What to Expect at a Quaker Wedding

I did not expect to be changed by becoming
married, because I couldn’t tell that anything would be different. But being in the room in front of my whole
community and Eric’s whole community and being so deeply seen in our connection and
affirmed in our connection is incredible, and it did something to relax our relationship
I think. And it’s different for me coming out of
it in a way that I don’t think it would have been if we hadn’t had a Quaker ceremony. So it’s your first Quaker wedding? What I would recommend doing, one: silence
your cell phone because there’s going to be a lot of quiet—a lot of quiet. If you’re invited to a Quaker wedding, it’s
because the couple getting married really values you, and that they want you with them
as they make these vows. So I think what to expect at a Quaker wedding
is maybe the opposite of what many weddings can be: very lavish. There is a real heart of simplicity and there’s
such elegance and beauty in that simplicity. So come prepared for the kind of simplicity
that is both elegant and beautiful, and to find the beauty in that simplicity. Well, the most unique thing about a Quaker
wedding is there is no officiant at the front of the room marrying the couple. The couple are marrying themselves. And there are a couple of ways that you can
think of that. You can think of it as God has already married
the couple in their hearts, and they are publicly attesting to that and their community is witnessing
and affirming that’s true. The other way you can understand it is that
the couple is in that moment marrying each other before a community. Quakers believe that no one can marry a couple
except the two of them and God, that it would be untrue to have an officiant say, “I’m
pronouncing you. You’re married.” The only person who can say you’re married
is you and your partner and God and the space that you leave for God in your relationship. So rather than a pastor or a minister marrying
the couple, it is the people getting married themselves who are doing so, and they’re
doing so before God and their gathered community and they’re making a promise that they’ll
work hard and abide by their vows and the community in return is making a promise that
they’ll support the couple. You may wonder what you should wear to a Quaker
wedding. My grandfather asked me this question about
two months before our wedding, and I told him, “Grandpa, there’s going to be people
there in anything from nice jeans to three piece suits. There won’t be any cutoffs and there won’t
be any tuxedos.” And that pretty much describes every wedding
I’ve been to. Some weddings will definitely be formal. When I got married, I wore a long white gown
and my husband wore a suit. Our family and friends dressed up a little
bit. I think it would be unusual to go to a black
tie Quaker wedding. You probably won’t see a row of groomsmen
all in tuxedos. So my advice to you about what to wear to
a Quaker wedding is to read the invitation and do what is says. So first put on a clean sheet of paper, because
it’s not like you might have expected a traditional wedding in our culture to be. It starts basically built around a Quaker
worship service, so as community we gather. The traditional Quaker wedding will proceed
like a meeting for worship. They will have done their pre-marital counseling
with committees, clearness committees will have done all of that ahead of time. Typically the couple will walk in together,
will sit in the front of the worship room. Sometimes the family will walk the bride and
groom in and sometimes the bride and groom walk in together, so there’s a lot less
of that couple-focused-ness. The father doesn’t give the bride away,
there’s none of that sort of transactional trappings that sometimes are in other weddings. But essentially the couple comes in together. There will usually be an announcement of what’s
about to happen, so a description of the traditional Quaker wedding will be given. There might be music or there might not. And then you will settle into silence as you
would in meeting for worship in an unprogrammed setting. It’s pretty common early on in the wedding
that there will be 5, sometimes 10 minutes will be completely silent before the couple
exchange vows. If you’re religious or if you’re spiritual
or whatever faith tradition you’re a part of, it’s a time where we enter into this
holy space. For Quakers, it is not the meetinghouse that
is holy, there is no consecration of these grounds, this is not a holy space but it’s
holy while we’re together. So in a Quaker wedding, you’re entering
into a sacred and holy space and you’re part of what makes it sacred and holy by your
presence. So before everything really gets started you’ll
walk into a service and sit down and there will be this period of time when everything
is silent and you have no idea what you’re supposed to be doing. If you’re not used to silent worship, you
might be like, “What’s going on? When is something going to happen?” Oh my gosh, my niece was two at our wedding. As soon as the silence started, she started
saying, “No one’s talking. No one’s talking. No one’s talking!” Which I think is how a lot of non-Quakers
