Marrying Under the Care of Friends
- Questions to Be Considered
- Ongoing Concern for the Couple
- The Ceremony
- Marriage by a Friends Minister
- Traditional Wording of Marriage Certificate
- State Legal Requirements as of March 1988
- Other Resources
Marriage, to Quakers, is the lifelong commitment of two persons to each other, in mutual love, support, respect, and forbearance. As the relationship is entered into in the presence of God and witnessing friends, so it is lived in the knowledge that all days and occasions are under the divine will. Joy is to be found in common things, love expressed in daily activities, and the seed of God nurtured and revered in the other person as in oneself. Depth and richness of life await the couple who truly cherish each other.
A Quaker wedding is held simply and with reverence in a meeting for worship based on silent waiting upon the Lord. The couple marry one another, without clergy, in an atmosphere in which there is no display or ostentation.
This booklet is intended as a guide for Marriage Clearness Committees (appointed to determine the readiness of a couple for marriage) and committees of oversight (appointed to help the couple plan their wedding ceremony). It should also assist the couple as they plan.
Couples desiring to marry after the manner of Friends address a written proposal to the monthly meeting of either.
This letter to the monthly meeting should be written a minimum of two monthly meetings before the intended day of marriage, as the Clearness Committee process requires some time. Note that as invitations should not be sent until monthly meeting has approved the marriage, it is best to allow additional time. In some meetings, it may be necessary to schedule use of the meeting house up to six months in advance. If one or both of the couple are under the age of 18, the letter should be accompanied by the consent of parents.
A. If the couple are members of the same monthly meeting this letter should be sent to their monthly meeting's clerk.
B. If the couple are members of different monthly meetings, the letter stating their intentions of marriage must be presented at sessions of both monthly meetings. A report on the clearness of each is obtained from his/her own meeting, and is then presented to a session of the monthly meeting which is being asked to oversee the marriage
C. If one of the couple is not a member of the Society of Friends the committee on marriage clearness appointed by the other's meeting should, if practicable, arrange an interview with him/her, and satisfy itself that no obstruction exists. This inquiry should include consulting with one or more persons acquainted with him or her. The report on clearness is then presented with the report on the member's clearness to the monthly meeting for approval. Full understanding of this procedure may make the experience more significant for both the Friend and the one who is not a Friend.
D. With the discretion of a monthly meeting, a couple, neither of whom is either a meeting member or an attender, may be married under the care of that meeting through these usual, carefully considered, Friends procedures.
E. When one or both of the parties are members of the Society of Friends but for adequate reasons have chosen to be married in a meeting to which neither belongs, the letter of intention, including the name and locations of that meeting, should be presented to the meeting or meetings of membership. The usual procedure for securing the approval of the marriage is carried out by that meeting, and its clerk communicates with the clerk of the meeting where the marriage is to take place, asking for its cooperation.
The letter should substantially say:
To _______________________ Monthly Meeting:
We, the undersigned, propose taking each other in marriage, and we hereby request the approval of the meeting.
(signed by both)
The letter may include a proposed date and place for the marriage.
When received by the clerk, the letter of application should be referred immediately to the clerk of the overseers or the meeting on ministry and counsel, according to the custom of the local meeting. The overseers or the meeting's ministry and counsel committee shall appoint four members of the monthly meeting, at least one of whom is a member of the appointing group, to inquire into the couple's clearness to proceed in the marriage. This committee's report should be presented to the next monthly meeting. If at all possible, the couple should be at both of these business meetings.
Friends who accept appointment to the Marriage Clearness Committee take their responsibility seriously. The clearness process is not just an empty ritual, but an effort to make sure that the couple is ready for marriage. Committee members should study this booklet and the New York Yearly Meeting's Faith and Practice section on marriage carefully and meet together or at least confer before their first meeting with the couple. The committee has the responsibility to ask searching questions; the courage to ask them is in proportion to the committee's caring for the couple who are entering into the relationship of marriage.
