Quakers have always seen marriage as a religious commitment, rather than just a legal contract. In 1669, George Fox (1624-1691) described the Quaker view of marriage: “The right joining in marriage is the work of the Lord only, and not the priest’s or magistrate’s; for it is God’s ordinance and not man’s … we marry none; it is the Lord’s work, and we are but witnesses.”
When a couple wish to marry in the Quaker way, the couple will probably talk to their local Pastoral Care Group and with other Quakers in their meeting, to help them to prepare for their marriage. When ready, they apply to the registering officer of the area meeting. Once the area meeting has approved the application for marriage, the registering officer, who is recognized by law, makes arrangements for the public notices and other legal requirements. The area meeting arranges for a “meeting for worship for the solemnisation of marriage” to be held. More information is available in, for example, Chapters 16 and 22 of Quaker Faith and Practice.
A Quaker wedding
A Quaker wedding is a simple meeting for worship. The couple (who may be opposite or same sex) make a commitment to each other in the presence of God and their friends and family. During the meeting for worship the couple take each other freely and equally as life-long partners, committing themselves to joining their lives together in loving companionship and asking God’s blessing on their union. There is no priest to lead them as they make their promises.
The wedding will be very informal compared with weddings from other traditions. The couple may already be at the meeting house together to greet the guests, then may quietly slip into the meeting room along with their friends or they may come in when everybody else is seated. In the past, everyone stood as the couple entered but this is less common now. The meeting house will look much the same as usual, though it will probably have more chairs and flowers. Near the couple will be a table with the Quaker wedding certificate and a pen. The couple will be dressed simply. Some Quaker brides wear white, but many do not, preferring to wear something that can be worn again on other occasions.
At the start someone will explain briefly what is going to happen then the meeting will settle in to silence. When they feel ready, perhaps after ten or fifteen minutes, couple stand and take it in turns to make their promises, while holding each other by the hand: “Friends, I take this my Friend, [full name], to be my husband/wife/spouse, promising through divine assistance, to be unto him/her a loving and faithful wife/husband/spouse, so long as we both on earth shall live.” There are some variations allowed in the wording, for example: “Friends, I take this my Friend, [full name], to be my husband/wife/spouse, promising with God’s help to be unto him/her a loving and faithful wife/husband/spouse, until it shall please the Lord by death to separate us.”
The couple sign the wedding certificate, which records their promises, followed by two witnesses (often the parents) and then the registering officer reads out the whole certificate. (Everyone present is responsible for witnessing and upholding the marriage so everyone else will sign the certificate too, even the youngest child, but as this signing can take a long time to complete it is usually resumed after the meeting for worship.)
The meeting for worship continues, perhaps for another half hour. During that time anyone who feels moved to may speak, offer a prayer or a reading, just as in a normal meeting for worship. The meeting ends when the elders shake hands.
After the meeting the couple will go with the registering officer and two witnesses to another room to sign the civil register. Sometimes Quaker women will keep their own surnames as a witness to the equality of the sexes. Traditionally Quakers did not wear wedding rings and rings do not play an official part in the marriage, but nowadays many Quakers do choose to wear rings and it may be at this point that the rings are exchanged. During this time and during the reception the guests sign the Quaker wedding certificate. The reception will usually be held at the meeting house so there will be no alcohol, as most meeting houses do not allow alcohol on the premises.
If you are a Member or Attender and would like to be married in Oxford Meeting, please contact our Registering Officer, Judith Baker, through firstname.lastname@example.org .