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A "Friend" friend of mine is getting married in the Quaker "unprogrammed" tradition. What should I expect? I’m told everyone signs a certain document. Why? What should I wear? Will there be food? Should I bring a gift? Also, I heard my friend and her fiancé went through a "Meeting for Business" to get this wedding OK'd. What was that? I'd ask my friend, but there just hasn’t been a good time for a talk.

There are two types of Quaker traditions: “programmed” and “unprogrammed.” During unprogrammed worship, Friends sit in silence and, if moved by divine guidance and inspiration, speak to those assembled. This is called “vocal ministry,” and everyone present--Quaker and non-Quaker--is welcome to participate. Programmed services are planned in advance and may include hymn singing, vocal prayers, Bible reading, silent worship, and a sermon. Worship at a programmed service is usually led by a pastor; at an unprogrammed service, an “elder” usually sits on a bench at the front of the congregation and signals by shaking hands with those near them that the service has ended.

Other than the bride and groom exchanging vows and signing a marriage certificate, an unprogrammed Quaker wedding ceremony is very much like an unprogrammed Quaker worship. There will be much silence, and a few people may speak. Do not feel compelled to speak. The bride and groom will probably be seated at the front of the meetinghouse, and sometime during the service members of the meeting house or friends or relatives of the newlyweds will bring the wedding certificate for them to sign. Guests also sign the certificate. This is usually done after the ceremony.

As for what to wear, since you don't say if you're male or female, let's cover all bases: Men can wear a jacket and tie--or something more informal; women can wear a dress or a skirt and blouse---or something more informal. Quaker worship and ceremonies are usually fairly relaxed, so do not dress to the nines. On the other hand, remember that the wedding is a special, festive event, so don't wear your most casual clothes.

Yes, some kind of food will be served at a reception afterward. This might be a complete meal or finger food or a potluck meal at the meeting house or someone's house. (Check your invitation for details.) Often, in keeping with the Quaker teetotaler tradition that extended from the 19th century through the mid-20th century, no alcoholic beverages will be served.

Gifts are always appreciated. Use your discretion. Many Quaker newlyweds request that contributions be given to a charity.

Finally, the actual ceremony is the culmination of a process within the particular meeting house your friend belongs to. When told that the couple planned to marry, the meeting appointed a “Clearness Committee” to meet with the couple. The committee determined whether the couple understood the commitments necessary for a good marriage and if they had fully discussed having children and appreciated the financial obligations of marriage. The committee then presented its recommendation about the couple to the meeting's monthly business meeting, which voted on whether they should be married under “the care” of the meeting. This process reflects Friends’ sense of community and compassion, as well as how their meetings function in lieu of a pastor.

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