A central emphasis in the life of the Society of Friends is the quality of human relationships-with the underlying assumption that through love people can live fruitfully together in harmony and joy. In our Meetings we are constantly seeking to broaden and deepen our human relationships, with all their creative potential. Since marriage, based on mutual love, is the central adult relationship for so many Friends, we have in marriage a powerful opportunity to demonstrate what we stand for and seek to proclaim to the wider world.
Marriage is regarded by Friends as a religious commitment undertaken with Divine assistance. When two persons make their vows to each other in the presence of God and their friends, they take one another as life-long partners, promising to be loving and faithful to each other. Implicit in this promise is the faith that as disagreements and difficulties arise, they can, with God’s help, be resolved.
We regard an ideal union as a relationship in which each partner affirms the self-worth of the other and provides unstinting support and encouragement for intellectual, emotional, and spiritual growth. We also realize that marriages can go through periods of stress and difficulty, some more than others. Couples should feel free to turn to the Meeting for assistance and counsel. The Meeting, in its turn, should help find loving and feasible solutions, and should help provide couples with ongoing opportunities to examine and enrich their marriages and thus help avoid or reduce potential conflicts. Some unions may reach a point where loving affirmation and growth are no longer possible in the context of that relationship. In such cases, the most loving solution may be separation. In these situations, a couple who wed under the care of the Meeting is requested to inform the Meeting if their union is dissolved.
While the Meeting is committed to finding ways of being supportive of all couples who live together in love, this document has the specific focus of providing guidelines to a couple seeking to be united under the Meeting’s care and to the members of the committees appointed to determine marriage clearness and wedding oversight.
Marriage under the care of the Meeting implies that the Meeting will provide ongoing nurture for the marriage and for both partners. For this reason, it is expected that at least one partner be a member or familial member of the Religious Society of Friends and anticipate an active, ongoing relationship with the Chapel Hill Meeting and/or the Religious Society of Friends.
Couples who are both attenders, rather than members, or who do not expect a long-term connection to this Meeting are encouraged to consider a marriage “after the manner of Friends.” Couples choosing this process may call upon the Meeting membership for guidance in their intended wedding and marriage if they so desire. Requests can similarly be addressed to the Clerk. If the couple wishes their marriage “after the manner of Friends” to constitute a marriage under North Carolina law, a minister or other official chosen by the couple must sign the marriage license and certificate.
Because the union of two persons affects their family members and trusted friends in important ways, a couple should inform them of their intentions as early as possible. The procedures outlined below provide for a period of thoughtful consideration and planning which normally takes three or four months.
To be united under the care of the Chapel Hill Friends Meeting, it is necessary to secure its approval at a meeting for worship with attention to business. This should be requested at least three months before the preferred wedding date. The request should be in writing, signed by both persons, stating their intention. It should note their present and likely future relationship with this meeting and the Religious Society of Friends. The letter should indicate that the couple has considered the questions given in Section B (Queries and Advices for Marriage Under the Care of the Meeting) and others arising from them, and are asking for the Meeting’s oversight of the wedding and its continuing loving concern for their union. The letter of request should be addressed to the Meeting in care of the Clerk. The Clerk should promptly forward the request letter to the Care and Counsel Committee.
Care and Counsel will appoint four Friends, at least two of whom are from Care and Counsel, to inquire concerning the clearness of the couple for marriage. This clearness committee should consider with the couple issues raised in Section B and report to Care and Counsel, which may recommend to the subsequent Monthly Meeting for Business that the Meeting oversee the wedding.
If the monthly meeting approves, a wedding oversight committee is appointed to arrange the meeting for worship during which the couple will marry. This wedding oversight committee sees that the wedding is carried out in a dignified and spiritual way in keeping with the manner of Friends and fulfills all legal requirements. It is composed of four or more people, at least two of who are members of the Chapel Hill Friends Meeting. At least one Care and Counsel member from the marriage clearness committee will also be a member of the wedding committee. The other members of the wedding committee are customarily selected by the couple as suitable to this duty. The wedding ceremony takes place during the appointed meeting for worship.
Those appointed to both the marriage clearness committee and the wedding oversight committee should also accept a personal responsibility for representing the Meeting’s continuing concern for the union and should, as far as possible, remain in touch with the couple following the wedding.
