Marriage at Twin Cities Friends Meeting
(approved by Twin Cities Friends Meeting, January 8, 2010)
Northern Yearly Meeting (NYM), of which Twin Cities Friends Meeting (TCFM) is a member, adopted a chapter on marriage for its book Faith and Practice in May 2008. It is presented in its entirety below. Particular concerns which have arisen at Twin Cities Friends Meeting, but which were not addressed in this chapter, are addressed in italics, along with procedural issues specific to our monthly meeting.
“In the true married relationship, the independence of husband and wife will be equal, their dependence mutual, and their obligations reciprocal.” – Lucretia Mott, 1849.
“A man and [woman] whose love for each other is part of their love for God, discover a more splendid love and a more exuberant life than those who love each other only. The romantic molasses on which our [popular cultures] feed is a poor substitute for the nourishing food of God’s love.” – Kenneth Boulding, 1942
Marriage joins two people in Divine care and an on-going relationship to fully share their lives. We believe this union is something not lightly entered into, as it is a planned lifelong commitment. Marriage brings two unique individuals into a new entity, one of joy, grace, respect and care for the other. The challenges of marriage, and sometimes the pains of it, provide the opportunity to grow into wholeness of life together, with Divine guidance.
Several individual monthly meetings within NYM have prepared minutes affirming marriage regardless of sexual orientation.. One of the earliest is:
“Twin Cities Friends Meeting, joyfully recognizing the diversity of sexual orientation within our religious community, affirms the goodness of committed, loving relationships that endure, are unselfish, and that provide mutual support and tenderness… We intend to follow the same customary and careful process of arriving at clearness for any couple, regardless of sexual orientation, who should wish to unite under our care….” – Twin Cities Friends Meeting of Friends, October 1986.
Our yearly meeting comes together in this affirmation with the following minute:
“Our experience confirms that all people are equal before God and equally loved by God. In witnessing the truth of God’s love to the wider community, we support full and equal inclusion of gays and lesbians in enjoying the rights and privileges afforded any citizen.” – Northern Yearly Meeting, May 2006
Only monthly meetings have the authority to conduct marriage under the care of the meeting. Worship groups and preparative meetings may participate in the clearness process and planning for a marriage as members of their monthly meeting committee. Marriage under the care of a meeting celebrates publicly the couple’s commitment to God, each other and the meeting. Decisions regarding marriage are unique to each monthly meeting. Most monthly meetings (including TCFM) do not accept care of a marriage unless one of the couple is already a member or an associate member of that monthly meeting.
Sometimes circumstances lead TCFM to make adjustments to the customary procedures outlined here. We encourage couples who seek such exceptions to prayerfully consider with their clearness committee and each other how important these exceptions truly are. Not all these procedures exist for the sole benefit of the couple; many are there to give TCFM the tools it needs to be able to support the couple in its marriage. That said, it is also not desired that the forms of Quaker weddings be adhered to solely for the sake of form. In the tradition of Friends, outward forms should follow from inner convincement.
The Clearness Process
The clearness process for marriage under the care of the meeting is a mutual exploration and discernment—by the couple and by the committee on behalf of the meeting—of the nature of the relationship and of the couple’s call or leading by the Spirit.
This process begins when the couple sends a letter to the monthly meeting to request marriage under the care of that meeting. The letter is read at the next monthly meeting for worship for business and the next meeting of the Committee on Ministry and Counsel (M&C) and a clearness committee is appointed by M&C to meet with the couple. Names for this committee may be suggested by the couple, and will also be gathered as they rise within M&C. At least one member of M&C should be on the committee and will act as the contact person between the committee and M&C.
Clearness committees explore the meeting’s willingness to take on the care of the marriage. They also enhance a couple’s preparation for marriage by helping them think about their commitment to each other at a deep level as well as the many practical issues they face. Some meetings have prepared materials for the clearness committee to use, which include care for the readiness of both individuals to be married and their clearness about being married within the Friends Meeting for Worship. (guidelines in our appendix)
The same clearness process would be followed for all committed couples that have requested marriage under the care of a meeting. Now, and historically, legal and religious definitions of the marriage relationship are not always one and the same. A meeting clearness committee may help a couple more carefully determine the characterization of their relationship, as part of the preparations for marriage.
Because seeking clearness for marriage is an open-ended process, it may take some time—four or five meetings over the course of several months is not uncommon. This is not necessarily because of impediments to clearness, but because clearness is more than a “yes” or “no”; it is a series of “hows” and “whys.” The answers to the sorts of queries that are part of that process ought not to be rushed. Couples often find the time spent in the process to be very valuable on reflection in later years. We therefore discourage the couple from making specific plans for a wedding prior to the clearness process being concluded.
