Thomas Ellwood, recalling his own marriage in 1669, wrote of the value of the meeting for worship: 'We sensibly felt the Lord with us and joining us, the sense whereof remained with us all our lifetime, and was of good service and very comfortable to us on all occasions.'
Early Friends realised the importance of recording marriages which had taken place in a meeting for worship and increasingly recognised their responsibility for reporting such marriages to the authorities. They fervently maintained, however, that marriage was a solemn contract made in the presence of God in the meeting for worship. From the very early days of the Society stress was laid on the need for serious consideration prior to marriage, the clearness of the parties from all other engagements, the publicity given to the intention of marriage and the value of the meeting for worship, in which the declarations were made by the parties in the presence of a number of members of the Society.
The basis of a Friends' marriage remains the same as in the early days of the Society. The simple Quaker wedding where the couple, together with their friends, gather in worship is for Friends the most natural setting for the two concerned to make a commitment to each other in the presence of God. With their declaration they take each other freely and equally as life-long partners, committing themselves to joining their lives together in loving companionship, asking God's blessing on their union. They believe that, whatever stresses and strains may arise in the relationship, these can be resolved if both partners are able and willing to accept and trust each other in a generous spirit. With God's help their love for each other can deepen and change in a lifetime of marriage together.
Britain Yearly Meeting has established certain procedures in the case of a marriage to be solemnised in a Friends' meeting for worship. This is partly to ensure that the legal requirements are observed and the proper records kept. Far more important, however, is the value of the procedure in emphasising to those being married the solemn nature of their undertaking; to the area meeting the need to uphold the parties concerned, both during the meeting for worship and thereafter; and to all those concerned, their corporate responsibility for the meeting for worship being rightly held. Couples contemplating marriage should at an early stage seek advice from their registering officer as to the entire procedure.
As a number of those attending the wedding may be unfamiliar with worship based on silence, it is particularly important that there should be a good attendance of Friends who come concerned for the spiritual depth of the occasion. A meeting for worship for the solemnisation of a marriage is held in the same form and spirit as a Friends' meeting for worship at other times. It is an occasion when the parties to the marriage may gain inspiration and help from the meeting, which may continue to be a source of strength to them during their married life. It is also an opportunity for all those who attend the meeting for worship to ask God's blessing on the marriage and support the parties to it in their prayers.