London, July 23 (ANI): The Church of England has issued new guidelines welcoming unmarried couples with kids to be able to baptise their children and get married in the same ceremony.
A 'family friendly' service means a marriage will now be able to merge with a thanksgiving or baptism ceremony for a child.
The move comes as the latest figures on births and marriages show that about 44 per cent of children are born to unmarried mothers.
The Church says it is responding to a demand, with one in five couples who come to church for a wedding already having children.
"Baptism normally is celebrated in a Sunday act of worship - but patterns of relationship and marriage within society are presenting new opportunities for the Church," the Telegraph quoted the Bishop of Wakefield, Stephen Platten, chair of the Liturgical commission, as saying.
"We are therefore offering guidance on how thanksgiving for the gift of a child, or indeed baptism, might be incorporated within a marriage service so that the church can respond pastorally to our changing world if a priest feels it would be advisable to offer this option," Platten added.
The Rev Tim Sledge, Vicar of Romsey in the diocese of Winchester, said he has been asked to "merge" wedding and baptism services several times.
"It has been lovely to give couples this flexibility to enjoy an extra special celebration for the whole family. Now the guidelines are available online, the Church can 'say yes' and offer an even warmer wedding welcome to couples with children," he said.
A Church of England spokesman said: "The Church of England believes that the best place for sex is within marriage, and marriage is best for bringing up children. That hasn't changed."
He said the guidelines were a response "to the demand that is on us as the Church to meet people who come to us for this key event in their lives. Not standing in judgment on their past, but welcoming them and pointing to a fresh future."
"This is not a new service. The Church of England has authorised liturgies for marriage, thanksgiving for a child and baptism.
"These are guidelines that help clergy who are faced with a pastoral situation where combining these might help a family come to faith or grow in faith. This gives an idea of how it might work; how they might take elements of the services and put them together. Clergy are asking us for this," he added. (ANI)