Church offers combined wedding and baptism

The growing trend for people to have children outside marriage is to be recognised by the Church of England in a set of "family friendly" wedding services, it was disclosed today.

The Church said it had devised new service guidelines allowing couples to combine the marriage ceremony with either thanksgiving for the gift of a child or with baptism for children.

The move comes as the latest figures on births and marriages show that around 44 per cent of children are born to unmarried mothers.

Statistics released earlier this year by the Office for National Statistics also showed the number of young women having children outstripped the number getting married for the first time.

The Church of England's own research in Bradford and Buckinghamshire has found one in five couples who come to church for a wedding already have children either together or from a previous relationship.

The move to introduce the new service guidelines comes as the Church attempts to encourage more couples to tie the knot in church.

Last year it implemented changes making it easier for couples to marry in the church of their choice.

The Bishop of Wakefield, the Rt Rev Stephen Platten, chairman of the Church's liturgical commission, which prepares forms of service, said: "Baptism normally is celebrated in a Sunday act of worship - but patterns of relationship and marriage within society are presenting new opportunities for the Church.

"We are therefore offering guidance on how thanksgiving for the gift of a child, or indeed baptism, might be incorporated within a marriage service so that the church can respond pastorally to our changing world if a priest feels it would be advisable to offer this option."

The Reverend Tim Sledge, Vicar of Romsey in the Diocese of Winchester, said he has been asked to "merge" wedding and baptism services several times.

He said: "It has been lovely to give couples this flexibility to enjoy an extra special celebration for the whole family.

"Now the guidelines are available online, the Church can 'say yes' and offer an even warmer wedding welcome to couples with children."

A Church of England spokesman said the move did not mean Church teaching had changed.

He said: "The Church of England believes that the best place for sex is within marriage, and marriage is best for bringing up children. That hasn't changed.

"This is a response to the demand that's on us as the Church to meet people who come to us for this key event in their lives.

"Not standing in judgment on their past, but welcoming them and pointing to a fresh future."

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