Clearness committees should review with the couple the basics of Quaker weddings, and talk through any variation from that tradition the couple my feel necessary. There are really two overarching questions: are the couple clear to marry under care of meeting, and are they clear to have a Quaker wedding? At the same time, the committee will consider if the Meeting is clear to undertake care of the couple’s marriage, and whether it can support the form of the proposed wedding,
Particular consideration needs to be made when one of the couple is not a Friend, or when there the couple feels it important to incorporate non-Quaker elements into the ceremony and/or into the continuing care of the marriage. Both the meeting as a whole and the couple need to be especially clear in these cases what is being taken under care, and what such care means. It may be advisable, if the non-Quaker belongs formally to another faith, for the clearness committee to meet jointly with the person or persons from that faith community that fill the role of the clearness committee
It may be that unity is not readily found in the question of marriage under care of Meeting. We encourage couples and committees to labor lovingly and persistently with doubts that arise, but recognize that tender and even painful results are possible from this. This is the risk of seeking truth. If it becomes clear that unity is not possible, the committee will report this to the committee on Ministry and Counsel, and advise whether the marriage request is being laid aside permanently or for a time.
When a committee has come to clearness in recommending marriage under care of Meeting, this is reported to Ministry and Counsel, which normally passes this recommendation forward to Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business, which typically will approve the marriage but is not required to. Rarely, M&C or business meeting will find some impediment to approval, in which case the question may be returned to M&C and/or to the clearness committee for further consideration.
TCFM reminds those seeking to marry under care of meeting that a wedding is not the same as a marriage. When we take a marriage under our care, our priority needs to be the ongoing relationship. Likewise, we hope couples will be able to gain and maintain the perspective that while a wedding is a special day, it is merely a one-time outward expression of a union made by God, and that the union is what is truly important.
The clearness committee brings its report to a meeting for worship for business. After meeting approves, an arrangements committee is appointed to work with the couple on the details of the wedding. Arrangement committees should be cognizant of their state laws regarding marriage and provide clear information to the couple, so that all legal requirements, if applicable, are met in a timely manner. In keeping with our testimony of simplicity, arrangement committees are encouraged to help couples focus the wedding plans on the deep spiritual nature of this union and the real lifelong commitment being made. This may include consideration of the differing beliefs and special needs of some families. When such circumstances have been part of a clearness committee’s discussions, it is helpful for that information to be part of the clearness committee’s report, or to be otherwise transmitted by the clearness committee.
What follows is an outline of our usual practice of weddings, which is neither set in stone, nor open to any and all modifications. We urge couples and their committees to take the time to become clear about whether proposed variations come from genuine leading or from personal preference; and on the other hand whether adherence to usual practice truly reflects the spiritual realities of the couple’s relationship or represents an empty outward form.
Our experience as a monthly meeting has been that it is important that the Meeting as a whole be invited and welcomed to the wedding. Normally weddings are held at the Meetinghouse or nearby. If circumstances clearly make it necessary for the wedding ceremony to be private or held at a distance from TCFM, arrangements should be made for a separate meeting for worship with attention to the marriage to which all TCFM members will be welcome.
The wedding itself is a Called Meeting for Worship which has the purpose and joy of supporting and witnessing the couple as they join their lives. No third person officiates at the wedding because we believe it is the Divine Spirit that gives this relationship life and permanence. During silent worship, the couple rise and speak their vows to each other. The traditional vow is:
In the presence of God and these our friends, I take thee, __________, to be my wife/husband/partner, promising with Divine assistance to be unto thee a loving and faithful wife/husband/partner as long as we both shall live.
Other wordings may also be used. The vows should be words the couple truly are able to commit to one another and desire to make. Clearness committees may assist couples in selecting the words they will say. Some couples choose to exchange rings.
The marriage certificate is an integral part of a Quaker wedding. Many couples experience the presence of their certificate in their family as a wonderful affirmation of the Divine blessing that brought them together and a reminder of the vows they said. Historically, Quaker weddings were not recognized by civil authorities. So Friends developed the marriage certificate to provide the complete record of this event. (Some sample wording for marriage certificates is provided in the appendix.)
The marriage certificate must be fully lettered before the wedding so that it may be signed by the couple during the wedding after they have said their vows. The certificate includes the words of the vows. Each should sign with the full name they plan to use from that date forward. A designated person then reads the entire certificate aloud during the wedding. All present are requested to sign the certificate as witnesses, at the rise of meeting for worship.
