Quaker Ceremony Wedding Rituals

Robin Beth Schaer
by Robin Beth Schaer

Quakers, members of the Religious Society of Friends, marry without a lot of fanfare. Often referred to as the silent ceremony, Quaker weddings differ from the traditional Protestant ceremony in four significant ways: there is no officiant; no giving away of the bride; a wedding certificate is signed; and there is a long period of silent, open worship after which those attending may speak on the couple's behalf. Want to know more? Here's your step-by-step guide to the Quaker ceremony.

Clearness Committee

A couple wishing to have a Quaker wedding in a meetinghouse mails a letter of intent to marry to the clerk of their meeting. The clerk reads the letter at the next monthly meeting for business, and those assembled appoint a usually two- or three-member clearness committee to discuss issues involved in marriage with the couple. The process involves thoughtful questions and careful listening, addressing potential difficulties, and discussing the spiritual nature of marriage. If the clearness committee approves of the proposed marriage, they recommend to the meeting that the couple be married.

Oversight Committee

If the meeting finds no objection to the proposed marriage, it will appoint a small oversight committee to oversee the arrangements. The oversight committee is like an official honor attendant/helpful mom/supporting sponsor all rolled into one. Committee members will help with such details as reserving the meetinghouse, signing the marriage license, checking the wording of the wedding certificate, making sure that all legal requirements are met, and dealing with reception logistics.

Officiant Free

The bride and groom marry "under the care of a Quaker meeting" before God and gathered family, friends, and meeting members -- but without an intermediary. Based on the tenet that only God can join a couple in marriage, Quakers believe that no church official is essential for a marriage to take place. However, a license from the local county courthouse is necessary to ensure the legalilty of the wedding. Check with you local meeting -- some branches have pastors who take an active role in the preparation and conducting of weddings.

The Ceremony

The wedding, held during a worship meeting, begins as the couple enters together and sits with their committee facing friends, family and meeting members. Everyone worships silently until the couple feels it's time to say their vows. They rise, hold hands, and each declare: "In the presence of God and before these our families and friends, I take thee (bride's/groom's name) to be my wife/husband, promising with Divine assistance to be unto thee a loving and faithful husband/wife so long as we both shall live." Then they sign a Quaker marriage certificate and sit down, while it is read aloud by a friend or relative. Everyone returns to more silent worship, during which congregants and guests may stand to say a few words or voice support for the couple (think: heartfelt toasts). The meeting usually ends with a nod or a handshake from a committee member. All those present will also sign the certificate as witnesses.

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