A decade ago this month Eric and I got married. We were in a stone gazebo, elaborately decorated with flowers, at the center of a circular rose garden filled with family and friends. It was a gorgeous day and every element of the ceremony was perfectly orchestrated, just as we had designed it to be. A friend played guitar and wandered among the roses singing folk songs. After my father lifted my veil and kissed me, he welcomed the guests. Eric’s beloved Aunt Jackie and two of my dear friends read just the right poems and passages we had selected. Our best man and matron of honor presented us with their own individualized Questions of Intent. Another friend played a selection on his tin whistle during the ceremony. Our siblings read letters from our families welcoming each of us into our now united family. And our vows to each other were personal, poignant and continue to inspire joy in us today. Eric still refers to our wedding as his favorite day ever. It was really quite perfect.
So why are we celebrating our 10 year anniversary by getting married again? The simplest answer is that our wedding was entirely secular, and now we want to celebrate our marriage in the manner of Friends. For many years, even before we met, each of us had been on our own spiritual journeys. Eric was brought up in the Catholic Church. For me it was the Reformed Church; locals may know it as the big clock church on Rt 9 in the middle of Tarrytown. While earning his minor in religious studies during college, Eric spent a lot of time with the Buddhist monks that practiced in Ithaca. I sang in a gospel choir during college which lead me to worship in dozens of black churches throughout Ohio. By the time Eric and I met in our mid and late 20s, we had both independently come to share a similar faith, perhaps most clearly defined by our willingness to accept a fluidity to understanding, and a comfort with the unknown.
A few years ago we found our spiritual home with the Chappaqua Friends Meeting where we are now officially members. Most people know Friends best as Quakers. We attend worship Sunday mornings in a meetinghouse that is much like a church except that there is no pulpit, and there are no overt religious symbols. We worship in quiet contemplation that is occasionally interjected with a message shared by a Friend who feels moved to speak. Rather than a pastor we have committees of members and attenders who make the meeting function spiritually and practically through volunteer efforts. The silent worship and fellowship of coffee hour on Sunday nourish me with the a divine connection to our world that helps to guide my actions as a parent, a wife, and a community leader throughout the rest of the week.
Our Quaker meeting has become an integral part of who we are as a couple and a family. I’m looking forward to the indulgence of worshiping with the meetinghouse filled with friends and family, all gathered to reflect on and celebrate our marriage. Eric and I have never actually attended a Quaker wedding, and neither have of most people we know outside of our meeting. One Friend pointed out that the most striking difference between a Quaker wedding and a typical Quaker worship is that two people will stand at the same time and they will speak directly to one another.
If you ever find yourself at a Quaker wedding, here’s about what to expect…
It is recommended that the meeting begin with a period of silent worship. At a suitable time in the meeting, the couple should rise and, taking each other by the hand, declare in words to the following effect, and each speaking in turn:
In the presence of God and before these our friends, I take thee, ______, to be my wife/husband, promising with Divine assistance to be unto thee a loving and faithful wife/husband so long as we both shall live.
After these declarations, the couple are to sign the wedding certificate, and either then or later, the members of the committee of oversight are to do so too. Some designated person should then read the certificate aloud. A period of worship should follow, and, at the conclusion of the meeting, others present should sign the certificate as witnesses.
One specific variation I expect we will make from that official marriage procedure copied here from the Faith and Practice book published by the New York Yearly Meeting, is that near the end of the period of worship, the children will be brought into the meeting room as is the custom of our meeting.
The concept of being lead to speak is unusual for most of our family and friends. Unlike our wedding a decade ago when every word was scripted and rehearsed in advance, during Quaker worship one speaks when the communal silence has lead them to feel moved to share a message. A person stands to speak. Only one person stands at a time. And following each message is a pause before anyone else stands. Perhaps what distinguishes Quaker worship most from a public discussion, is that while one person’s message may inspire another’s, each message is offered generally to the group rather than in response to any individual or statement.
Also on the subject of the procedure of marriage, the New York Yearly Meeting recommends the following…
It is affectionately advised that moderation be observed in all of the proceedings of the wedding day, including simplicity of dress and surroundings, and that the occasion be characterized by the dignity becoming its serious spiritual purpose.
I smile at the term “it is affectionately advised” because this gentle, non-dogmatic approach is emblematic of most everything in Quakerism. Perhaps it is this nonjudgemental acceptance of individual choices that has lead so many interesting, kind and often quirky people to become Quakers.
Following our wedding service, we will being inviting guests to our home to celebrate with a potluck dinner. If we are excessive in anything that day, let us hope it is in the enrichment of our spirit through the joy shared with family and friends.