Inclusive Universal Wedding Service, UK

Universal Wedding Service

This service was initially compiled in 2016 for use throughout the United Reformed Church of Great Britain, specifically designed to be used with same-sex couples. It has been adapted in 2021 using inclusive language.

The following legal guidelines were prepared in 2016 by John Proctor, General Secretary of the United Reformed Church, to accompany the original United Reformed Church (URC) same-sex wedding service.  

If local churches in England and Wales apply to register their buildings for same-sex marriage, they are expected to send in a sample order of service. The pages below give such a sample, which is informed by the traditions and order of the United Reformed Church, and meets the requirements of the law in England and Wales.

It is of course part of our tradition that ministers may depart from a printed order, for example in the wording of prayers, the choice of readings, or the ordering of items within the service. But there is prescribed wording to follow at two key points in the service – when the couple declare themselves free to marry, and when they take one another as husband or wife. Attention is drawn to this legal requirement in the order below; it is essential to observe it.

The law also requires that if two men are being married, they be referred to in the service as ‘husband’ and ‘husband’; similarly, two women must be referred to as ‘wife’ and ‘wife’.

The words in bold italic script, with an asterisk, are required by law in England and Wales. Other parts of the service are largely based on the Wedding Service in Worship from the United Reformed Church.

We [the United Reformed Church] recommend that the following explanatory statement be printed on the inside-cover of the order of service:

‘The law of England and Wales now allows civil marriages to take place between two persons of the same sex.  The United Reformed Church’s General Assembly has declared that the local Church Meeting may decide to host such marriages, provided that the due registration procedures have been satisfied.  The Church Meeting of this congregation has so decided, and the congregation warmly welcomes AB and CD [with their friends and family] to their marriage service.’

Open doors   The doors of the church building must be left open for the duration of the service. (a legal requirement in the UK).

Complete script ready-to-download:  Universal Inclusive Wedding Service

Order of Service

Welcome

This is the day that God has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Welcome to …. church, to celebrate the marriage between AB and CD.

Statement of Purpose

We have come together in the presence of God to witness the marriage of AB and CD, to rejoice with them and to ask God to bless them in their life together.

Marriage is an act of commitment between two people before witnesses. In marriage AB and CD make a solemn covenant before God to live out their lives in faithfulness and loyalty to each other. In their new life together they are called to enrich society, to strengthen community, and share their worldly goods with each other and with those in need.

Marriage is not to be entered into lightly or thoughtlessly but reverently and responsibly. A and C have chosen to enter into the responsibility and joy of matrimony. They come to accept each other freely, to give their consent to each other in solemn promises, and to ask for God’s blessing.

Prayer

Eternal God, you are with us this day in the fullness of your love.
Your love fills our hearts and draws us to one another with holy desire.
Your love in us offers forgiveness and sets us free to be together in peace.
Your love creates community and heals our deepest loneliness.
This love you renew continually in A and C and in all your people.
Make them today a sign to us of your love in all creation,
of your enduring affection and faithfulness,
and of your joy in all that you have made.
May we see this day, before our eyes, the joy of love and the hope of faith.
Bless our celebration with your presence and touch us with your Spirit. Amen.

Readings and Sermon

Some suggested readings:
Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures):   Song of Songs 2:10-13
New Testament: Matthew 5:1-9;  John 2:1-11;  1 Corinthians 13:1-8a,13;  1 John 4:7-19

Alternatively the readings and sermon may come later in the service, after the marriage ceremony.

Declarations

The minister says to the couple:
Before God and before this congregation, I will ask you to declare your freedom and readiness to enter into the covenant of marriage.
I will also ask your families and this congregation to affirm their willingness to support you today and in the years to come.

The minister says to the congregation:
Due notice of the intention of AB and CD to be married has been given and no objection has been made.
Or
I ask the congregation: if you know of any reason in law why AB and CD may not be joined in marriage, please declare it now.

The minister says to the couple:
I ask you, A and C, to declare that you know of no reason in law that you may not be married.

Legal declarations:

As required by law in England and Wales each one declares in the presence of the Authorized Person, or the Registrar, and two witnesses:
 
I declare that I know of no legal reason why I, AB, may not be joined in marriage to CD. *
I declare that I know of no legal reason why I, CD, may not be joined in marriage to AB. *
 
Or
I do solemnly declare that I know not of any lawful impediment why I, AB, may not be joined in matrimony to CD.*
I do solemnly declare that I know not of any lawful impediment why I, CD, may not be joined in matrimony to AB.*
 
Or
Are you, AB, free lawfully to marry CD?               I am. *
Are you, CD, free lawfully to marry AB?               I am. *

Prayer

O God of all faithfulness, we pray for those who will make promises today:
bless them with sincerity and give them your grace.
May A and C know that their love is both your will and your delight.
May the promises they make govern the life they will lead.
May your presence surround them, your faithfulness encourage them,
your Spirit strengthen and guide them. Amen.

