A Quaker Wedding Ceremony – Part III

When we say that our Meeting was unprogrammed then that’s almost true. It’s certainly true in that we didn’t have a service sheet. But we had chosen a couple of readings that we wanted for the occasion, to be read our respective parents.

J’s dad read another passage from QF&P – number 22:35. It’s a good old one, from 1693, and we did edit it slightly in order to take out the bit about setting an example to your servants (ha!). That particular bit was contextual to the time that it was written, but I think that we felt that the rest of the reading was incredibly universal in its message: that love is the most important thing that you can have in a marriage, and that real love focuses on the right things. Paragraph five is essentially the Quaker version of “for richer, for poorer etc.”. I still cannot get my head wrapped round about paragraph four, but it sounds clever and very Quakerly…

A&Q number 23 is about marriage. It reads:

Marriage has always been regarded by Friends as a religious commitment rather than a merely civil contract. Both partners should offer with God’s help an intention to cherish one another for life. Remember that happiness depends on an understanding and steadfast love on both sides. In times of difficulty remind yourself of the value of prayer, of perseverance and of a sense of humour.

Later in the ceremony, nearly at its close, my mother read my absolute favourite poem of all time – A.A. Milne’s “Us Two”. This is one of those soppy things – this poem means a huge amount to me for family reasons and I’d always known that I’d want it read at my wedding if ever I were to get married. And I had it! My mother did a fantastic job of reading it, and it couldn’t have been anyone else to do so.

Out of some of the Quaker weddings that I’ve been to, our Meeting for Worship was probably one of the more solemn occasions. But it was very wonderful, and very moving, and there were some people who stood up and said some fantastic things – including one or two non-Quakers which is particularly special given that I can only imagine how intimidating that must have felt. The only moment when I nearly cried was part way through the Apachi blessing that J’s littlest brother read out. I am surprised that I didn’t when an old family friend read out Don Paterson’s ‘Two Trees’ – you can find the poem by scrolling down here.

Poetry isn’t strictly unprepared ministry. Whatever.

A Quaker Wedding Ceremony – Part II

Because of the relatively privileged position that Quakers have enjoyed in marriage law over the centuries (once the followers stopped being persecuted, that is), there is a very strict form of legal wording that has to be adhered to with only a couple of specific variations allowed. When making your vows you also have to take each other by the hand in full view of the Recording Clerk, or else the whole thing is null and void.

The basic pattern to the vows is this (copied from the online version of Quaker Faith and Practice):

Friends, I take this my friend [name] to be my wife, promising, through divine assistance, to be unto her a loving and faithful husband, so long as we both on earth shall live.

You’re allowed to change “through divine assistance” to “with God’s help”, which neither of us wanted to do because neither of us are that keen on the word ‘God’ when describing what we believe in. You’re allowed to substitute “so long as we both on earth shall live” with “until it shall please the Lord by death to separate us”, and you’re allowed to preface the whole thing with either “In the presence of God” or “In the fear of the Lord and in the presence of this assembly”. I think it goes without saying that we didn’t do either of those things either.

J went first, but that was only because if one of us hadn’t decided to go first beforehand then we could both have ended up talking at the same time! We exchanged rings after both vows were said – rings are not, incidentally, a formal part of a Quaker marriage, but we’d decided that we wanted them – and then signed the certificate. My hand was so sweaty and shaking by this point that my signature looks like a child’s scrawled it. (We walked up the aisle into our seats in the Meeting room together after everyone else was gathered and it took me three goes to get round the corner – not something I expected at all until it happened.)

Our witnesses were R and J, a retired couple from Durham. He was the Quaker chaplain on the university’s ‘faith team’ when we started up in Durham and they really were surrogate grandparents for all the Quaker students. We blame their endearing yet enduring relationship, J’s marvellous cooking, and their beautiful black labradors for us getting together – at least in part, anyway! When we asked them on the phone to be our witnesses they both cried, and J keeps telling us how utterly speechless she was – there’s got to be a first time for everything 😉

There was a brief tedious legal bit where the signed certificate had to read out word for word, and then we were into the part of the Meeting when anyone can stand up and give ministry.

A Quaker Wedding Ceremony – Part I

I don’t think this blog can go any further without any discussion of the least-photographed but without question the most important part of our wedding day – the ceremony.

Quaker wedding ceremonies are held in the style of a normal Meeting for Worship – that is, in silence and ‘unprogrammed’ (apart, of course, from the vows). Because there are no clergy in Quakerism*, it is the couple themselves who stand up when they feel that the time is right and make their vows to each other. Presiding over the ceremony is the Recording Clerk, a nominated Friend from the area, whose duty it is to see that all the legal necessities are carried out.

This is actually for reasons greater than the practical issue of having no regular leader. There is a lovely quote from George Fox on marriage that J and I had discussed in considerable length:

For the right joining in marriage is the work of the Lord only, and not the priests’ or magistrates’; for it is God’s ordinance and not man’s; and therefore Friends cannot consent that they should join them together: for we marry none; it is the Lord’s work, and we are but witnesses.

 This is open to all sorts of interpretations, but I think that we had really come to the conclusion that essentially we already felt married. That we had already been brought together by what-some-people-call-God**, and that the ceremony was all about the ‘witnessing’ aspect – our families and friends and worshipping community witnessing the commitment that we were making to each other.

As a result, everyone present at a Quaker marriage signs the certificate after the Meeting has ended. They are signing that they witnessed the couple making that commitment, and they are signing that they will continue to uphold and support the couple in their marriage or whatever else life throws at them.