The first meeting with the couple might be in the home of one of the members, and could begin with a simple meal or refreshments. A relaxed atmosphere and freedom from interruptions are important. A period of worshipful silence will prepare the group for the depth of sharing that should follow. In that spirit committee members are better able to listen and to ask the sensitive, necessary questions which may bring to light potential problems or conflicts. Members of the Clearness Committee may wish to share anecdotes from their own life experiences which show they are not immune to joys and difficulties.
The Marriage Clearness Committee meets with the couple as many times as necessary (and sometimes with each singly) in order to determine their clearness and readiness for marriage. The couple's attitude toward marriage, and whether they have read the section on marriage in our Faith and Practiceand have considered together questions posed in this booklet, are discussed with them. Their reasons for wanting to be married under the care of the meeting, and their future relationship to the meeting should be clarified.
The Clearness Committee should consider meeting with any children involved to share the process with them.
If either partner is presently married, a divorce must be finalized before any report of clearness can be made.
Love and Relationship. What is the nature of our love for one another? Is our relationship intense enough to give us joy in being together and mature enough so that we can relate together in easygoing friendship? Do we respect each other's right to privacy, solitude, and individual growth? Is either of us unduly dependent on the other?
Knowledge of Each Other. Do we have some knowledge and understanding of one another's habits, likes and dislikes? Do we know what we expect of ourselves and each other, and of marriage? Are we ready to make adjustments in our living and to act upon this knowledge with kindness and consideration? Do we know each other's opinions on questions important to us? Do we expect to grow and change through the years and do we expect it of the other person? Are we able to share our innermost feelings about life and its purpose? Are our religious values harmonious?
Duties and Responsibilities. What duties and responsibilities to each other will we be undertaking in marriage? In establishing a home, how do we expect to share responsibilities? Where do we plan to worship?
Parenthood. How do we feel about children? Do we have similar ideas on how many children we wish to have and to care for? Could we be happy without children? How do we feel about adoption? Do we have similar ideas on child-raising? If we are not of the same religious background, have we considered how this will affect decisions about an appropriate religious education for our children?
Sex. Are we willing to give the time, trust and openness needed for a good sexual relationship? Do we try to be in touch with each other's feelings and needs? Are we informed concerning the available techniques of contraception and have we explored our attitudes toward them?
Health. Do we plan to have physical examinations in order to ascertain whether there might be medical problems that would influence our future? Are we aware of any history of inherited medical problems in our families which might influence our decision to have children?
Fidelity. Do we recognize the importance of fidelity in all aspects of our life together? What is the meaning of fidelity to each of us?
Humor. Do we share a sense of humor? Can we be lighthearted?
Conflicts. How will we deal with the conflicts that will inevitably arise? How will we keep open channels of communication even in painful circumstances, so that we can express our feelings honestly and handle them in a healthy way? Are we able to say "I'm sorry" and mean it? Are we willing to forgive? Will we seek help together, if problems arise that we cannot handle?
Work. How do we feel about the place of jobs in our life together? Will both share in the housework and later in the care of children? Can we afford to change from a double to a single income, so that one partner can stop working after children are born? How do we feel about both parents working after children are born? If both parents are working, what kind of child care might be acceptable?
Money. Do we know each other's attitude about earning, spending, and saving? Are we willing to plan a budget as best we can, knowing that we may agree to change it later? What are our attitudes toward charge accounts, installment buying, borrowing, and living within our income? Is handling the family income to be a jointly shared responsibility, with one of the partners the keeper of the accounts, whichever is best suited? Do we agree which one it should be, or if both have incomes, will each manage her/his own money?
