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.


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