Pride and tears as Belper chapel is first to hold same-sex marriage in Derbyshire

Sarah and Helen are covered in confetti.
Sarah and Helen are covered in confetti.

In August, a Belper chapel held the first same-sex marriage ever to take place in a church in Derbyshire.

The Unitarian Chapel on Field Row is still the only place of worship in the county to offer it and it is already planning its second which will happen next year.

Sarah and Helen with Unitarians Christine Smith (left) and Sue MacFarlane.

Sarah and Helen with Unitarians Christine Smith (left) and Sue MacFarlane.

The process of getting the licence was long and sometimes frustrating but, according to those at the church and the happy couple themselves, it was very much worth it in the end.

Sue MacFarlane, 55, a member of the congregation who played a major role in making the ceremony possible, said: “We are very proud of it really - it is historic and I can say I was there.

“As Unitarians, it is very much part of our faith tradition to encourage equality. We believe every single person has dignity and worth and should have the same opportunities.

“Unitarianism does seem to encourage free thinking - the inventor of the world wide web Tim Berners-Lee is one.

The happy couple.

The happy couple.

“We are a very small movement but we’ve made a big difference.”

The ceremony - which took place on Saturday August 27 - was the culmination of a process which began when the coalition government introduced equal marriage in 2014.

Following that, a number of faith groups including the Unitarians, the Quakers and the Liberal and Reform Jews worked together to help provide a ‘progressive religious response’ to the new law.

The statute states that each church has to take the decision for itself if it wants to hold same-sex ceremonies.

The Belper Unitarian Chapel on Field Row in Belper.

The Belper Unitarian Chapel on Field Row in Belper.

When the proposal was put to both the congregation and the trustees at the chapel, both were unanimous in their support. “We then had to start filling in the forms to get the licence which is a job in itself,” says Sue.

“There was lots of backwards and forwards but we finally got our licence in June.”

It was while the church was going through this process that the couple that were married in August got in touch.

“She was terrified when she called,” said Sue.

Sarah and Helen go down the aisle.

Sarah and Helen go down the aisle.

“She said I am ringing to see if you do equal marriage and Christina who answered the phone said ‘yes, I am glad you called’.

“She said the response was not what they were expecting but it just went from there.”

“Over the course of planning the wedding I got to know them quite well so on the day I got a bit overwhelmed - I was crying.”

The happy couple, Sarah Barley-McMullen (previously McMullen) and Helen Barley-McMullen (previously Barley), live on nearby Green Lane and were overjoyed to have the chance to be married in Belper in accordance with their Christian faith.

Sarah said: “Our faith and our community are both significant elements of our relationship, so it was important and meaningful to us to be married in a place of worship in that community.

“We were welcomed with open arms by the Unitarians in Belper, and our historic wedding there was a very special day.”

Sarah and Helen take their vows.

Sarah and Helen take their vows.

The chapel is currently planning its second same-sex ceremony which will take place next year but Sue admits to having mixed feelings about their unique status.

“Afterwards, I remember thinking it was great that we were the first but also sad because we’re the only one so far.

“It is all well and good saying that we are all equal in the eyes of God but we shouldn’t say that and keep treating people differently.

“If you have a faith that is important to you then you shouldn’t have to put that aside on the most important day of your life.

“But to see how far we have come is fantastic.”

More information about the Belper Unitarian Chapel can be found online at www.belperunitarians.org.uk or by calling 01773 829736.

Coming out of the church surrounded by family and friends.

Coming out of the church surrounded by family and friends.