Questions of Intent

The couple are asked:

AB and CD, will you take one another, to share in the bond of marriage?
Will you love, comfort, honour and protect one another, in times of prosperity and health and in times of trouble and suffering?
And will you be faithful to one another as long as you both shall live?
We will.
If either, or both, has children:
Will you promise to be faithful, loving and caring parents to N (and N)?
We will.

The immediate family is asked:

Will you, the families of A and C, give your blessing to their marriage and will you always support and encourage them?
We will.

The congregation is asked:

Will you, the friends of A and C, support and encourage them in their marriage?
We will.

Marriage Vows/declarations

The couple turn to face each other and join right hands.
 
As required by law in England and Wales

Each one declares in the presence of the Authorized Person, or the Registrar, and two witnesses: One of the following, made by each partner:

I call upon these persons, here present, to witness that I, A.B., do take thee, C.D., to be my lawful wedded wife/husband. *

Or     I, A.B., take you, C.D. to be my wedded wife/husband. *

Or     I, A.B., take thee, C.D., to be my wedded wife/husband. *

N.B. Legal requirement in the UK: If two men are being married they must be referred to in the above as ‘husband’ and ‘husband’*; similarly two women being married must be referred to as ‘wife’ and ‘wife’ *. 

Whatever other words may be added to these declarations and contracting words, one each of those given above must be included for the marriage to be valid in the United Kingdom.  Otherwise, the authorised person may ask for them to be repeated before the registers are signed.
 
The contracting words may be expanded to include traditional liturgical promises, [provided, in the UK, that the marriage is taking place in a registered church building]. For example ….
I, AB, take you (thee), CD, to be my wedded wife (or husband):*
in accordance with God’s holy will,
to have and to hold from this day forward,
for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer,
in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish
till death us do part. This is my solemn vow.

I, CD, take you (thee), AB, to be my wedded husband (or wife):*
in accordance with God’s holy will,
to have and to hold from this day forward,
for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer,
in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish
till death us do part. This is my solemn vow.

Exchange of Rings

The rings are given to the minister who prays:
Eternal God, whose love encircles us all,
bless the giving and receiving of these rings.
May they be signs of a love which never ends, beautiful, holy and strong.
May they be tokens of commitment and faithfulness
and reminders of the promises and vows made today.
In the name of God, [Creator, Christ and Spirit]. Amen.
 
Each says in turn:

I give you this ring as a sign of our marriage.
With my body I honour you, all that I am I give to you,
all that I have I share with you, within the holy love of God.
Or
I give you this ring in God’s name as a sign of all that we have promised and all that we shall share.

Prayer

Most gracious God, source of all true love,
we give you thanks that A and C have answered your call
and given themselves to one another in the covenant of marriage.
Pour out the fullness of your blessing on them.
Lead them into that love which never comes to an end.
Give them grace to forgive when words or actions hurt.
Give them strength to persevere through times of testing
and to support each other through darkness and distress.
May they be thankful for all that has brought them to this moment.
May they joyfully embrace this new beginning,
and journey on with ever new delight.
Bless their families and friends, that they may be a constant source of strength.
Bless their home, that it may be a place of welcome.
[Bless them in the gift of children, that they may be wise and loving parents].
Bless all who celebrate with A and C,
that love may flourish and friendship touch the lonely.
And grant that we, who today have witnessed the sharing and exchange of words and signs of love, may find our faith renewed and our hope restored.
May love, the greatest of all your gifts, stronger than death, gentle as a touch,
carry us through every passing moment held in your divine embrace.  Amen.

Additional Rituals of Union

The couple may wish to light a Unity Candle, share in Holy Communion or choose another ritual symbolising their marriage union. If there are children involved, a ritual including them might be incorporated at this point

Blessing the couple:   (A familiar blessing may be chosen.)

A&C, may the God of Sarah and Abraham, who watches over all the families of the earth, bless your new family and home in peace and steadfast love.  And may the two of you always be held in the palm of God’s hand.

Declaration of Marriage

A and C have declared before God and before you that they will live together in the bond of marriage. They have made promises to one another, exchanged solemn vows and symbolised their marriage today by joining hands and by giving and receiving rings.  I therefore declare them to be married, in the name of God, [the Creator, Christ and Spirit].
Those whom God has joined together, let no one separate.

The service may continue with readings and a sermon (if these have not been included earlier), with prayers and with singing. It is appropriate to end with a closing blessing of the whole congregation.

The registration papers must be signed, either within the service or directly afterwards.

Order of Service ends.

Further resources…

Resources particularly designed for the marriage of same-sex couples (without the express endorsement of the URC and without guarantee of inclusive language, unless stated).  The links go directly to the same-sex wedding resources, not to the homepage of the website.