Quaker registering officer Ian Macdonald describes an unusual wedding
Being an appointed registering officer (RO) has been one of the most rewarding and interesting ways that I have been of service to our Area Meeting. In these changing times it is a rare occasion if the applicants for a Quaker marriage are both members of the Society. More often than not, one of the applicants is neither a member nor attender and often they might be of another faith or even of little religious conviction at all. The Society lays out clearly how a registering officer should handle marriage applications. If he or she has any doubts about safeguarding our traditions and our legal obligations regarding marriage applications, the RO should seek advice and permissions from their Area Meeting. Recently I received an application from a Friend who was living in our area but was a member of another Local Meeting who desired to have a Quaker marriage. It had been agreed by the couple that they wished to have a Quaker marriage in the tradition of Friends but, as her intended husband was a Roman Catholic, they desired the Meeting for Worship to be held in the hall of the church where he was an active member. In Scotland a registering officer is able to arrange Meeting for a Quaker marriage at any location where the local authority registrar may grant a Marriage Schedule.
Due proceedings were started upon to go ahead but soon the first hurdle arrived. The initial reaction of the church clergy was that permission for use of the church hall might not be forthcoming for the undertaking. It was suggested that higher authority within the church might give advice on the matter. The couple were rather disappointed but determined in their hope that their wish to join in marriage with both families present would be a shared beginning to their own relationship. After a short while of waiting with great patience, they were rewarded by the granting of ‘dispensation from canonical form’ from the bishop and archbishop that they might go ahead, plan a Quaker wedding, further to hold the Meeting for Worship in the church instead of the church hall. With this wonderful offer of ecumenical generosity, application was duly made to me as RO for a Quaker wedding. I felt it my responsibility to seek advice from Area Meeting on the matter as to my knowledge there had never been a traditional Meeting for Quaker marriage held in a Roman Catholic church before. There certainly had been in recent times several Roman Catholic weddings where a Quaker input was invited as part of the ceremony if one of the parties was a Friend. Here was a first, for me at least! At Area Meeting the application was greeted with much joy and Friends were very happy that such a wonderful event was to take place. A minute was recorded and elders appointed to attend the Meeting for Worship for Marriage in the Manner of Friends.
The Meeting for Worship went as planned. Those who were charged with arrangements made sure that a warm welcome awaited all who attended.
During Meeting there were several very sincere contributions of spoken ministry. I felt, and I know others did, that this marriage was blessed from that day forth. Such was this couple’s open respect for each other and their individual religious paths that they are living witnesses of Advices and Queries, number 6. ‘Do you work gladly with other religious groups in the pursuit of common goals? While remaining faithful to Quaker insights, try to enter imaginatively into the life and witness of other communities of faith, creating together the bonds of friendship.’
Following the traditional Quaker Meeting for Worship a break for refreshment was followed by a most spiritual Thanksgiving Service in the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church. During worship there continued the air of a coming together in different faiths; indeed, a quote from the writings of George Fox was given towards the close of the service by the priest.
There can be little doubt in the minds of those who attended this wedding that this was a special gathering and we all felt so much heart-warmed by our gathered worship.
I thank these two Friends and their families for their courage to be modern and bold on behalf of all who took part in the wonderful sharing of their unique ecumenical marriage.
First published in West Scotland Quaker News.
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