Marriage Under the Care of Meeting

This text is Appendix 6 of Faith and Practice, the book that provides guidance for Friends in New England Yearly Meeting.

6A. Process for Marriage Under the Care of a Meeting. 

(This is an outline of the process described on pages 251–257 of NEYM Faith and Practice 1985.)

  1. The couple writes a letter of intention to an appropriate meeting.
  2. The meeting or the responsible committee of the meeting appoints a clearness committee. 
  3. The couple and the clearness committee(s) meet one or more times to discern together whether all are clear that such a marriage would be rightly ordered.
  4. The clearness committee reports its clarity to ministry and counsel or other responsible committee, which then forwards a recommendation to meeting for business. 
  5. Meeting for business discerns whether or not to take the marriage under its care.
  6. If the decision is to proceed, the meeting appoints an oversight  committee to have care of the wedding on a date set by the couple.
  7. The couple and the oversight committee make plans and arrangements for the meeting for marriage.

6B. Possible Questions to be Considered by the Couple Before Asking the Monthly Meeting for Marriage Under Its Care

The covenant of marriage is both a joyful and a solemn obligation. Therefore, the couple considering marriage under the care of a Friends’ meeting should discuss honestly and frankly with each other the commitments and responsibilities assumed in marriage and in establishing a home. The questions that follow have no “right” answers, but are intended as aids to spiritual discernment.

Each question is here because someone found it useful. There may be questions that one of you shies away from or that makes one of you uncomfortable. If there is a worry or a discomfort that you have been pushing away, now is the time to look at it. It is the unrecognized issues that most often cause problems. Try to take enough time to allow yourselves to enjoy addressing these questions together.

Spiritual relationships

  1. What part do our spiritual lives play in our relationship? How do we show understanding and sympathy for one another’s religious convictions? Have we discussed the role they will have in our life together?
  2. Do we seek God’s guidance in our lives together? Are we open enough to God’s guidance and to each other to face in love those things that divide  us? Do we pray together?
  3. Have we considered the possibility that one of us may receive a leading  that takes us away from family, puts us in harm’s way, or causes financial  strain?  Are we open to seeking divine guidance in such situations?
  4. How will we make marriage a sacred and lifelong relationship?
  5. Is our relationship part of the religious community to which we belong?  How do we expect our relationship with the meeting to affect our lives as  a couple?
  6. Do we expect our relationship to support the life of the meeting? How might the meeting support our marriage in the years to come? How might our support of the meeting change?
  7. Why do we want to be married? What do we hope the commitment of  marriage will bring to our relationship?
  8. Are we seeking a spiritual union, a legal union, or both? If we cannot  have or do not want a legally recognized union, are we aware of the many  legal contracts which can be drawn up to provide rights similar to those  that are part of a legally recognized union?

Family Life

  1. Have we considered traditional roles in marriage, our attitudes toward  them and toward modern variations? Are we aware that one can impose  a role expectation on another without being aware  of it? What  expectations do each of us have about each other’s roles within the  marriage? How might these change as time goes along?
  2. Do we know each other’s habits, likes, and dislikes? Are we ready to make adjustments in our personal lives to meet each other’s needs with kindness  and understanding? 
  3. Do we share interests we can enjoy together? How do we show respect for each other’s individual interests? What dreams do we have? What dreams do we share?
  4. Do we have the willingness to listen and to be open and honest in our communication with one another, especially at times of unexpected life  changes? Can we bear the consequences together of such changes? Have we discussed aging and the changes it will bring? 
  5. How does our spiritual experience influence our perception of sexuality? What helps us to understand sexuality and spirituality as related parts of a single wholeness? Do we understand each other’s attitudes  towards fidelity and faithfulness?
  6. Have we discussed continuing friendships outside of our marriage? Do either of us have emotional or other commitments to a third person which would interfere with our marriage?
  7. Do we share each other’s attitudes on earning, spending and saving  money, and the handling of finances? Will we share responsibility for our routine financial maintenance? 
  8. Have we discussed whether either or both of us will change our names and have we discussed what last name any children will have?
  9. What are sources of potential conflicts between us? When conflicts arise, what tools do we have to deal with them?
  10. Have we explored our attitudes and visions for family life including: Do we want children? If so, how many? How soon? Might we consider adoption or foster care? 
  11. If either of us has children, what might be the impact of this marriage on them and of them on our marriage? How will we incorporate the children and spouse of a previous marriage into the new marriage?
  12. How we will raise, discipline, and educate our children?
  13. How will caring for children impact our jobs and our careers? How will we share family responsibilities?
  14. How might our family reflect Friends’ testimony of simplicity and concerns for the environment and world population?
  15. What is our family’s relationship to our extended families and to the  meeting?

Family Backgrounds

  1. How do we feel about each other’s economic, cultural, and religious backgrounds? How do our family backgrounds affect how we feel about marriage and having a family? How do our families feel about our marriage? How does this impact us as individuals and as a couple?
  2. How do we react to each other’s parents, friends, and relatives? 
  3. How do we intend to keep close relationships with family who may live far away (especially in cases of illness or old age)?