Historically, after the wedding, the entire wording of the marriage certificate and all of the witnesses’ names were copied into a record book of the monthly meeting. Both the meeting and the couple retained this document. Today, it is more common for the meeting to record the event, but not the entire certificate.
There are specific provisions in Minnesota state law dealing with Quaker and other non-officiant-led weddings (Minnesota Statute, Section 517.18). Until recently, TCFM has followed the procedures outlined under law to legalize weddings taken under its care. The meeting feels under the weight of the injustice that not all of the marriages taken under our care can be so legalized, because the state does not currently recognize same-sex marriages. As part of our witness to this injustice, we were led as a meeting in November of 2009 to stop acting as an agent of the state in the matter of marriage for at least three years, or until marriage laws change to permit same-sex marriage. We support those opposite-sex couples who for the protection of themselves and their families wish to legalize their marriages through a civil ceremony at a government office, and see no difficulty with other Friends being present as witnesses at such a ceremony.
Any reception or other gathering around the wedding is the responsibility of the couple and their families, but we encourage couples to consider how to integrate our shared testimonies of simplicity and integrity into such celebrations, and whether they are willing to welcome members of the meeting community. If a gathering is to be held at TCFM, the arrangements committee will need to be involved in planning facilities use and making sure such plans meet with TCFM policies and Friends practice. In particular, please note that TCFM meetinghouse policy prohibits the serving of alcohol on the premises.
The meeting interest in a couple does not cease when the wedding event is concluded. The meeting is also to provide on-going nurture and celebration of couples and families. This community can be the fertile spiritually nourishing ground where a marriage relationship can continue to unfold in the Light. The interested community may welcome the observation of special anniversaries by assisting with a meeting for worship for an anniversary. Meeting couples who were not married in the manner of Friends might even request a meeting for worship for the further affirmation and deepening of their vows. A meeting may provide assistance when a family experiences health problems or loss. It may formalize support to couples by sponsoring couple enrichment workshops and on-going couple support groups. Couples within a meeting provide a model of rich Quaker marriage relationships as one kind of support to those considering marriage.
Continuing care may require times of providing counseling and clearness committees when families face difficulties. Many meetings experience gaps of awareness and awkwardness regarding ways to offer care. A meeting may want to locate friendly outside counseling and support services. Clearness committees may be offered to a couple who are considering divorce or separation, if they are open to that. A meeting can assist with the on-going nurture and care of any children that may be involved. The meeting community seeks to love and respect both of the individuals involved, and if possible, to help them continue to participate in the spiritual life of the meeting.
The On-Going Union
Marriage can illuminate the spiritual journey with God for both the couple and the meeting community. The wholeness of a marriage seems to strengthen and multiply the gifts each is able to offer as individuals, and that both are able to offer as a couple. Successful relationships give the meeting community a precious gift, a tangible model of the hard work and deep joy that true intimacy with self, others and God can bring.
In the same way that membership in the Twin Cities Friends Meeting is also membership in the broader Religious Society of Friends, so marriage under the care of our meeting is marriage under care of the Society. We welcome couples married under the care of other meetings, and offer care and support in the family relationships of all those who are a part of our community. We respect the choices of those who have chosen not to be married under the care of the Religious Society of Friends, and of those who became part of our community after marriage elsewhere. As Friends, we seek to recognize and support the work of the Inward Teacher, and regard formal marriage as recognition of a sacred state of union. However the couple chooses to outwardly recognize that state, we offer our love and care.
(general queries on marriage for the meeting and prospective couples)
For the Meeting:
1. How does your meeting nurture the marriage commitment before the wedding? 2. How does your meeting help a couple come to clearness? 3. How do your meeting and its clearness committees nurture the on-going relationship?
4. How do your clearness committees and arrangements committees assist the couple to develop their vows and plan a wedding which will focus on the deep spiritual nature of the commitment, and keep the celebration welcoming, orderly and simple?
5. What does it mean to your meeting to support a marriage under the care of the meeting?
6. In what ways does your meeting offer assistance and support to couples who may encounter difficulties?
7. How will your meeting lovingly embrace both members of a couple if there is separation or divorce?
8. How does your meeting nurture and support all couples?
9. How does your meeting continue to nurture couples who move away from the meeting?
10. When a marriage under the care of the meeting is not legally recognized by the state, how will your meeting assist the couple to protect and care for each other and any children?
11. What support can the meeting offer in marriage (or in separation) if one member of the couple is not a part of the Friends community?
For the Couple:
1. How will you, as future marriage partners, continue to seek the Light as you make decisions for your home and your family?
2. If your marriage is not legally recognized by your state, how will you protect and care for each other and any children?
3. What level of counseling and support would you, as a couple, feel free to seek from your meeting for continuing growth, or if you encounter difficulties?