The covenant of marriage is solemn in its obligation and fundamental in its social significance. Therefore the couple considering marriage under the care of a Friends Meeting should discuss honestly and frankly with each other the duties and responsibilities assumed in marriage and in establishing a home. Questions such as the following may be helpful and are not meant to be exhaustive or applicable to all couples.
Do we want children? What is our attitude toward family planning? If either of us has children from previous marriages, have we considered issues involved in blending our families?
When the couple has seriously considered the above questions and others arising from them, they may agree to ask the Monthly Meeting to oversee their wedding. The following additional questions should be considered in planning that step:
Why are we asking the approval and oversight of the Meeting? Are we aware that oversight of our marriage by the Meeting involves a continuing concern for our life together and the values established in our home? Do we want this level of loving concern from the Meeting?
How significant to us are the promises we make in the presence of God and of family and friends during the meeting for worship?
These Friends should meet privately with the couple in a spirit of loving concern, engaging in unhurried exploration of the readiness and clarity of the couple’s intent to marry one another. The clearness committee can use the queries in Section B, as well as any other questions the couple or committee members may have. The committee will need to meet apart from the couple and may also want to meet with each member of the couple individually to gain clarity before making any decision whether to recommend that the couple be united under the care of the Meeting.
If the Monthly Meeting approves the proposed marriage, the member of the clearness committee who presented the report will then read the couple’s statement about their desires for the wedding and reception. This can serve as an introduction to the selection of the wedding oversight committee who will assist the couple in carrying out their wishes. Volunteers for the wedding oversight committee must consider their own limitations and the time available to assist the couple. They should understand that the function of the wedding oversight committee is to help and support, to coordinate and make arrangements with the couple for their marriage.
In the years following the wedding, members of the marriage clearness committee (along with those of the wedding oversight committee) should continue to represent the Meeting’s concern for the union. Among other things, they should encourage the couple to call upon this or some other clearness committee for counsel should they want it, whether the counseling desired be problem-oriented or simply nurturing.
As soon as appointed, this committee should make clear to the couple its availability before, during, and after the wedding to help them, and its responsibility to express the Meeting’s continuing care for the union. They should meet with the couple to discuss the following:
The wedding oversight committee can share information that Care and Counsel have collected regarding appropriate caterers and equipment rental companies for use in planning the reception after the wedding. Information about different venues appropriate for receptions (Carolina Friends School, hotels, etc.) will also be available. The committee will verify with the couple that they carry the financial responsibility for all expenses incurred for the reception.
After the ceremony, the wedding oversight committee will, where appropriate:
Marriage certificates are available in the Meeting files. If the couple prefers to make other arrangements for obtaining their certificate, they are free to do so. Certificates should be approved by the wedding committee to be sure that they include the marriage date, the name of the Meeting, the names of the couple being united, their vows and signatures, and the signatures of all those present.
The customary wording of the vows is:
"In the presence of God and these our friends, I ___________ take thee __________ to be my husband/wife/partner, promising with Divine assistance to be unto thee a loving and faithful wife/husband/partner as long as we both shall live."
Some couples may wish to propose alternative wording. Any proposed substantive changes should be approved by the marriage clearness committee.
Couples whose marriage under the care of the Meeting conforms to the legal definition of marriage in North Carolina should be certain that they have complied with the following requirements to assure a valid marriage under North Carolina law. Before you apply for a license:
Present the health certificate, consent, (if required), and the appropriate fee to the register of deeds in the county where you plan to be married, and apply for a license.
Present the duplicate Application, License and Certificate of Marriage form to the wedding oversight committee.
Plan for the marriage to be performed in the county in which the license was issued and within 60 days after it was issued.
In addition, the wedding oversight committee should assure itself that the appropriate legal requirements have been complied with regarding the marriage license as laid out in Section D above.
A caring relationship is established between the Meeting and the couple when that couple marries under the care of the Meeting. The relationship is strengthened when as many members and attenders as possible fulfill their responsibility to attend the wedding. In addition, the Meeting should actively seek to nurture all couples by providing ongoing opportunities to examine and enrich their union and thus help prevent or reduce potential breakdowns of relationships. It is expected that the Care and Counsel Committee will make contact with the couple at least twice in the first year of marriage, suggesting that a meeting be arranged between the couple and at least two members of the original marriage clearness and wedding oversight committees.