When Monique Pope was engaged, she had no doubt that the wedding ceremony would be in her Catholic parish.
“It was a beautiful ceremony,” said Pope, who married her husband Mike in October 2012. “When you walk into St. Anthony you’re just overcome by the beauty and the splendor of the church.”
Marrying in St. Anthony Roman Catholic Church in Wichita meant marrying in a church and a faith she had a close connection to, Pope said.
Yet Pope and her husband are among a decreasing number of American couples who have their wedding ceremony in a church.
Only 26 percent of couples had their wedding ceremony in a religious institution in 2016, according to data from The Knot’s 2016 Real Weddings Study. That’s down from 41 percent in 2009.
The Knot surveyed nearly 13,000 U.S. brides and grooms, finding that weddings in farms, barns and ranches had gone up, along with weddings in historic buildings and homes. Other popular venues are beach houses, public gardens, wineries and museums.
Weddings in Wichita
The trend seems to hold true for Wichita, according to both brides and people who work in the wedding industry.
“I think couples are realizing that especially within the Christian denominations they can get married and their pastor can come to them at a different location,” said Ashley Moore, founder of Events and Design by Ashley. “We don’t honestly do church weddings much anymore.”
Events and Design by Ashley has worked on about 30-40 weddings in the past year – and with the exception of Catholic weddings, Moore can only think of about two that were held in a church last year.
Increasingly, weddings are defined by the couple’s personality, Moore said. Brides want the ceremony to be in a beautiful location, whereas some more modern churches have plainer aesthetics, she said.
Another factor is that many churches now have Saturday evening services, making the sanctuary unavailable for Saturday evening weddings, Moore said.
Not ‘tied to tradition’
Although both she and her fiancé are people of faith, Courtney Boote said the couple decided against having a wedding in a church. Instead, the couple will have their October wedding at Stone Hill Barn in Augusta.
If the weather is good, the ceremony will be held outside with the reception in the barn.
Boote said a part of the choice not to marry in a church was that she and her family are Methodist, while her fiancé Dennis Moore and his family are Catholic. Marrying in a church would have meant choosing between the two denominations, she said.
“I’d have to imagine millennials are a little less tied to the traditions of the generations before us,” Boote said.
For the couple, it was more about the content of the ceremony and being surrounded by loved ones.
In addition to having the ceremony outside a church, couples might forgo the bouquet toss, have a candy bar instead of a dinner, or add other twists to a wedding.
The ditty about “something borrowed, something blue” used to be important to brides, Boote said, but she’s hardly thought about it during wedding planning.
The couple is laid back and wanted their wedding to reflect that, so having the ceremony and reception in a barn suited them.
For Mallory Robinson and Jordan Shaw, the venue that best suited them is in the heart of downtown: Venue One 11. At 24 and 25 years old, their friends will want to go out after the reception, Robinson said, and the venue is close to plenty of activity in the city.
“The coolest thing about the venue to me was one it’s in an old building, so you have all the exposed brick, which is really awesome and the huge windows that let in a lot of natural light,” Robinson said.
After the ceremony, guests will go into a separate area for a cocktail hour while the same room the ceremony was held in is “flipped” for the reception. Having the reception and ceremony in the same place is another benefit of weddings held at event venues, she said.
Robinson said they never considered getting married in a church. Out of the roughly 10 weddings she’s attended, only one was in a church, she said.
Millennials – adults born between 1981 and 1996 – are a “very free generation,” Robinson said, one that’s less likely to hang onto tradition.
The data also suggests that people, and millennials in particular, might be having less church weddings since they are less religious. According to Pew, the U.S. public in general is becoming less religious, but that millennials in particular are “much less likely than older Americans to pray or attend church regularly or to consider religion an important part of their lives.”
The Rev. Dave Fulton, pastor at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, thinks that change in whether people are religious has affected weddings.
“I think it’s basically the sign of the culture, people are moving away from organized religion and churches,” Fulton said.
St. Paul’s has a program where it provides weddings for free, called “The Gift of Marriage.” Fulton said he’s noticed a decline in those weddings, although part of that may be because the church has stopped advertising the program.
In 2010, he performed 10 weddings in July. This year, he hasn’t done any.
Moore, the wedding planner, said numerous creative venues have popped up in the past few years to accommodate the number of couples wanting new spaces to wed.
Some popular spaces in and around Wichita, both old and new, include Murfin Stables, The Hudson, Distillery 244 in Old Town, Venue One 11, Abode, Stone Hill Barn, Grace Hill Winery and the Bartlett Arboretum.
Barbara Riggs, who alters wedding dresses, said she thinks many couples choose not to marry in a church due to wanting creative wedding photos. Churches, particularly newer ones, can sometimes be very utilitarian, she said.
“The pull of an outdoor destination wedding is really strong right now,” Riggs said. “There are really, really beautiful photographs. I think that is one of the big draws. They want that setting.”
But for Pope, getting married in a Catholic church surrounded by stained glass windows and statues of the saints, Mary and Jesus was the perfect place.
They had the Catholic Rite of Marriage, but also added in bits of Pope’s family’s Mexican culture — including a mariachi group and the tradition of “lassoing,” or looping a giant rosary around the couple.
“Faith for me has been such an important factor in my life,” Pope said. “That guiding, that compass that’s always been there.”
As for getting married in a church, “there was no other option,” Pope said.