Trailblazing Chapel Leads The Way For Same Sex Marriages

Field Row Unitarian Chapel in Belper is the first place of worship in Derbyshire and the Amber Valley to be registered for Same Sex Marriage

Belper Unitarians are delighted to announce that their Field Row Chapel is now registered the Registrar General for same sex marriages. The very first same sex marriage, between Helen Barley and Sarah McMullen, will take place at the Chapel in August. Christina Smith, Chief Community Cultivator at Derby Unity, will be the celebrant at the service with contributions Rev. Cedric Blakie and the Rev. Colin Matthews, both of whom are from other faith denominations.

Christine Smith said: “I am delighted to be the celebrant for Helen and Sarah’s special day. It has been my honour and privilege to work with Sarah and Helen to create a personal and meaningful ceremony that reflects both their commitment to each other and their Christian faith.”

Unitarians, along with Liberal Jews and Quakers, were instrumental in lobbying parliament and working for Equal Marriage. The Same Sex Marriage Act provides for Churches and Chapels to “opt-in” to same-sex marriage and to appoint “authorised persons” to act as registrar and Unitarian places of worship have to go through the administrative process individually. The decision to apply for a licence was supported unanimously by all the members of the congregation at Belper and by the Trustees. Our celebrants, Christina Smith and Sue MacFarlane, are delighted that we can now be totally inclusive and that everyone can now come to be married in our beautiful chapel.

Sarah and Helen said: “We both come from very strong faith back grounds (Anglican and Methodist). Over the last nine years, our relationship has grown through and with our faith and consequently the marriage ceremony for us, has always needed to have God at the heart of the promises we make to each other. We have been welcomed as a couple, unreservedly by the Unitarian community in Belper and are delighted to be able to marry each other in the Unitarian Chapel, surrounded by our family and friends within the community that we are a part of.”

Field Row Unitarian Chapel was built with the help of Jedediah Strutt, an innovator in his time, who also built Belper’s Mill. Jedediah and his family worshipped at the chapel, which was funded by him and built in 1788, although the congregation had been worshipping in Belper since 1689. The Chapel remains today very much as it was when it was built, and is a beautiful place to celebrate weddings. There is much civic pride in our historic chapel. The chapel is the oldest chapel in Belper that has been in continuous use as a place of worship. People still gather there every week to celebrate life, and we also have a lively programme of activities during the week. It is often open for Open Days and other occasions such as concerts, public and meetings.

You do not have to be a Unitarian to be married in a Unitarian Church or Chapel. One of our popular hymns is “All Are Welcome Here” and, as an outward-looking faith, we are generally open to approaches from couples who come seeking a spiritual or religious element for their marriage. This can be the more traditional ceremony or can incorporate rituals, words and music that are more meaningful to the couple. If you are planning on getting married, do get in touch with the Chapel to explore whether or not a Unitarian service is for you.

The tradition of innovation is still as strong as ever with Belper Unitarians. It started with Jedediah and his family, and continues to the present day with this latest great news.

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By Sue MacFarlane

Photo by Dickon Clarke: Left to right. Christina Smith (celebrant for the wedding), Helen Barley & Sarah McMullen (the couple who are getting married) and me (Trustee, Lay Leader and Celebrant at the chapel).

One thought on “Trailblazing Chapel Leads The Way For Same Sex Marriages

  • 20th August 2016 at 6:45 pm

    Good to hear. The Unitarian chapel is a bit of a hidden treasure in Belper, and a lovely place for a wedding ceremony.

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