Fewer couples are choosing to tie the knot in a church, synagogue or other religious venue in Wigan, new figures reveal.
For the first time ever, across England and Wales, less than a quarter of marriages were religious ceremonies.
In Wigan, there were 228 religious weddings in 2016, compared with 364 five years earlier, according to the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) data.
That’s a drop of 37 per cent since 2011.
Despite the downward trend, religious weddings are more popular in Wigan than the rest of the country.
In England, a quarter of marriages were held in religious venues, while in Wigan it was 29 per cent.
These figures only include opposite-sex marriages.
Across England and Wales, three in four religious weddings were Anglican, while a further 11 per cent were Catholic. Non-Christian ceremonies only amounted to four per cent of the total.
The Canon Sandra Millar, who heads the Church of England’s work on weddings, said couples might think they have to be regular parishioners to get married in a church.
She said: “We want to reassure couples that they don’t have to be churchgoers to have a church wedding. They don’t need to be christened, and we welcome couples who already have children.
“We’re working hard to encourage couples to ‘just ask’ at a church about getting married and all the creative possibilities that there are for their service.”
In 2016, 808 couples got married in Wigan, 10 per cent less than in 2011.
Father Jack Johnson, from St Mary’s Church, on Standishgate, Wigan, said: “I usually have about a dozen or more, but I am due to have about four this year, which is unusual.
“I think people think it costs a lot of money to get married in church, but it doesn’t.”
He said many people chose to get married abroad instead, but found they were civil ceremonies rather than religious, and urged people to contact their local church in advance so arrangements could be made for the marriage to be recognised by the church.
The Reverend Will Gibbons, rector of Wigan, said the number of weddings he conducted had been “fairly static”.
He said: “I am always delighted when somebody chooses to get married in church. The Church of England has tried to make it easier for people to find a qualified connection to get married in church in recent years and that’s something I welcome.
“I think people are put off because they perceive the cost will be high, but when they do enquire, our fees are set nationally by the Church of England and actually they are very reasonable and not as expensive as people think. It’s a bit of a misconception.
“Included in the fee you get more than someone who will lead the service, it’s a relationship with someone who will help you prepare for marriage.”
Elsewhere, St Thomas’ Church in Ashton saw a drop in the number of weddings held there last year, but they have risen this year.
St Barnabas’ Church, in Marsh Green, conducted its first wedding in 2017 for 14 years.
Across England, the number of marriages has remained steady in the last five years, with 236,238 in 2016.
Kanak Ghosh, from the ONS, said: “Marriage rates remain at historical lows despite a small increase in the number of people who got married in 2016.”
Of the weddings held in Wigan, only 2.7 per cent were between same-sex couples – seven between men and 15 between women.
That’s a 16 per cent increase compared with 2015, the first year same-sex marriages were recorded.
The data does not include same-sex civil partnerships which were converted into a marriages.