'It’s changed the whole experience for us': England's new wedding rules

Sarah Marsh

When Beth Curtis used to dream of her wedding day she envisioned 120 guests gathering under a tipi for celebrations with woodfire pizza, lawn games and a roaring band. But when it actually takes place in September, two months later than planned, the reality will be very different.

New rules issued on Tuesday mean the guest list will be limited to 30, there will be no reception and no musicians. “It’s changed the whole experience for us because neither myself or my partner can get excited about it now,” she said. “It was meant to be a day to spend with family and celebrate the rest of our lives together. We were going to just party the night away and now we are not allowed a reception.”

Couples planning to marry have been given new government advice on what to expect when lockdown rules ease from 4 July. It states that no more than 30 people should attend, and physical distancing rules must be followed. Receptions or parties after weddings should not take place, but small celebrations – with groups of up to two households indoors, or up to six people from different households outdoors – are allowed.

Related: ‘With this ring I thee wed – but wash your hands first' – English wedding couples told

Services should be concluded in the “shortest reasonable time”, and the guidance adds that hands should be washed before and after exchanging rings.

Vicars said many had decided to cancel their plans or scale back due to uncertainty and limits on what the day could involve, with most people opting for celebrations next year. But a lot of couples are also pushing ahead for financial reasons.

“We as a church can be flexible … but my understanding is that most people not wanting to wait are mainly worried about losing enormous amounts of money on other parts of the wedding, which is awful for couples,” said
the Rev Canon Rachel Firth, vicar of Huddersfield.

She has been advising people who can to wait. “I am not in the businesses of cancelling weddings or not welcoming people but at same time it’s important to be careful not to build people’s hopes up – based on the headlines ‘churches are open again’,” she said.

“We have been encouraging couples to think very seriously. We could be two weeks before a wedding and we go into a second wave and are re-locked down.”

Curtis, 25, said she wanted to go ahead with her partner, Andy, because they wanted to start a family. “I know that you don’t have to these days and you can start out of wedlock but for us it is something we want to do.”

She said she felt frustrated that people were allowed to go into shops such as Primark but there were still limits on wedding numbers. “It would probably be better to have our wedding in Primark and tell all our guests to go shopping and queue up at the same time and that way we could have a wedding with all people we want. How daft is that?”

Vicar Wendy Wale said the current guidance was a bit “one-size fits all”, not taking into account that churches have very different capacities.

“What we can do in our space, which is bigger than a third of the country’s cathedrals, is different to what you can do in other churches. The problem is the government announces things and people think ‘Oh good, I can come to church’, but actually the decision is on a much more local level.”

Wale said that couples getting married tended to fall into two categories. “Some just want it to happen in a church and it’s important because of the religious aspect and being married … But for a lot of others it is about the whole day and if you have lots of elements of that removed that makes is hard.”But ultimately, she said, “we are all caught up in something much bigger than our own choices”.