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.

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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.

Confetti Confessions – The Reply

(This started off as a comment in reply to a blog of Flix’s, before I realised that I was over a month late in replying and it was kinda relevant for here anyway. So go and read the original, maybe, and its comments before reading this. In my defence, I’ve been busy planning a wedding :P)

I think I always knew that being able to get married would be amazing, but I honestly couldn’t see it happening to me just because I honestly couldn’t imagine finding anyone perfect enough to want to spend the rest of my life with. I think the whats and the whys and the hows suddenly fell into focus when I found that person – not least when I realised that I was going to be able to have a Quaker wedding.

(It’s not that I couldn’t have had anyway – non-Quakers can marry Quakers in a Quaker ceremony. But it would have felt funny for me not to have had a Quaker ceremony, and would probably have felt equally funny for a non-Quaker to have done things in ‘our way’. I didn’t intentionally fall in love with a Quaker, but I’m glad it’s worked out like that from a large number of points of view.)

And as soon as you are having an unconventional wedding by most people’s standards anyway, it liberates you to go the whole hog and be damned with tradition if there’s a particular tradition you dislike. So my father will not be giving me away, we will not be cutting a cake (after J told me about the symbolism!), and all of the speeches will be joint because I don’t see why it’s only the men who should have the say.

At the same time, it’s important to keep the traditions that you like – you only get to do this once, after all. I think I’ve mentioned on here before that despite the Quaker testimony to simplicity and the traditional implication that in my case would be frankly inaccurate, I discovered that what I really wanted to get married in was a white princess dress. So I will, simple as that. I once joked with my second/ third year housemates, long before I got with J, that if I ever got married then I would ban posh hats and fascinators at my wedding. “You can’t do that!” they replied, horrified. Well just watch me!

One final remark in relation to the comments over at Flix’s. You think that everything is going to be kept terribly simple and inexpensive and stress-free because your wedding’s going to be different. I point at your naïvity and laugh 😉

Guest List Politics

The website has progressed and we are nearly at the stage where we can send out wedding invitations! As soon as we get home from Woodbrooke, we are going to be going content crazy – time is ticking on, and so we can no longer afford to ‘just leave it for a month or so’. So I have set myself the deadline of the Easter weekend to have the emails out by – no pressure…!

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Let me tell you that writing a guest list for this sort of thing is not easy. Unless you are Prince William and Kate Middleton and are getting married in Westminster Abbey on a multimillion pound budget, you will have a limit on numbers*; and whatever your exact limit on numbers, there comes a point where you have to draw the line between ‘in’ and ‘out’.

We actually wrote the initial guest list several months ago. What we did was to each write a list divided into three categories. Our A list was the people whom it was inconceivable not to invite (such as each other). Our B list was people whom we would like to invite but didn’t quite merit the A list – if push came to shove, they weren’t coming – and our C list was people whom we would invite if space allowed. At that point, we combined the his ‘n’ hers, counted up numbers, and drew the line based on capacity. In practice what happened was that the Bs made it, and the B-minuses didn’t.

So we drew a deep breath and had the first list for our wedding. Inevitably a few names have changed since then – some taken off and some added on.

Any wedding list has its duty invites, primarily but not exclusively of the familial variety. It’s such a difficult one. Do you invite the friend you see on a very occasional basis or the aunt you don’t know and haven’t seen for years? Do you invite cousins, and if so, do you have to invite all of them (in entire sibling sets?)? What about plus ones? Our plus one policy has been relatively simple – if we don’t know them, they’re not coming – but I have heard of weddings where the plus one has been explicitly not invited but they’ve turned up anyway to embarrassment all round.

I think I can guarantee that somebody somewhere is going to be disappointed not to have been asked. We’re trying to be as tactful as possible, but it’s bound to happen – for instance, I’m going for a drink this coming Thursday with a friend who was just below the cut-off line, and the chances of the wedding not coming up in the conversation at all have got to be relatively small.

Equally, cirucmstances are such that the ‘hers’ list is about half as large again as the ‘his’ list. I’m told that this isn’t unusual, but I still feel slightly bad about it. The plus side is that there is no etiquette about who sits where at a Quaker wedding so it won’t be immediately obvious, and we have a sufficiently large group of mutual friends coming that I don’t think too many people will need to swear allegiance to one ‘side’ or another. Thankfully, the respective family numbers are actually reasonably balanced.

The final twist in all of this is that this isn’t the list for our actual wedding ceremony but the list for our reception. One of the lovely things about Quaker weddings is that everybody in the Meeting is invited as upholding members of the spiritual community. The Meeting where we will be getting married is the Meeting in which I have grown up, is the Meeting of which J and I are now semi-regularly attending members, and is a relatively large Meeting. We have no control over how many people want to come, and let’s just say that I have visions of standing room only, as it was for a funeral Meeting two or three years ago. If the weather is fine, we may just have to have overspill in the garden looking in…!

It all comes, in shades of A.A. Milne, of having too many friends. But I’ve yet to be persuaded that that’s really a bad thing 🙂

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*Although even the royal couple are allegedly having a smaller reception party afterwards, and at least we do not have duty invites with the potential for repercussions in international diplomatic relations.