Names. What surname(s) will we use? If one of the couple wishes to use the other's surname, and has a business or profession, is that Friend willing to temporarily lose business or clients because of the change of name? Will this change be for all purposes or only for some? Will any conflicts or confusion arise from the use of two surnames? Do our wills, and any other document referring to beneficiaries (e.g. life insurance), clearly designate the spouse by name? If we choose to use our respective surnames, are we willing to amicably deal with bureaucratic and possible social questioning we may experience when we apply for bank accounts, insurance reimbursements, consumer credit, mortgages etc.? How will our parents feel about the choice of surnames? What about the possibility of both the partners changing their names so that both will have the same surname? If we have children, how will they be named?
Interests. Do the interests we now share seem likely to continue after marriage and into later life? How do we feel about the use of leisure time? What are our feelings about separate interests or hobbies not shared by the other?
Education. How do we feel about continued or resumed education for each of us? Do we expect to grow intellectually?
Skills. Have we the various skills required for homemaking and home maintenance? If not, are we prepared either to learn or to hire, and in any case to help one another?
Faith. Have we shared with each other our spiritual journeys? Are our religious beliefs harmonious?
Background. How do we feel about each other's economic, religious, and cultural background? How do we react to each other's parents, friends, and relatives? How do our parents and families feel about our marriage? How are we going to celebrate holidays?
Questions. Do we know and trust each other well enough to consider the above questions frankly? Are we willing to discuss them with a Marriage Committee?
Relationship to the Meeting. Do we value the loving concern of the meeting? Do we wish the meeting to continue its concern after the wedding? Do we intend to remain in association with Friends, either within the New York Yearly Meeting or elsewhere?
What is the significance of having a marriage ceremony in a meeting for worship? What is the significance of the promises made in the presence of God and family and friends during a meeting for worship?
For Divorced Persons Intending Remarriage:
Have I gained perspective on the ways in which I myself may have contributed to the breakdown of my first marriage? Am I able to use my new perspective in a constructive way? Have I talked out my bitterness or sense of failure? Am I clear of repeating destructive patterns either of my own making or in vulnerability to those of others?
If There Are Children Involved:
How will I feel as a stepparent? How will my former spouse feel and act following my remarriage? Are the children's legal and support rights fully taken care of? How does my prospective spouse relate to my children?
Are we aware of the kinds of emotional conflicts which the children may need to work out? Are we prepared to meet these? Will we seek professional advice if needed?
The Marriage Clearness Committee should make a regular effort to keep in touch with the couple with whom it has been associated so closely. Especially during the first years of marriage, the Clearness Committee should create particular times and/or occasions for checking with the couple in order to show their support and care. Ideally these should be in addition to regular contacts at meeting for worship or business meeting. Such occasions could be a special call to say, "How are things?", or dinner together. If the couple live at some distance, a personal letter could be the vehicle. The ideal relationship would be one in which such trust has been built that the couple feel free to share with their committee their problems and concerns as well as their joys.
When the Friends on the Clearness Committee are satisfied as to the couple's clearness and readiness for marriage, they recommend to the next monthly business meeting that the marriage should be allowed. In this report the committee should not reveal the full substance of the conversations with the couple, but should report merely the committee's decision.
If the marriage is allowed, the monthly meeting appoints another committee of at least two men and two women (who must be Friends) to attend and oversee the wedding. The couple propose the time and place of the meeting at which the marriage is to be solemnized (after checking the availability of the meeting house) and may suggest the names of the Friends who are to serve on this oversight committee. The Oversight Committee is charged with seeing that the wedding is carried out after the manner of Friends.
The Oversight Committee and the couple enter into a special fellowship from which should emerge a reverent and dignified service, radiantly proclaiming the presence of God and the deep caring for each other of the two who are being married. In planning the ceremony, the following must be considered.
A marriage ceremony takes place in a meeting for worship. It should be simple and not ostentatious. As with any other meeting for worship held in the meeting house, the wedding is open to all members. Out of regard for the nature of the service, photographs are not taken during it. The couple can request that the wedding be held at some place other than the meeting house.
- All guests are seated and quiet.
