgetting the latest travesty “gay marriage”.

    Marriage is pointless unless you deeply hold to its sacramental nature.

    Perhaps a sacramental Church wedding would be a reminder that it is serial polygamy is a sin – something that the “moderns” would prefer not to think about?

    • Thanks for kicking off the discussion. Andrei, the statistics are for churches that hold to marriage’s “sacramental nature” and do not increase marriage statistics by gay marriage. Fair point that the total number of weddings might be down & it would help to know those statistics – I suspect they are not down anything like this. And serial polygamy increases the number of weddings, not decreases them. Interfaith weddings would not be a fundamental reason in my diocese, George – but good points. We provide education for marriage but do we promote that we can provide inexpensive weddings? The drop is the same, David, here in NZ Anglicanism where your sort of rules don’t apply whatsoever. Although one partner does have to be baptised or a catechumen, which is not the case in CofE. Looking forward to more discussion – and between people in comments also.

  2. Could be interfaith marriages (Christian-Muslim; Catholic-Protestant, etc…) or the fact that churches fill up quickly and require education to be completed months in advance.

  3. Speaking as an Anglican in the UK, I am not sure how we might compare with the R.C. church in other categories but I think we would also show a significant drop in the number of marriages. – I think this reflects two main reasons: (1) More couples are choosing to live together, delaying marriage. But also, (2)there is now a much greater choice of venues for marriage and more people are choosing a (secular) marriage in some venue other than a church. – The Church of England is now making some attempt to ‘fight back’ by a recent change in the law which makes it easier for (some) people to get married in the church of their choice.

  4. As an organist in rural New Zealand (Wairarapa) who is flat out playing for church weddings during the wedding season (December to March),I offer the following thoughts.

    1. There’s a marked trend towards city people getting married in an old/character church, preferably in a pretty rural setting. I cannot recall the last wedding I played for in a modern church.

    2. Proximity to a preferred wedding reception venue (also in a pretty country setting)is sometimes a factor in church choice.

    3. Typically the bride and groom have had little or no involvement with the church. In fact, in a couple of recent instances, my “music meeting” with the couple was the first time they had ever stepped inside a church.

    4. If there are family associations with a particular rural church this will often be chosen, but typically the bride and groom are not part of any other worshipping congregation.

    5. The bridal party – and their guests – frequently have to be reminded that they are in a church, not a venue.

    While such weddings are hard work for both me and the clergy, there are sometimes positive outcomes in that the couple sometimes turn to the priest who married them when, for example, a parent or child is ill, or dies.

    I think if marriage celebrants – and the ability to get married in a pretty garden – had been available in the past, those with tenuous connections to the church then would have taken up that option. Maybe the church-free/marriage celebrant situation today is a more honest one for many people.

    In the nearly 40 years I have been playing for weddings there have been some marked changes: where couples used to be in their early 20s and have Mills and Boon stars in their eyes about marriage, they are now typically in their 30s, have been living together for years, are settled, and may have children.

    I wonder if an analysis of your wedding statistics for Christchurch Diocese would show a similar trend towards pretty, rural churches at the expense of city ones?

  5. I am the pastor of a small Protestant (DOC) church in N.Carolina US. This past weekend I was at the beach and witnessed 5 beach weddings all performed by a pastor in the span of 36 hours. These weddings were overtly religious and quite traditional. I later learned that folks could buy a “wedding package”. I wonder what this says to us.

    • I think you may be onto something, Andrei – but your statistics are a bit difficult to follow in your comment – also what is your source? From this site I found at the top of a search, I see the total number of weddings is down 27% in 2000 from 1980. That doesn’t account for the drops of 75% in church weddings. I would have thought that church associated people were more likely to marry than the culture generally – but let’s continue the discussion.
      Rebecca, would such overtly religious and quite traditional beach weddings by a pastor be counted in statistics as church weddings. In NZ they would be.

  6. The marriage rate is way down Fr Bosco!

    From about 17 per 1000 of unmarried in 1995 (and it the rates had already crashed then) to about 13 17 per 1000 of unmarried in 2009.

    The only positive in all of this is that the divorce rate has also crashed – presumably because to get divorced you have to be married in the first place.

    Marriage has well and truly been trashed and depressingly been reduced to a quaint ceremony is picturesque rural churches by the sound of a previous comment by Bright Wings.

    • Joe, I can’t point to any online statistics, but remember an article in the NZ Catholic that lamented that there was no difference in divorce rates for church-married Roman Catholics to the rest of the population.

  7. There was a typo in my Statistics that’s why they are hard to understand, apologies.

    They come from here.

    Make no mistake about it there has been a huge culture shift regarding marriage in the past sixty years and it is Satanic in origin.

    Did you know that divorces which were considered shameful were publicized in the scandal sheet Truth in days of yore? Far too many today it would fill the paper – no?

    Indeed our cultural elite have lead the charge to degrade marriage – no fault divorce, matrimonial property act, which provides all the benefits and responsibilities conferred by marriage to cohabiting couples etc.

    This is what really gay marriage is about a further nail in the coffin of the institution by further rendering into pretty ceremonies with no substance followed by a party.

    I suggest again, if sacramental marriage is declining even faster than marriage itself it is conscience that is driving it, the dim understanding that sacramental marriage is eternal rather than the shallow empty ceremonies conferred by the STATE which are meaningless to all intents and purposes and thus a far more serious undertaking than the until we get bored with each other thing it has become.

