I recently became a Quaker and love it. In even better news, my partner joined me in going to Quaker meetings and loved it so much that they’re going to become an official member as well. We just got engaged (still a ways from picking a venue/date) and are very excited about getting married in a Quaker ceremony.
My parents raised me Catholic (and my partner’s family is even more Catholic), but my dad is now happily atheist, and up until this point has been very open and supportive of me joining the Quakers—he even came to a meeting with me once.
Now that we’re engaged, it feels like all of the judgment is coming out. My dad makes “jokes” about not inviting family members he wouldn’t want to stand up and talk, and apparently he’s been giving dire warnings to family that they might sit in silence the entire time. It feels like he’s already trying to “manage” our apparently “exotic” ceremony. And on my partner’s side, one of their siblings “joked” that if we have a Quaker ceremony, they’re not going to come. My God, people, a Quaker ceremony is no more or less painful than the Catholic wedding ceremonies we’ve all sat through!
We’re planning to have a whole section on our wedding website and in our program to explain how a Quaker ceremony works and what to expect, but that’s a long way off yet. Any advice for managing family members through the engagement period when they’re unfamiliar with the religion you’ve chosen to get married in?
Faith and weddings are hard so often. Many people never really spend much time considering what their religion means to them except when someone is getting hatched, matched, or dispatched. This is especially the case for mainstream Christians in the United States—we got a whole dominant culture supporting our faith, so it’s easy to just assume the way things have always happened is the way they will always continue to happen.
I think it is always a good idea to have some explanation of the religious nature of your ceremony on your website, and to have a detailed program explaining what’s going on. This is a common approach for non-Christian weddings, and given the circumstances here, is a kind and welcoming gesture to guests who do not share your faith. I am religious, but not Catholic, and I cannot tell you how many hour-and-a-half-long Catholic wedding masses I’ve sat through, not following what’s going on and not participating—even though I am Christian and would have been happy to join in the prayers—because there is no program explaining what is going on. And then imagine how much more confusing it is if you aren’t even from the same faith tradition!
In your case, a website explanation is a particularly good idea because it will be an easy way for you to answer questions, and an easy place for your family members to send people who have questions. In a Quaker ceremony, you aren’t going to have a program spelling out exactly what happens when, of course, since that’s contrary to the entire purpose of meeting for worship, but you can definitely include a written explanation of what the time entails and why it is important to you. To the extent you’re comfortable with this, you could also invite specific family members to participate by rising and sharing a prayer or a reading, or leave them to participate as they feel moved to do so. If you would like your community to feel free to participate in the service and they mostly aren’t Quaker, you’ll need to make that message very clear.
Now, about your dad and your partner’s sibling. It is time for a Come to Jesus talk (so to speak). Your family members are clearly trying to manage their feelings of discomfort with something that they are unfamiliar with and that is distancing you from family tradition, so approach this from a place of love. Tough love. They need to hear, loudly and clearly, that you are happy to discuss what being Quaker means to you, what a Quaker ceremony might be like, and their role in such a ceremony. But their jokes are ruining your joy. If necessary, demand your father sit down and watch the jailhouse scene from Father of the Bride with you and repeat the vows Nina forces George to make:
“I, Friend’s father, promise to pull it together and act my age. I will stop hyperventilating, rolling my eyes, unbuttoning my top collar button. I will stop making faces in general, and I will certainly stop telling everyone I meet [how strange and Quaker this wedding is going to be]. I will try to remember my [child]’s feelings, and how, with every roll of my eyes, I am taking away a piece of [their] happiness.”
And all of my experience with siblings suggests that you should just ignore your partner’s sibling and their nonsense entirely because parents aren’t wrong when they tell you: They’re just doing it to annoy you.
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