- The wedding party, if there is one, enters and is seated.
- The couple enter and are seated.
- Brief silence, followed by an explanation of Friends' marriage procedure.
Silent worship "for an appropriate time."
- The couple exchange promises and rings (if being used).
- Couple sign certificate, using the names they have decided to use legally.
- Oversight Committee members sign the certificate (or this may be done later).
- The certificate is read aloud.
- Worship continues, with spoken messages if persons are so moved, until closed with handclasps.
- The couple and the wedding party withdraw.
- All present are invited to sign the certificate as witnesses.
Meeting members or friends of the couple should be chosen to assist with particular parts of the ceremony, as follows:
a. A Friend to welcome the guests and explain Friends' procedures for those who are not familiar with them.
b. Someone to read the marriage certificate after it has been signed.
c. Someone other than the couple may close the meeting, or they may do it themselves.
d. Someone to see to the signing of the certificate by all persons present, as witnesses to the marriage. This person might also be charged with seeing that a table, weights to hold down the certificate, and several working pens and a blotter are available.
Arrangements and Details
The arrangement of the meeting room (to the extent it is flexible) and where the wedding party, the family and the Oversight Committee will sit must be decided. Consider the placement of the table holding the certificate, and whether it will be carried to the couple, or they will walk to it to sign their names. If the table is to be carried, someone must be asked to do this.
The meeting house should be reserved for the rehearsal, and the Oversight Committee invited to participate.
If a reception is held in the meeting house, its preparation and the cleaning up afterwards are the responsibility of the couple and their families. A reception held at the meeting house is open to all who attend the wedding. A local meeting may have traditions about receptions. Generally, alcoholic beverages are not served in a meeting house.
Invitations may be mailed only after the marriage has been allowed by monthly meeting. It is helpful to include a flyer which explains the Friends ceremony for non-Friends.
A certificate must be secured. It can be hand-lettered, or printed certificates can be ordered from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting or Quaker Hill Book Store (see appendix for addresses). Full information—names, towns, and dates—must be supplied to either of these sources, and two months must be allowed. The text of the printed certificate appears in the appendix. If the couple changes the wording of the traditional promise, it is necessary to have the certificate hand-lettered. Philadelphia Yearly Meeting has a list of calligraphers who can be hired to do this. Such a person would then need the extra wording of the promises.
The certificate should be on permanent (acid-free) paper, and only permanent, nonfading India ink should be used. If the certificate is framed after the wedding, it should be mounted on acid-free paper and the glass sealed to prevent deterioration.
The traditional wording of the promise is:
"In the presence of God and these our friends, I take thee __________ to be my wife/husband, promising with divine assistance to be a loving and faithful wife/husband so long as we both shall live."
It is helpful if the meeting has a file of alternative vows. Once the promise is decided upon, the couple should memorize it.
A copy of the signed marriage certificate should be given to the meeting recorder.
Legal requirements: must be complied with.
a. Before applying for the marriage license, any needed blood tests must be obtained within a set time limit (see appendix). Each meeting should keep on file the information about obtaining a marriage license and what changes—if any—need to be made to adapt it to Friends practice.
b. Immediately following the ceremony, a member of the Oversight Committee obtains the signatures of the couple and the Oversight Committee members on the marriage license. This document is then mailed or delivered to the appropriate office by a member of the Oversight Committee.
The Oversight Committee gives a written report to the monthly meeting, signed by the members of the committee, stating that the marriage was suitably accomplished in the good order of Friends and that the legal requirements were satisfied. It is helpful to report the surname(s) adopted by the couple.
Announcements of the marriage may be sent to Friends Journal and/or Quaker Life. The monthly meeting recorder should send information to the Yearly Meeting, which will print it in Spark
When the couple prefers, the marriage may be solemnized by a pastor or other recorded Friends minister who has been recognized by the state as qualified to perform the functions of a cleric for this purpose. In such cases the procedure above outlined for obtaining the approval of the monthly meeting should be followed, except that instead of proposing the names of Friends to be appointed as a committee of oversight, the parties should state the name of the pastor or minister whose assistance in the ceremony they desire and the names of two witnesses to be in attendance, and the marriage certificate shall be a form appropriate to these circumstances.
