Tuesday, October 04, 2005

In the presence of God and these Friends . . .

On Saturday, Only Son and I and our friend Elizabeth drove 2 1/2 hours south of the Twin Cities to Lanesboro for the wedding of Faith & Joel, a young couple in our meeting on whose marriage clearness committee I've had the honor of serving. It was the clearest I've ever been that the couple is made for each other and it was such a delight to work with them.

There had been some unhappiness that our meeting's committee on ministry and counsel was unable to unite to approve the couple marrying under the care of the meeting. There were a number of reasons, not all of which related directly to this couple, and they included a concern that neither had yet become a formal member of the meeting and that the wedding was planned so far away from St. Paul that the wedding couldn't be fairly characterized as a meeting for worship of Twin Cities Friends Meeting.

M&C's inability to unite on the question, despite a strong recommendation from the clearness committee that had considered these and other possible impediments at length and in detail was disappointing to us all, though without rancor; the M&C members' concerns were legitimate ones to raise, but I thought that the clearness committee had adequately addressed them, but alas not.

Thankfully, M&C did approve the clearness committee assisting the couple in arranging the wedding to be held after the manner of Friends, and it was. It was held outdoors, in the city park, under a canopy of shade trees and next to a small pond with a fountain. Of the 200+ people who attended, about 30 were Quakers.

The clearness committee sat behind the couple, facing the meeting, and from the clerk's welcome and introduction on, it was a deeply settled and weighty meeting. The couple walked into the meeting hand-in-hand, being led by the groom's cousin who played Simple Gifts on the violin as their wedding march. Bless their hearts, they sat for about a half-hour before rising to make their promises, an uncommonly long time in my experience, but entirely satisfying.

Their promises were spoken as deliberately and sincerely as if they were vocal ministry in a meeting for worship, which, of course, it was. To my delight, they used the traditional, elegant Quaker vows with only slight modifications ("I take thee to be my life's companion, promising with Divine assistance to be unto thee a loving and faithful marriage partner. . ."). As they were speaking, the Lutheran church on the hill above the park began ringing its bells as it does on-the-hour. (Fortunately, as Only Son pointed out, it didn't ring God Bless America as it had done at the 2 o'clock hour.)

The ministry that followed was similarly simple and powerful. The groom's father, mother, and brother each spoke simply and lovingly, as did the bride's father who was overcome by emotion as he expressed his appreciation of the day. A member of the clearness committee and several other friends of the couple also spoke, each one deepening the presence of Holy Love over the meeting.

Afterwards, there was lefse and sparkling apple wine as guests signed the certificate and greeted the couple, then a fine dinner and dance. I enjoyed eating with other Friends from my meeting, and a couple we didn't know. It turns out that the male half of the couple, a teacher at the college the couple attended, graduated from the same college I did, during the 7 year hiatus I took between finishing my junior and starting my senior year, but while I still lived in the town, and we enjoyed talking about that connection.

The dance that followed dinner was a gas. The caller was gifted, starting with very simple contra or circle dance figures (too simple for the real dancers in the crowd), and slowly progressed to more complex, but still simple, dances that were more satisfying. I've never seen a caller more skillful at bringing the group along. Even Only Son (14), who is a little shy about public displays like this, was easily drawn into the dancing and had a wide smile the whole time. My gratitude to the women Friends who brought him out. (He cracked me up at dinner when we were talking about whether he would dance or not. He said, "Well, the problem is that the woman here who's closest to my age to dance with just got married.")

Just after dinner, Elizabeth and I took a walk. She is still deep in grief over the death of Lou Ann, her partner of more than 25 years, and that fact combined with her natural introversion makes large public gatherings like this a challenge -- at some point she runs against a wall and feels overwhelmed. When she reached that point soon after dinner was done, we went outside into the cool evening and walked for an hour or so which relieved the tension quite a bit.

We have been friends for more than ten years, and we got to know each other much better last winter when we co-taught Quakerism 101 with our meeting. (She learned of Lou Ann's cancer a few days after our last class.) We worked closely and well in preparing and presenting that class, and I learned so much from her in doing it. She is someone I have always looked up to as sensible, wise, astute, insightful, and strong woman and it is hard to see her in such pain and vulnerability. It felt good to be able to give her a bit of uninterrupted attention. We also had great talks in the car on the way down and back.

A number of Friends camped out Saturday night (Only Son and I went to bed after one of the guests performed an amazing flame-eating fire-show in the parking lot -- no kidding) and on Sunday met for coffee & then a whole gang of 20 guests or more -- including the bride & groom with highly decorated "Just Married" bicycles -- rode bikes on the Root River Trail to Whalen where we ate "world famous" pie. A smaller group of us rode about 20 miles, all told, through a beautiful landscape that varied from wooded riverbank to wide-open wheat or oat fields. It felt really good to have worked with this couple on their wedding; they certainly did their part in providing wonderfully graceful hospitality to many guests, and I feel good that we did our part as a clearness & arrangements committee to have overseen as genine a Friends meeting for marriage as I've ever been to.


Amanda said...

Oh lovely. This makes me happy. I so rarely hear anything of a more or less traditional Quaker union, but this one sounded nearly perfect!

Liz Opp said...


Thanks for the reporting... I had been wondering how the wedding turned out, given the concerns that I knew were part of the clearness process. It sounds like all went well. I'm also glad for the fellowship, support, and care you were able to provide to Elizabeth. How bittersweet!

Liz, The Good Raised Up