also felt, but she was the one who said it out loud, because she was two. Something that I think about is thinking about
if you’re a praying sort of a person or even just a reflective person, think about
the couple. This is a time to really think about the joy
and the love that you feel for them. For me, a Quaker wedding is an opportunity
to let go of any agenda besides delight in the person that you’re rooting for. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to an
athletic contest where you so strongly wanted one team to win that you were really on somebody’s
side. Maybe you were yelling out as long as you
can, rooting for them to win. That’s what we do in Quaker meeting but
we just tend to keep quiet while we’re doing it, but inside we have this chance to just
100% root for the success and the happiness, the delight and love of the person that’s
getting married or the pair of them together. And after a few minutes, the nervous couple
will rise and, facing each other, take each other by the hand, and repeat the traditional
Quaker wedding vows, which in my wife’s and my case back in 1974 were: “In the presence
of God, I take thee, Jane to be my wife, promising with divine assistance to be unto thee a loving
and faithful husband for as long as we both shall live.” What I love about that vow is how simple it
is. All you are promising to do is be loving and
faithful, and of course those are enormous things. I know in a lot of wedding vows, people write
their own vows and there’s a lot of inside jokes or long promises and I think that is
really beautiful and it comes from the people who are marrying, but what we wanted was this
really simple promise, which was brief but also had space in it, space within “loving
and faithful” for us to decide what that meant and what that looked like and to keep
deciding it for the rest of our lives together. So those are the vows and they’re very simple,
and they’re spoken with the couple standing in front of the meeting. I stood right over there with my partner and
then afterwards we signed the marriage certificate. This goes back hundreds of years to when Quakers
as a non-conformist group had no ordained clergy. The only thing that legalized their marriages
was this certificate that had essentially their genealogy on it, who they were who their
parents were, and what their vows were. And then that certificate will be read as
the couple goes back and sits down finally, having done their vows and gotten through
the nervous part of it. Then we go back into silent worship, and at
that point, people present can stand and speak. Whereas a pastor or a priest might talk about
what marriage is (and these two people in particular that are being married in that
moment), that’s something we will do as a group. Each participant is welcomed to speak something
if they feel a clear sense of leading or prompting by the spirit to rise out of the silence to
speak a few words of encouragement—maybe out of your own experience of marriage or
your knowledge of one or both of the two people getting married. That can be really rich. You don’t have to share, but you might feel
called to share something. Give some space between messages: it just
allows the messages to resonate with folks, to land on folks. It’s like having a conversation with someone
who is really listening to you really well. One of the signs that someone is really listening
to you is when you stop talking, they don’t respond right away. You have this sense that they’re really
taking in what you have to say before they start thinking about whether they have a response. It’s that kind of silence that follows a
message. I find myself standing up and speaking in
the middle of one of these Quaker weddings only if I can’t hold back any longer: when
my heart just feels so full that I need to express it. I try to express it briefly because I know
others will want to as well. For some people, the closest thing they’ve
ever seen is the “toasts and roasts” at a bachelor’s party or rehearsal dinner,
and it ain’t that. I think also more practically, toasts are
often funny or sort of roasty and messages come from a place of sincerity. There’s a qualitative difference I think
that the message is a little more reverent, a little more rooted in seriousness and the
gravity of the occasion. There’s room for laughter and lightness,
but still you want to keep some sense of the gravity of this moment in these people’s
lives and so hopefully you strike a balance with that. There’s a particular spiritual rhythm to
weddings because generally there are more messages in weddings because people are filled
with the love and excitement. But if you’re always kind of touching that
point of silence and then coming again, that way Spirit is continuously invited to be present
in the room. We say “with divine assistance” in most
of the vows, so the wedding is the opportunity to practice letting divine assistance start
seeping into this couples shared community experience. So after a period of time, there will be lots
of messages that have happened and then there might be this silence that settles over the
wedding. The way that you know it’s done is that
people will start shaking hands. Usually someone at the front will start shaking