In such cases, and in the solemnization of any other marriage, the pastor or minister is earnestly advised to employ a wedding ceremony in keeping with the ideals of Friends and to impress upon the couple the fact that marriage is a solemn religious engagement. Due care must be exercised to ascertain that all legal requirements precedent to the marriage have been met, and the marriage must be reported to the proper officials. Any marriage solemnized by a pastor or minister shall be reported to the monthly meeting that has approved the marriage.
A.Traditional Wording of the Marriage Certificate
The form of the wedding certificate shall be substantially as follows:
"Whereas _________ (woman/man's full name), of __________ (place), daughter/son of ________ and __________ (parents' names), of ________ (place), and ________ (woman/man's full name), of _______ (place), daughter/son of ______ and _______ (parents' names), of _________ (place), having declared their intentions of marriage with each other to the _____________ Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, held at ___________ (place), according to the good order used among them, and having the consent of parents (or guardians), that meeting allowed their proposed marriage.
"Now this is to certify that for the accomplishment of their marriage, this ______ day of the _______ month, in the year of our LORD ______ , they, _______ and _________ (couple's names), appeared in a meeting for worship of the Religious Society of Friends, held at __________ (place), and _________ (woman/man's name), taking _________ woman/man's name) by the hand did, on this solemn occasion, declare that she/he took her/him to be her/his wife/husband, promising with Divine assistance to be unto her/him a loving and faithful wife/husband so long as they both shall live (or words to that effect), and then in the same assembly ___________ (woman/man's name) did in like manner declare that she/he took her/him to be her/his wife/husband, promising, with Divine assistance, to be unto her/him a loving and faithful wife/husband so long as they both shall live (or words to that effect); and moreover, they, as a further confirmation thereof, did, then and there, to this certificate, set their hands."
(full signatures of the couple)
A Quaker Wedding
This wedding after the manner of Friends is a Meeting for Worship. Silence will precede the exchange of vows. After the couple say their vows, the Meeting will continue in silent waiting upon God while those gathered share in holy fellowship through prayer and meditation and, if so moved by the Spirit, through a spoken message.
New York. License valid for 60 days, obtainable at any city hall or town clerk (no residency or citizenship requirements). No blood test; 24 hour waiting period. Bring I. D.; in case of previous divorce, bring divorce papers. For someone under 18, written parental consent is required. Two witnesses to the marriage sign the license.
Connecticut. License valid for 65 days, obtainable at location of marriage ceremony, not of residency. Blood test for both parties, plus rubella for female (good for 35 days). Four day waiting period.
New Jersey. If both are New Jersey residents, or just the bride is, go to municipality of bride's residence for the license. If bride is nonresident, go to municipality of groom's residence. If both are nonresident, go to the municipality where they plan to marry. Blood test for syphilis for both; 72 hour waiting period. One member of the marriage committee signs the license, taking lay minister responsibility.
Vermont. License from town of residency. If nonresident, from county in which the marriage is to take place. No blood test. Four day waiting period. In Friends' wedding, the official status of the marriage committee needs to be verified with the county clerk.
1215 Arch St. #2B
Philadelphia, Pa. 19107
Quaker Hill Bookstore
101 Quaker Hill Drive
Richmond, Ind. 47374
1501 Cherry St.
Philadelphia, Pa. 19102-1497
101 Quaker Hill Drive
Richmond, Ind. 47374
New York Yearly Meeting
15 Rutherford Place
New York, NY 10003
Faith and Practice, New York Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends
Living with Oneself and Others: Working Paper on Aspects of Family Life, New England Yearly Meeting Ministry and Counsel, 1985.