Wedding planners in the Triangle warn that saying “I Do” in a local chapel takes advanced planning. Barring another couple’s misfortunes, the months of April, May and June are pretty much off the table a year in advance, as is October. Some savvy brides have already snapped up prime dates for fall 2018 and spring 2019.
“This is such a growing area and the increase we’re seeing in weddings is just crazy,” says Raleigh wedding planner Sally Oakley. “Churches and chapels book well in advance of a year, especially for Saturdays. And it’s not just local couples. We hear from a lot of people who live elsewhere but maybe grew up here or went to school here and really want to have their wedding here. It’s become a very competitive market.”
That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to score the perfect place to exchange vows, but you might have to adjust your game plan. If a specific date is essential, be willing to shop around for the right church or wedding chapel much in the way a bride hunts for the right shoes: Accept a bit of a pinch if the overall match is a great fit.
Private, unaffiliated chapels offer the most flexibility. Most churches have rules that might not appeal to all couples, ranging from expectations of a faith-based life to prohibitions on photos during the ceremony or alcohol at the reception. You also might not be allowed to feature your favorite song or decorate with flowers that remind you of grandma.
Additionally, many churches and synagogues reserve the privilege of a chapel wedding for members and require couples to participate in pre-marital counseling. Permission is sometimes necessary if a person has been divorced. “A lot of people want to get married in a church because it’s pretty, or because their parents got married there,” says Amanda Scott of A Swanky Affair in Durham. Reasonably, she adds, churches with strict rules – such as Sacred Heart Cathedral in Raleigh or The Catholic Community of St. Thomas More in Chapel Hill – “want you to believe in God and not think of their chapel as a pretty backdrop.”
Thankfully, for couples that value such aesthetics or are not actively observant, common ground can be found at many welcoming churches and chapels.
Kayelily Middleton of Raleigh, an ordained wedding minister and wedding planner, is a particular fan of Unity of the Triangle, a nondenominational community where she is a member. The church, which opened in Raleigh this year,has a contemporary sanctuary with stained glass and a reception hall with catering kitchen.
Unitarian and United Church of Christ congregations, such as Raleigh’s Unitarian Universalist Fellowship and Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Durham, tend to be among the most open to couples that are not members, including same-sex partners and those of different faiths. Be sure to review each church’s wedding policy, usually posted on its website, to confirm whether it allows outside officiants and other factors that may be important to you, such as support of social justice causes.
Don’t assume that all churches in a given denomination will have the same rules. For example, some Episcopal churches require that at least one person be a member and Christian, including Chapel Hill’s handsome Church of the Cross, while the small, carpenter gothic Episcopal Church of the Advocate nearby welcomes all committed couples.
“We find that there are couples in the community who desire to be married in a church, but for a variety of reasons are not part of a faith community in our region,” says Rev. Lisa Fishbeck, Advocate vicar. “We are glad to honor their inclination to exchange their vows in a sacred space.”
Jewish centers in the Triangle, such as Durham’s Judea Reform Congregation, only allow couples that intend to build a Jewish home together to be married in their sanctuaries. Rabbi Andrew Ettin of Salisbury’s Temple Israel often travels to the Triangle to perform weddings in alternate settings for couples who want a traditional Jewish ceremony but are not actively observant.
Making their chapel more available for weddings has become a smart business move for some non-church venues. Saint Mary’s School in Raleigh, an Episcopal boarding school for girls in grades 9-12, has found that its chapel and reception areas have become reliable revenue drivers. Open to all faiths, they book just one wedding a week, with a few weeks blocked out for school functions and summer residence of the Carolina Ballet. While grads get a discount on the rental fee, Kristen Monroe, director of auxiliary programs and services, says the historic chapel and outdoor rose garden attracts as many outsiders as alumni.
If the grandeur of Duke University Chapel is your dream, hopefully you, your beloved or a member of your immediate family has a direct university connection. The iconic chapel allows no exceptions but welcomes same-sex weddings and couples of all faiths, and even can make arrangements to live stream the ceremony for those unable to attend.
Know that demand for this spectacular setting is such that, as with Blue Devil basketball games, it’s not unusual for hopeful couples to camp out in order to be first in line when bookings open 12 months in advance of the desired wedding month.
There are unaffiliated chapels to consider as well, including two located in Raleigh’s historic Oakwood/Mordecai corridor. Built in 1875 as a church and restored in 2008 by Empire Properties as an elegant event space, All Saint’s Chapel welcomes all denominations. A few blocks north, Saint Mark’s Chapel offers a smaller, budget-friendly option managed by the City of Raleigh.
“It’s the best deal in town,” says Kayelily Middleton, referring to Saint Mark’s hourly rent of just $100 for city residents (or $150 for non-residents). “If you want a beautiful ceremony that won’t break the bank, it can’t be beat.”
Click here to view SB&G’s recommended chapels and officiants.
Article contributed by Jill Warren Lucas
1 & 4 Sarah Morrel Photography
2 & 3 Riley MacLean Photography