4. How will you continue your relationship with your marriage clearness committee? 5. What is the couple’s responsibility to the spiritual life of the meeting?
APPENDIX A Clearness Committees for Marriage
(queries on marriage specific to the clearness process)
These are possible questions which may help a clearness committee for marriage as it meets with a couple. None of them are required. The most important role of the Clearness Committee for marriage is to allow the Spirit to work with the group, as they are preparing for their meetings and as they meet. Couples need to know that there are no right or wrong answers to questions, and that questions are raised to help reach clearness about whether a marriage should occur, whether it should occur within the meeting community, and what the specifics of the relationship will be. The questions are mostly derived from materials prepared by several monthly meetings within Northern Yearly Meeting, including Madison, Twin Cities, Minneapolis, and Prospect Hill, as well as individual comments from Friends.
1. How would each of you describe what an ideal, committed relationship might be?
2. How did you become acquainted with each other?
3. Are there differences in your backgrounds? How will these affect your relationship?
4. Have you shared gritty experiences as well as festive ones? Have you encountered each other when you were ‘not at your best?’
5. Often it is the little everyday things that can really build up and bug a person. To consider these things, do you put the cap back on the toothpaste, or leave it about? Do you want all of the dishes washed immediately after a meal, or whenever someone has time? What happens to your shoes when you arrive home? Do both of you take time to care for your home environment?
6. Are you a morning person or an evening person?
7. Why do you want to marry HIM/HER? Why do you want to MARRY him/her?
8. Have both of you become acquainted with the extended families of each other? Are your families supporting your desire to marry? If not, how will that affect your relationship?
9. Why do you want to be married under the care of the meeting? Do you seek to be an on- going part of the meeting community? Do you feel that a spiritual community will support the spiritual life of your marriage?
10. Do you regard marriage as a sacred relationship? Will the ‘presence of God’ be part of your home after the wedding ceremony?
11. What part do you expect marriage to play in your individual spiritual lives?
12. If you are not both Friends, how do you expect to reconcile your different spiritual practices? How will religious holidays be observed in your home? If there are children, which religion will they be raised in?
Futures and Responsibilities
13. Have you considered the legal issues of marriage, the rights and responsibilities including disposition of property, financial issues, survivorship options?
14. Have you considered, as a couple, how you will manage your money? How you will finance your home? Do you have the same ideas about lifestyle?
15. Have you discussed having children? If you have children from a previous relationship, how are you caring for their needs now? How will they be a part of your family after you marry?
16. If you cannot or choose not to obtain legal recognition of your marriage, have you made appropriate legal arrangements that protect you and any children, to the extent possible?
17. Do both of you become involved when large decisions are to be made? If you do not initially agree, how are your differences resolved?
18. If you are of the same sex, what will you do to provide positive role models of the opposite (other) sex for your children?
19. Is there anything you cannot talk about so far in your relationship? Do you think this interferes with the wholeness of your relationship?
20. Will you be a two-career family? How will you make changes, if a new, better, different job is considered?
21. Do health requirements or physical and mental conditions raise concerns for you in this relationship? What if one of you becomes impaired?
22. What are you going to do as your parents grow older?
23. Are we ready, as a meeting, to be a part of this relationship? To receive the care of this marriage?
Appendix B – Marriage Certificates, Possible Wordings
These are the traditional words:
WHEREAS, (name______), County of (name_____) and State of (name), son/daughter of (name____) and (name_____), County of (name_____), State of (name)_____ and (name_____), son/daughter of (name____) and (name_____), having made known their intentions of marriage with each other, in a Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, held at (name_____), (name_____), and having consent of their parents, their proposals were allowed by this Meeting, These are to certify that for the full accomplishment of their intentions, this _____ day of _____, in the year of our Lord _____, they appeared in an appointed meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, held at (place_____), where they took each other by the hand and publicly declared that, in the presence of the Lord, they did promise, with Divine assistance, to be loving and faithful to one another as long as they both shall live.
As a further confirmation thereof, they did then and thereto sign their names: ________________ ___________________
And we, whose names are hereunto affixed, being present at this marriage, have as witnesses thereto subscribed our names:
Couples may review the wording with their arrangements committee. The wording of the vows is important to include, as the signatures are witnessing what has been said. Many current certificates do not include the names of the parents, or the county of residence.
Original article printed from Northern Yearly Meeting: http://www.northernyearlymeeting.org URL to original article: http://www.northernyearlymeeting.org/article/marriage-nym-faith-and-practice-may-2008/
This version was approved by meeting for worship with attention to business, Twin Cities Friends Meeting, Jan. 8, 2010