In England the Church of England as the National Church is able to offer both a the civil contract and Christian service in one. Priests of the Church of England act publicly as both registrar and chief witness of the marriage in church. Outside the jurisdiction of English law, the Church must act according to the legal system of where it is located. In the case of Germany, all couples must first marry in a civil ceremony at the Standesamt (registry office). A Marriage Blessing by the church is a separate event.
For better. For worse.
The Anglican Marriage Service requires a significantly higher input from the couple compared with the Lutheran. The vows “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,” stand at the centre. Asking the couple to reflect on these words and the commitment they contain to life-long mutual care, respect and support, is of course at the heart of the marriage preparation.
The Church’s teaching is that marriage is a gift from God. In the marriage ceremony, a couple make a public declaration of lifelong commitment to love each other, come what may. Marriage requires careful and an unhurried approach to preparation, not just event planning!
At St Thomas Becket Church we only marry couples with whom we can develop a pastoral relationship, by several meetings beforehand, by seeing the pair in church on some Sundays at least and, we hope, by contact afterwards. The Mothers’ Union exists to support Christian family life.
The Church of England believes that marriage is for life. But it recognises that, sadly, some marriages do fail. In exceptional circumstances, the Church accepts that a divorced person may marry again. At the moment, the position in England is that the priest is required to investigate the circumstances of the first marriage break-up and has the right to decline a second marriage should he/she feel, for example, that there are many unresolved matters or conflicts.
Given that in Germany “full” marriages cannot be conducted in Church, at St Thomas’s we offer a marriage blessing, but only after careful consideration of the individual circumstances.
The EU provides for mutual recognition of the validity of marriage certificates, but not the same handling of legal issues to allow a marriage to take place. It is a simple fact that some countries seem to be a lot simpler in these matters than others. Denmark has become an ever more popular venue for civil marriages, especially where one of the couple is not a German citizen. In Germany the burden of documented proof that the person has never been married before is higher and this proof is not readily available in many other legal systems. However a civil marriage certificate from one EU country is legally valid in any other. Denmark seems to have found a way to make the paperwork simpler, though some towns may require a few days residence in a hotel in the area.
This guide does not attempt to recommend where people should have their civil ceremonies but simply act as help to those who may be considering asking for a wedding in church in Hamburg.
What is most important is the commitment of the couple themselves and the Church is there to provide a community of support.
Please contact the Chaplain for further information.