Meeting for Clearness

In Quakerism, the way of doing worship – the silence, the waiting for discernment, the openness to one another – is transposed to other contexts. For example, the decision making meetings held for the practical running of Quaker Meetings are held after the same fashion.

Smaller Meetings of Friends, called to reflect on a particular issue, are sometimes called. These “Meetings for Clearness” can be on any topic – conflict within the Meeting, supporting a Friend with a difficult problem or personal issue. They are also increasingly being used before Quaker weddings to discuss with the intending couple whatever issues or questions that they may have. It’s a way for the Meeting to support the couple in what can be a time of questioning.

I was initially reluctant to have anything as formal as a Meeting for Clearness. I am clear that I want to marry L, and I am clear that I want to marry in the Quaker tradition; and L has made it clear likewise. However, I was impressed when I had my membership interview by the spiritual depth and of the opportunity for learning that is offered by a informal gathering of a couple of Friends.

In the end, the Elders at our Meeting convinced us to have a Meeting for Clearness with a couple who got married a few years ago at the Meeting, two elders (of whom one couldn’t make it in the end), the registering officer and another from the Meeting who is one of the few people I know best  – I’ve only been here for a few months so don’t really know anyone well.

And, in the end, I’m really glad that it was as it was. No doubt L and I need to digest and talk about what happened this evening (for it was tonight), but I really felt the sincerity of the support and the spiritual depth of the occassion.

We’re going to have another session in January to talk about any outstanding issues or questions that arise in the meantime.

No doubt L will have her say so I’ll leave her space to do so.

THE Dress

When I first got in on this blog, I secretly envisaged a long series of wedding-dress related posts. Everything from ideas for inspiration to possible sewing patterns to the construction process itself. After all, I was definitely going to be making one – how else would I get a beautiful dress that fitted and was within our (pretty limited) budget?!

The best laid plans go to rest, however, because at the end of October I bought one.

The thing is, I was slowly giving in to the fact that making one myself might just be a little ambitious. I’m not convinced that my technical skills would be up to it, but more to the point it would just be so stressful and such a big deal if it went wrong that I’m not really sure it would be worth the hassle. After all, I want to be able to enjoy this dress and feel good when wearing it, not have the last minute scramble that my sewing projects always seem to involve.

The next thing I thought about was getting one made. Because fitting issues aside, I had very definite ideas about what I did and didn’t want. There isn’t really such a thing as a traditional dress code at a Quaker wedding ceremony, or not as far as I am aware. Certainly there weren’t tuxes and meringues at any of the three Quaker weddings I have attended in the past, although admittedly in all three cases those were weddings between people of an older generation. One couple was of my parents’ age with two sons the same ages and me and my sister; after twenty years of being together they had taken the decision to actually get married, prompting cries of “What? So soon?!” from amused friends and relatives. The other two couples were both nonagenarians, so not much guidance there.

My dilemma was this: given the Quaker testimony of simplicity, and given our conscious decision to try and hold our wedding in line with this value, was I being horrendously hypocritical to want to get married in a classic white wedding dress, as in heart of hearts I did and do?

I say “my dilemma was this”. My dilemma still is this, to an extent, even having bought the dress. But without reaching any further into the murky depths of my conscience on this particular occasion, I decided that a compromise of sorts was to go for a traditional wedding dress that was reasonably simple and unfussy in design. And this in itself ruled out a good proportion of the dresses that I had seen about in shops.

Where to get a dress made? Well, I knew of a reasonably local dressmaker through adverts posted about her sewing school. Her website revealed that she did indeed do bespoke bridal dresses so I figured we should go and ask her for a ballpark quote. What was there to lose, apart from half an hour on a Saturday afternoon? Thus Mum and I went along to her shop.

What we established pretty quickly was that having something made was going to cost. It was going to cost a lot, more than I could in all conscience pay, despite J’s prior insistence that me being happy was much more important than the money. So visions of The Perfect Dress fading rapidly before my eyes, we turned to look at the rack of dresses already in the shop. These dresses had been designed by the dressmaker and constructed by someone else; she was now selling them off in order to concentrate on the teaching and bespoke side of her business.

And there it was. THE dress. I tried it on. Incredibly, it fit. Not only did it fit, not only was it long enough (indeed the perfect length), it was comfortable and pretty and had most of the features that I’d wanted. I put it on hold, went back the next day with a friend to take photos, and having received a favourable second opinion, bought it there and then. The first – the only wedding dress that I’d tried on, and it was mine in under two hours of shopping from start to finish! I still can’t quite believe it myself either!

I am going to pay to have the skirt altered a bit because as it stands I wouldn’t want to wear it, but it should be a reasonably simple couple of alterations to do and it really will transform it. It’s ivory, and in an ideal world I’d’ve had cream, but that’s the only slight niggle I have – and at a grand total cost of £299 I really can’t complain. Have you seen the cost of the average wedding dress out there?

And no, you don’t get to see it yet! I want it to be a surprise on the day for J in particular, but for as many of the other guests as possible as well. Makes it all the more special 🙂

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As a final note on an already ridiculously long post, that doesn’t mean that you’re going to be spared from a sewn dress yet. We are going to have a ceilidh as after-dinner entertainment, and as Jenny very rightly pointed out in the comments of a previous post, ceilidhing in a long white dress is just not practical. So I will make my dress for the ceilidh, and that’s where the fun is really going to start!

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