(A reminder that J and I both wrote ‘rough guides to Quakerism’ here and here.)

*Or, alternatively, no laity. Discuss.

**Sorry if this is getting a bit theologically heavy. My personal feelings about the word “God” are a subject for another day.

NewlyWeds

So J and I got married. It was wonderful. It was beyond wonderful, but the English language is insufficient to describe much of what we felt that day, for me at least, and I probably speak for J too. It rained but it didn’t really matter, and we still got most of our photos outside. We felt so, so surrounded by love. These are (most of) the cards that we received on our dining room table:

We get the proofs of the official photos when we return home tomorrow, although this is one that they’ve put up on their own website in their bridal portfolio – I’ve added text to the image to protect their copyright:

 

(Yes, there are a couple of other photos in there from our wedding, if you stumble across the photographers. No, we’re not the couple whose faces you can see. Ha! Ours are the hands with the rings and the cupcakes.)

We’re at the end of our week’s honeymoon in south-west Devon, and it’s been a strange week. Ever since the wedding we have both been completely and utterly and overwhelmingly exhausted. This week I have been ill and we both have been depressed. It’s been raining most of the time, and we haven’t really known what to do with ourselves – although as J points out, if it’s justified long lie-ins and veg-ing about in the cottage then maybe that’s been no bad thing. We’ve even had (albeit unreliable) internet.

We’ll have plenty of holidays together. I don’t feel cheated by not having had a particularly glamorous honeymoon. Apparently there’s an old French saying that a rainy wedding means a happy marriage. I’m hoping that they throw in health and wealth as well for a rainy honeymoon?

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I’m getting used to being Mrs HisSurname, although I still haven’t gotten around to practising a new signature – I’ve signed under my old name a couple of times, the first time through habit and the second of well-it-doesn’t-really-matter-anyway necessity. I’m keeping my maiden name for work at least for the minute, as I’m only there ’til next April and people are still trying to work out who I am without throwing a new surname into the mix – but I will probably apply for future jobs under my new name, and it’s at that point that it will really feel like I’ve properly changed over.

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Oh, and, I did it. I finished the ceilidh dress! Photos to come when I have some [hint hint]

Photos, Personnel And Countdown

J and I meet with our photographer tonight! She’s only coming in after the ceremony (because taking photos etc. in a Quaker meeting is just not appropriate), and will be leaving as we start the meal (so all of the first dance shots and the like will have to be at the mercy of friends’ cameras).

I’ve sent the following list to J and he’s having a look over it. But seeing as I know there are various photo-enthusiasts on here, including at least one who has played the part of wedding photographer before… what do you think I’ve missed off?

  • Signing of the civil register
  • Quaker Meeting guests general shots
  • Couple shots (inc. photos of hands and rings?, on the awesome wooden train set in the kid’s playground?)
  • Couple with bride’s parents
  • Couple with groom’s parents
  • Couple with all parents
  • L with MOB
  • L  with FOB
  • L with parents
  • J with MOG [if J wants]
  • J with  FOG [ditto]
  • J with parents
  • L with bridesmaid
  • J with best man
  • Couple with best man and bridesmaid
  • Couple with all siblings
  • Couple with his immediate family
  • Couple with her immediate family
  • Couple with all immediate family
  • Couple with his elderly relatives [I have none left]
  • Couple with all his family
  • Couple with all her family
  • Couple with all family guests
  • Reportage-style shots of all reception guests

We’re not going for one of those everyone-who-was-at-the-entire wedding photos. They’re not quite to our taste – cheesy, a nightmare to organise, and in reality you can’t see anyone properly anyway.

But we will have made it really clear to the photographers that we want photos of everyone, not just the photogenic people. There is only one child coming to the wedding and he is neither family nor female, so hopefully that will reduce the temptation to go “Awww, look at the pretty frilly cuteness!!!” and then forget half the other guests by mistake.

The “all siblings” photo is a reference to the fact that my sole bridesmaid is my sister and J’s best man is his brother. That worked out really well, actually. We are both the eldest of three siblings, and in each case the next sibling down is of the same gender (before each having a little brother to complete the set).

In J’s case best man was an easy choice. It was either going to be his brother or his roommate from the first year at university. And in my case it was an easy choice – but if I hadn’t had my sister it would have been a complete and utter nightmare. Basically, I have a lot of close female friends but I’d struggle to name a single one as ‘best’ and the potential for politics… well, let’s not even go there. Friends who I’ve known the longest and who are like alternative little sisters? Cousins? Secondary school friends? University friends – Quaker, college, Maths? I can guarantee that whoever I’d’ve chosen, somebody would have been offended. And it’s not like the bridesmaids have an official role in a Quaker ceremony anyway. I will be walking down the (makeshift) aisle – with J.

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4 days ’til we get married. I don’t think it’s sunk in yet.

Painting The Ceilidh Dress, And Countdown

After an oh-my-god, I so want this dress to happen last-ditch prayer, J has been helping me to paint the panels. He’s a good ‘un:

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Countdown, And Apologies

This blog probably won’t see much activity in the next couple of weeks. J and I did a trip there and back to Sussex within the space of 24 hours Sunday/yesterday for my great-aunt’s funeral. My hair and make-up person failed to turn up for an appointment last Thursday, and until an email sent yesterday evening was completely incommunicado. I am still trying to decide what to do.

I am completely, disablingly, mind-numbingly depressed, and have been for the past week.

The ceilidh dress may not get finished in time. Something will, but it may not have the butterfly panels.

Our priority has to be to get everything in order, and to regain some level of sanity so that we can enjoy our own wedding day.

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