Quaker Values Stand the Test of Time

Sometimes I write about silly things in this column, but I also often write about religion, culture and ritual and explore how traditions might pertain to weddings. One important religion I have not written about yet (after all these years) is the Society of Friends, or Quakers. They are especially important to us here in the Poconos because the roots of this faith in America are deeply tied to Pennsylvania. William Penn established our state to be a place where Quaker values of equality, religious freedom, and open democratic processes could be put into practice in ways that seemed impossible in Europe at that time.

Quakers have been a significant part of the movements for the abolition of slavery, promoting equal rights for women, and peace. They are well-known as pacifists, but contrary to popular belief, pacifism is not strictly required.

William Penn

From the beginning Friends gave women and men equal status, believing that we are all children of God who bestowed an equality upon us all. They say that one person should not set himself above others and that human distinctions are meaningless to God. Not to be confused with the Amish or Mennonites, Quakers  also practice simple living, plain dress and plain speech, but these days there is room for fashion.

In the Quaker tradition a self-uniting marriage license is used, and here in PA you can obtain this special license designed for this purpose. Please don’t get the self-uniting license if you are NOT a Quaker. That’s not right, and perhaps technically fraudulent (not that anyone is going to challenge you).

A Quaker couple marrying at the Friends Meeting House in Philadelphia
(photo: Thomas V. Lallone)

The Religious Society of Friends, was founded in mid-17th Century England by George Fox (1624-1691) The name comes from the Gospel of John which says, “You are my friends if you do whatever I command.” (John 15:12-15).The original Quakers called themselves “Friends of Truth” after this verse. They were also known as the ‘Children of Light.’ The Society of Friends became known as Quakers because the original Friends were mocked for ‘trembling with religious zeal.’ 

I have had the honor of working with a few couples who had a Quaker  backgrounds. They were well aware of how to conduct a Quaker wedding,  but they wanted something extra added to  the traditional. I totally understand this – and you don’t have to be dress plain to have a Quaker or Quaker-influenced wedding! Nothing precludes getting dressed up.

Rhinehart Photography

A true Quaker wedding has little fanfare in its ceremony content. Like their prayer meetings, there is no ‘leader’ and anyone in attendance may stand up and say something. It’s pretty loose and spontaneous. I really like that aspect. Everyone is free to speak. However, if your guests have no background in this, it could go sideways. Then the couple exchanges their vows. Once the self-uniting license is signed – that’s it. But again, many modern couples want a little more.


At Philadelphia City Hall
(Rhinehart Photography)

Friends believe that if they wait silently, God will speak to them in the heart. The silent Meeting of Friends is their sacrament of communion with God. During this silence they  open to the Spirit. I grew up in Philadelphia and attended some Quaker meetings in my youth because I was attracted to their stand on justice. 

While the clothing and quaintness might be a relic of the past, today’s Quakers have beautiful traditions that live on.


(find me on facebook – Lois Heckman, Celebrant, and Instagram – Lois Heckman)

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