Speak now or forever hold your peace - as long as you're two metres away...

Edward Malnick
Wedding cake
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It is the moment that has formed part of the Church of England's marriage ceremony for centuries and, in more recent decades, become a staple of romantic comedies.

Now, senior bishops have warned that members of the public must still be allowed to enter churches to object to weddings, even under the many restrictions being drawn up as a result of coronavirus - as long as they observe social distancing.

Guidance drawn up by Church leaders warns vicars that anyone wishing to lodge an objection to a wedding is "legally entitled to do so" and "provision must be made to enable them to make their point", even if the couple faces a strict limit on the number of attendees.

Like the vicar, couple, and congregation, however, anyone objecting to a union will be expected to remain two metres apart from others.

The advice is contained in a document issued to clergy by a working group of bishops helping to prepare CofE churches for the easing of the current restrictions on places of worship, including the ban on weddings.

It comes as the Government prepares to allow the re-opening of places of worship from June 15. Following talks with faith leaders, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, ministers are  drawing up plans to allow services and small weddings at places of worship as part of the third step of Boris Johnson's roadmap, in July.

Robert Jenrick, the Communities Secretary, said: "Ensuring places of workship can open again, beginning with private prayer by individuals has been my priority.

"Their contribution to the common good of our country is clear, as places of solace, comfort, stability and dignity. And the need for them is all the greater as we weather the uncertainties of the pandemic."

Guidance issued last week in preparation for weddings to be resumed in July also warns vicars that they do "not have to touch the rings to bless them", and nor do they need to touch the couple's hands as part of prayers and blessings.

It also states that organists, vergers and sound system operators will be included in the overall numbers attending, adding to the dilemmas of couples attempting to fit in as many guests as the Government allows.

The advice by the House of Bishops Recovery Group warns that "government restrictions are likely to limit the number who can attend" weddings and "it might not be possible to accommodate this number in some smaller churches while adhering to physical distancing requirements".

But in the case of weddings that are able to go ahead, the guidance notes a "legal point". "If anyone wishes to lodge an objection to the wedding, they are legally entitled to do so, and provision must be made to enable them to make their point while observing physical distancing," the document states.

"While this is likely to be a very rare event, it emphasises the importance of having some control over access to the building during the service."

In further advice on dealing with couples affected by the Covid-19 epidemic, the guidance states that vicars could offer to conduct an additional blessing at a later date with "all the guests present", if the ceremony goes ahead with restricted numbers.

Additional advice to vicars includes avoiding hymns and singing, "as this may encourage droplet and aerosol spread". Witnesses should maintain physical distancing and use separate pens, "where available".