Experiments in faith: finding a meeting-centred approach
21 June 2019 by Paul Parker
Quaker weddings and funerals take the same simple, quiet form as the usual meetings for worship.
For us the quality of the relationship is the crucial factor, and we celebrate with equal joy the marriages of same-sex and opposite-sex couples.
A Quaker marriage takes place during a specially-arranged meeting for worship. The couple becomes a partnership in a lifelong commitment to faithfulness and love. Each makes the same promise.
Members of the local meeting attend along with those who have been specially invited for the wedding. Everyone is asked to support the couple, silently or in spoken ministry.
At the start of the meeting a Quaker will give a brief overview of a Quaker wedding.
Early in the meeting, the couple hold each other's hands and make a solemn declaration of marriage. Each in turn uses these words: “Friends, I take this my friend, [name], to be my spouse*, promising, through divine assistance [or “with God's help"], to be unto him/her/[commonly used name] a loving and faithful spouse*, so long as we both on earth shall live."
After this exchange the Quaker marriage certificate is signed by the couple and two or more witnesses. The local Registering Officer of the Society of Friends reads the certificate out loud, either immediately after the declarations have been made or towards the close of the meeting.
*the word “spouse" may be replaced by “wife", “husband" or “partner in marriage".
Wedding rings play no formal part in Quaker marriages, but many couples like to give each other rings after they have made their declarations.
The meeting continues as it began with a period of silence, during which anyone may speak. This can be a time when the couple is given inspiration and help that will be a source of strength to them during their married life.
It is also an opportunity for everyone there to ask God's blessing on the marriage and commit themselves to supporting the couple however they can.
The meeting closes after the elders have shaken hands. As soon as the meeting has ended, everyone is invited to sign the Quaker marriage certificate. While this is happening, the couple and their witnesses go with the Registering Officer to sign the civil marriage paperwork.
A meeting for worship for a funeral or memorial has no set form, but simplicity and stillness will always be important.
Memorials can take place in a Quaker meeting house, a crematorium, at the graveside, or in another convenient meeting place. They are open to anyone who wants to gather in silence to remember someone who has died. Those who attend give thanks for a life, and try to bring comfort and support to those who are grieving.
The meeting will start with a short introduction from a Quaker. But in the stillness and silence that follows, anyone may speak. This might be a brief story or a memory, a thought, a prayer or other helpful words. Sometimes music may be played. It is helpful to leave a pause for reflection between spoken contributions.
At the end of the meeting, everyone is invited to shake hands. By then everyone will have contributed, even if silently. We find that this process brings everyone closer together.