with us back to October of 1806 and the wedding of John R. Thomas and
Elizabeth Downing, the first couple to be married in the newly built
Uwchlan Monthly Meeting House. And though you’ve been to other
weddings, this one will probably be any other you’ve attended.
A marriage under the care of any Friends Meeting must be approved by
that Meeting. When they decided to wed, Thomas and his fiancé wrote a
letter to the Uwchlan Meeting stating their intention to wed. The Clerk
of the Meeting read their letter during a Monthly Meeting for Business,
then appointed a Committee of Clearness, made up of two men and two
women. This Committee met with the bride and groom to make sure that
there would be nothing to interfere with the permanence and happiness of
their marriage. The Committee approved the marriage of Thomas and
Downing and the day was set.
On the day of the ceremony, guests file into the Meeting House and
settle in an atmosphere of quiet and reverence, then the wedding
overseers of the wedding enter and take their seats on the facing
benches. The couple’s families follow. Finally, the bride and groom
walk in together and proceed to the front of the Meeting House and seat
themselves on the facing benches. Walking in together is a sign of their
freedom to give themselves to one another.
notice that no minister is present. Friends believe that each person has
his or her own relationship with God and has no need of an intermediary.
In a Quaker wedding, everyone in attendance witnesses the marriage.
The wedding begins with a period of silent worship. When they feel it’s
appropriate, the couple rises, and taking each other by the hand, makes
a simple statement of their intentions. Before taking their seats once
again, the bride and groom each sign the Marriage certificate. Once they
take their seats, one of the wedding overseers reads the certificate
After the reading, the Meeting for Worship continues, and it’s at
this time that anyone present may share their feelings about the bride
and groom and the occasion through prayer, meditation, and spoken
The Meeting for Worship ends with two of the wedding overseers
shaking hands. It’s at this time that the newlyweds depart through the
front door. One of the overseers then invites each guest to come forward
to sign the Marriage Certificate as a witness to the ceremony.
Though this is a re-enactment of an early Quaker wedding, couples
today, over 200 years later, celebrate their marriage in the same
simple, joyous way.