A wedding ceremony with no officiant, and a marriage certificate signed by all the guests – these are some of the traditions of the Quaker religion.
We talked to Gillian Armstrong Yearly Meeting Clerk for Ministry and Oversight with the Religious Society of Friends in Ireland, to find out more about what a Quaker wedding entails, and what makes them unique.
What are your religion’s beliefs about marriage?
The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers, often referred to as Friends’) fervently maintain that marriage is a solemn contract made in the presence of God in the Meeting for Worship.
Quakers believe that a couple should not enter into marriage lightly, and uphold the ideal of marriage as a lifelong commitment.
Are there any pre-wedding traditions or commitments before a Quaker couple may get married?
Quaker marriage procedures were approved in Government legislation over 150 years ago. The ability legally to solemnise marriage according to our long-established religious usages is a privilege which Quakers value highly.
We have our own Registering Officer whose responsibility it is to see that all is done correctly in relation to State marriage regulations. This Friend, accompanied by one or two others specifically appointed (possibly Elders), is advised to meet with the couple as far ahead of the proposed marriage date as possible. It is important that the couple fully understands the spiritual significance of the marriage commitment within the Meeting for Worship. As a result of these conversations it may be felt appropriate to arrange further meetings in preparation for marriage.
Where does a wedding ceremony take place? Must it be held in a Meeting House?
Yes, the Meeting for Worship on the occasion of a marriage takes place in a Quaker Meeting House.
What does a typical Quaker wedding ceremony involve?
Quaker marriage has not changed since the early days of the Religious Society of Friends.
We do not have any clergy and our worship is based on silent prayer and waiting upon the leadings of God’s Spirit. Usually, during a Meeting for Worship, one or more of those present will feel led to break the silence and make a simple spoken contribution a bible reading, a prayer or words drawn from their own spiritual experience.
At the Meeting for Worship on the occasion of a marriage, the couple will usually allow a little time to elapse and will then stand and make their declaration that they take each other freely and equally as lifelong partners. They will ask for God’s blessing on their union and pray for strength to support each other.
The words of the declaration are already written on the Quaker Marriage Certificate, which is then signed by the couple and by two witnesses, and is read out by the Registering Officer.
The Meeting then continues in quiet worship, during which any person is welcome to speak if they feel led to do so.
The end of the Meeting is signalled by the Elders shaking hands and then the couple, the two witnesses and the Registering Officer will leave the room to sign the State Marriage Registration Form. This is to comply with the State’s requirements and constitutes the civil ceremony, which records the solemnisation of the marriage in accordance with the law.
Whilst this is taking place, it is customary for all those present at the Meeting for Worship to add their signatures to the Quaker Marriage Certificate.
Are there any special aspects of the wedding ceremony that are unique to Quaker traditions?
Amongst the Christian denominations, probably the most unusual aspect of the Quaker wedding is the absence of any officiating clergy and the deeply and simply held view that the couple marry each other without any third-party intervention, in the presence of God’s Spirit.
There is no music, the Meeting House may be unostentatiously decorated with garden flowers and no photography is permitted during the Meeting for Worship.
If you want to find out more about Quaker weddings, please visit the Religious Society of Friends in Ireland: www.quakers-in-ireland.ie