Katie Evans reports on the Quaker Registering Officers Conference, April 2019
My overriding impression from participating in the Registering Officers Conference is that it is the care of Friends that makes Quaker weddings the wonderful occasions that they are.
Marrying ‘in the care of the Meeting’ isn’t an empty piece of Quaker jargon, Friends really do care!
I was so impressed by the creativity and goodwill with which Registering Officers (and Quakers in Britain staff) approach arranging meetings for worship for marriages that really fit the particular couple. There’s an attitude of asking ‘how can we make this happen’ rather than seeing obstacles. But at the same time Friends recognise the seriousness of marriage and maintain scrupulously high standards in the records and civil reporting needed.
This lets me see the restriction that Quaker marriages are only available to people with a strong connection to Quakers (typically members and attenders) in a new light. Rather than being a legalistic restriction to stop Quakers going rogue as wedding planners, or a test of a couple’s Quaker credentials (‘can you recite a list of key testimonies and do you use environmentally friendly washing-up liquid?’), I see it now as asking the couple: are you prepared to let Friends care for you and your relationship? A Quaker marriage isn’t just the 45-minute meeting for worship, Friends support the couple in their preparation and will uphold them throughout their marriage. That’s why the connection, or at least openness to the possibility of connection, with the Quaker community is vital.
This year Quakers in Britain are celebrating 10 years of our commitment to marriage equality. It was moving to hear Friends who had been involved both in the discernment behind this commitment and in advocating to government for legal provision for same-sex marriage saying with joy: ‘we never thought things would move so fast, we didn’t expect to see this in our life time’. Uniquely, a couple marrying in a Quaker wedding can do so with no reference to their gender in their wedding declarations (though at the moment they would still have to give their gender as either male or female when giving civil notice of their intention to marry).
In addition to the Conference, I also attended a training course for Registering Officers which took us through the process of preparing for and registering a marriage. There’s a lot of detailed paperwork to be precisely completed! However, changes to the law being worked out at the moment are likely to significantly reduce the volume and complexity of the civil paperwork. There’s no need for me to set out all the steps of the process here, but please can I stress that any enquiries regarding Quaker weddings or holding weddings in Quaker meeting houses in our Area Meeting should be passed on to me as soon as they come in.