  8. what has caused such a dramatic and consistent drop in church weddings when so many other statistics have stayed steady?

    That’s very unfortunate. I think is because of the times we now live in…increased loveless, corruption, compromising, lack of commitment, difficult finances, unfaithfulness, lukewarm hearts, no boundaries, no Biblical values, apostasy, selfishness, disposable-relationships,the global post-modern movement, NWO,…do I need to say more? You name it! Just look around. The world is a mess! GOD has beautifully created the sacred marriage -union between a man and a woman only- as the starting nucleus of a family. But if Satan can get to destroy these sacred unions-which he obviously has contributed by all of the above examples-, then dysfunctional families are birthed and the vicious circle goes on down the spiral.

    Has Rick Warren describes in his book “The Purpose Driven Life”(Day 24) which says: “Many of our troubles occur because we base our choices on unreliable authorities: culture (‘everyone is doing it’), tradition (‘we’ve always done it’), reason (‘it seemed logical’), or emotion (‘it just felt right’).”

    The lack of fear of GOD in man leads him to the path of confusion, lies, and destruction. Seeking his own gratification looses his true purpose and life in the process.

    Marriage is a commitment with its imperfections and all. It should be based on the love of GOD, for GOD and from GOD, learning to love the other as JESUS loves His church.

  9. an article in the NZ Catholic that lamented that there was no difference in divorce rates for church-married Roman Catholics to the rest of the population

    Just a point to note with such claims and statistics if any to back them.

    In order to get divorced you have to have been married in the first place and in this day and age many have chosen to be married in what used to be called “Stockholm style” and when such unions fail are not measured or counted as divorces.

    In fact divorce rates in New Zealand have plummeted even more precipitously than the marriage rate has for this very reason I’d suggest.

  10. The statistics do make interesting reading (on the Telegraph site originally quoted).

    If you look at England and Wales as a whole, it estimates that there are just over 4 million Catholics, with just over 900,000 attending Mass weekly.

    This makes me wonder what one has to do to qualify as a ‘Catholic’ in this statistic… and I wonder what the marriage rate looks like if you add the requirement of attending Mass, say, 2-3 times a month.

    If some / the majority of those quoted are ‘nominal’ Catholics / ‘nominal’ Christians, would you expect them to continue to live with some Christian values – i.e. marriage being the expected way to go, or would these diminish over time?

    As cohabitation becomes more popular, and society values become more distanced from Christianity, would we not expect the number of marriages to drop accordingly?

    One of the questions I find challenging when looking at these kind of statistics, and reading of people who want a ‘pretty’ Church wedding in a lovely old Church, with organ, robed choir and the full works (fantastic though all of that may be) we miss the main point – that these are vows made before God. This is not a party where everything has to be just so (the ‘perfect day’ mentality) – but it is a party because because two people are becoming one flesh and are joined by God… with no ‘asunder-ing’ allowed.

    I think that being faithful in keeping marriage promises requries God’s continued help, and the presence of a congregation of brothers and sisters who will support, encourage and challenge as needed. One of the things that has struck my wife and I since we were married is how essential a Christian understanding of forgiveness is – that things are instantly forgiven, forgotten and moved on from.

    Re other stats, I think we would all broadly expect the number in Convents, schools, numbers of schools and so on to stay roughly the same. I know from my wife’s experience that Catholic schools, generally, do not have a large number of Catholics in them… in much the same way as The Church of England Primary Schools that are very numerous.

    Baptisms – curious – perhaps grand-parental pressure here, that this is a lingering thing?

    • Thanks, Martin. I think that you provide much room for thought here. The church has a vast body of literature and a wealth of spirituality associated with Religious Life – I think maybe we are just beginning to build up the kind of positive insights, literature, and spirituality that approaches marriage in such a way. This also could be a help and witness to those marrying outside of the Christian community.

  11. Chiming in from the US of A. Here, about one third of baptized catholics have left the church and constitute the largest “denomination” (if it were one) after catholic (10% of the population, I believe, and growing). That’s based on research. But it seems to me that once baptized Catholic, a person is somehow treated as Catholic forever. Pews are more and more empty on a Sunday. Churches have closed, parishes combined instead.

    People now seem to look around for a clergy person they can connect with rather than someone from a specific faith background, I think. And many, many people are looking to make their wedding ceremony something that they plan (and even write). We’ve gone to two weddings in the woods and one in an open field. In the case of one in the woods, the couple looked for a clergyman willing to hike in – they found someone willing to hike 3 miles, but not the 10 they would have preferred! Not only that, in the US it’s even becoming a custom to have someone who gets authority to marry just for that day, in order to have a friend or relative be the officiating person.

    All in all, I’d say the desire to have complete control over the venue, the ceremony itself, and the officiating person is becoming the “value” which overrides just about everything else (at least in the US). That, of course, would include not marrying at all. Maybe just having a party to celebrate that they’re together.

  12. There was an article in the Sydney Morning Herald in Aus recently about civil ceremonies. In the early 90’s 30% or thereabouts of weddings were civil and the rest were church based. That has statistic has completely reversed now. Last year only 30% of ceremonies were church ceremonies in Australia.

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