hands with the couple, and then the people around them. That’s a time to greet each other, and to
greet the people next to you whether you know them or not. I think it’s like every other wedding, where
someone gets up and says, “You’re married!” and we kissed several times and sort of ran
out of the room. That’s a pretty good indication that the
wedding is over. The ceremony… The ceremony part. That’s a good indication that the ceremony
part of the wedding is over. And then comes the party! Yeah! Quakers love to party in varieties of ways. Some people have blowout—huge parties in
tents afterwards—and some just have a small reception at the meetinghouse. The Quaker wedding format is a bit strange
for some portion of the people there who aren’t Quakers, so it may feel to some folks a bit
confining. That makes it all the more fun then to party
afterward because that’s a chance for us to do however we do in a celebration kind
of way. And then people hang out yes, absolutely! Have fun, dancing, depending on the kind of
Quaker wedding and the folks getting married… it is not abnormal for Quakers to get down,
so be open to that being a possibility. But something before you get there, something
that is part of that transition point, what you’ll do is you’ll be part of signing
the marriage certificate. Everyone who has attended signs the certificate
and so the certificate is, in addition to having basically the vows of the couple on
it, it also has all the names of all the people who were there. And that is formalized at the end of the wedding
by all of us signing the wedding certificate with our names that we were witnesses to them
making promises to one another and joining our intentions with theirs that this will
be a successful marriage, and we are also committing ourselves really in whatever ways
turn out to be possible for us—to support them and encourage them in that commitment
that they’re making that day. It’s no longer in most cases the legal document. They’ve already gone downtown and gotten
their certificate and their license, but this will be framed. It will be hung on their bedroom wall or their
living room wall, and for the duration of their lives it will represent who that community
of witnesses was, and it’s a moving thing to see, to reflect on. It reminds you of the vows you took, the promises
you made. And there’s that nephew who signed in block
letters at age 3 who is now married with children of his own in his forties, and there’s the
beloved parents and grandparents who have passed onto their great reward but there are
those, in these neat columns of witness that were there. So in that sharing, that worship with maybe
vocal ministry, prayer, a few songs, always going back into the silence, the hearts of
the community are knit together. The couple’s hearts are knit together in
love for each other and in appreciation for the community that is holding their marriage,
and then this particular group of people who have assembled for this particular event become
an entity, a spiritual entity that will actually never get together again but who all commit
at some level to care for this couple that’s going to go through marriage and hopefully
a life together. And I think as we all know there’s the love
and joy and lush of the beginning of a relationship and marriage and all that kind of stuff, and
then there’s the long journey into deepening that relationship that has rough edges, big
mistakes, poor responses to big mistakes, and yet some effort to build a life together
and to grow and change. All of that is being held by the gathered
community. So instead of being a list or a schedule of
sayings and prayers and things that have been written by other people, the content of a
Quaker wedding is a specific group of people with their specific love and well-wishing for a specific couple. It’s a very special thing.

15 thoughts on “What to Expect at a Quaker Wedding”

  1. So nice to see this on our tenth anniversary! I pass our wedding certificate full of all those signatures every night when I go upstairs.

    Jon, could you do a follow up on the clearness for marriage committee process!

    I also recommend that folks rematch this and keep an eye on the listening partners๐ŸŒš

  2. Great explanation. I can see this helping folks who are unfamiliar with Quaker practices and who are getting ready for a loved ones' wedding.

  3. Good explanation but I would like to see a video of a quaker wedding to really get an idea of the proceedings.

  4. This is lovely, I am not quaker but I value that rich silence that descends in corporate worship. How tender is that silence that bolsters up the couple as they publicly declare they are now 'one'.

  5. What is the meaning of marriage ??
    A woman takes on a poorly reared overgrown man who's parents have basically got exhausted with his upbringing …so passes him on to another woman to continue the nurturing process !! Don't do it girls
    Make sure he is not looking for a nurse and a purse !!

  6. I'm not a Quaker but have long felt there was 'something' about Quakers. This video was a joy! I felt myself drawn into the silence of community. What a lovely way to wed.

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