Concluding Questions

  1. Do we know each other well enough to have considered all of the above questions frankly, openly, and without hurry? If not, should we wait—six months, a year—before proceeding with marriage? 
  2. Why are we asking for clearness and oversight of the meeting? Are we  aware that marriage under the care of the meeting draws the marriage  into the spiritual life of the meeting? Do we welcome this added communal aspect of our marriage?
  3. How significant to us are the sacred promises made in the presence of our family and friends during the meeting for marriage? 

6C. Possible Questions to be Considered by the Couple with Their Marriage Clearness Committee

  1. Why do you want to be married?
  2. Why do you want to be married “under the care of the meeting”?
  3. What do you expect your relationship as a married couple to be with the meeting?
  4. How well do you know each other?
  5. Are you free enough from prior relationships to enter fully into this marriage?
  6. How will you bring children from a prior marriage into this marriage?
  7. Have you shared enough information about your past and your present situation to enter into your marriage with integrity? 
  8. How are you building the foundation of strength which will support you as you deal with the inevitable changes and difficulties you will experience as   a couple?
  9. Which of the queries you considered together prompted the richest  sharing? Which prompted the most discomfort?
  10. Have you considered what vows you will exchange? Have you considered what your meeting means by the “dignity, reverence, and simplicity” of a Quaker wedding?

6D. Possible Questions for the Marriage Clearness Committee to Ask Itself

  1. Are these two people joined in a spiritual union?
  2. Does the couple understand the implications of their wedding and their marriage being under the care of the meeting?
  3. Are there any obstacles to this couple marrying? Is there a role for this committee in addressing them?

6E. Wedding Oversight Committee Checklist

  1. Meet with the couple to discuss plans for the wedding and to discuss plans for the rehearsal. Include choice of individuals to open the worship, to read the certificate, and to close the meeting. 
  2. Review the vows with the couple. See that the marriage (and reception, if any) is accomplished with dignity, reverence, and simplicity according to the practices of the monthly meeting.
  3. Arrange for the care of the certificate following the meeting for worship  and see that it is signed by all who are present as witnesses.
  4. See in advance that all applicable legal requirements have been met and that the proper license has been obtained.
  5. See that all necessary signatures are obtained for the license and that it is filed in accordance with state law.
  6. Deliver the certificate to the recording clerk for copying or duplication for  the records of the monthly meeting and give the recording  clerk  an address to which the certificate is to be returned.
  7. Report to the monthly meeting whether the marriage has been suitably accomplished, whether the applicable legal requirements have been satisfied, whether the certificate has been properly recorded, and to report any name changes that result from the marriage for recording in the minutes of the monthly meeting, for the quarterly meeting, and for the yearly meeting.

6F. Sample Letter of Intent to Marry

To the Monthly Meeting.
Trusting in God’s guidance and the approval of Friends, we intend marriage with each other. We should like to be married under the care of _______ Monthly Meeting.
[Signed] A.B. 
[Signed] F.E.

6G. Traditional Vows

(Below is a traditional vow. Any changes the couple wishes to make should be reviewed with the marriage clearness committee.)

In the presence of God and before these friends, I take thee, [Name], to be my [husband/wife/spouse/partner], promising, with Divine assistance, to be unto thee a loving and faithful [wife/husband/spouse/partner] as long as we both shall live.

6H. The Marriage Certificate

The certificate needs to include:

  1. Names of the individuals being married,
  2. Date and location of the wedding,
  3. Meeting under whose care it is occurring,
  4. Substance of the vows, and
  5. Space for signatures of the couple, pastor officiating (if appropriate), and of those attending.

Sufficient identification should be used to unambiguously identify the couple and the meeting.

6I. Traditional Certificate of Marriage

(Below is a traditional certificate. Any changes the couple wishes to make should be reviewed with the marriage clearness committee.)

Whereas A.B., of [city or town], County of [county], and State of [state], son of C.B., and E.D. of [city or town], and F.E., of [city or town], County of [county] and State of [state], daughter of H. and K.E. of [city or town], having declared their intentions of marriage with each other to [monthly meeting name] of the Religious Society of Friends held at [city or town], [state], according to the good order used among them, their proposed marriage was allowed by that Meeting.

NOW THESE ARE TO CERTIFY that for the accomplishment of their marriage, this [day in words] day of the [word for month number] month, in the year [year in words] they, the said A.B. and F.E., appeared in a duly appointed meeting held at [city or town], [state], under the oversight of [monthly meeting name] of the Religious Society of Friends. Taking one another by the hand, A.B. and F.E. did on this solemn occasion declare that they took each other as [wife/husband/spouse/partner], promising, with divine assistance, to be unto each other loving and faithful [wife/husband/spouse/partner] as long as they both should live.

And in further confirmation thereof, they, the said A.B. and F.E., [taking the surname of G*] did then and there to these presents set their hands.

                                                       A.B.[G*]                                                               F.E.[G*]

AND WE, having been present at the solemnization of the said marriage, have as witnesses thereto, set our hands.

[Witness]
[Witness]
[Witness]

*Couples vary widely in the names that they take after they are wedded. In all cases their signatures on this certificate are the first place that their married names are used, these signatures being their final step in their wedding. It can be helpful to state the change(s) being made in the preceding paragraph.