The couple intending marriage writes to the meeting or meetings under whose care they wish to be married. Any date the couple plans for the wedding should be far enough in the future to allow the meeting time to fulfill its responsibilities.
When the clerk receives the request, the letter is customarily read at meeting for business, often after preliminary consideration by the pastoral care committee. The meeting then appoints a committee of clearness. Some meetings have standing committees for this purpose, chosen from Friends of proven abilities.
- Forming a clearness committee
- When only one meeting is being asked to provide oversight, the couple simply sends its request to this meeting, which then appoints the clearness committee. (A meeting may offer assistance to its members wishing to be married under its care, but living too far away to be married there.)
- When the two belong to separate meetings, and desire the involvement of both, they must allow time for both meetings to consider the request. The meetings may each name clearness committees, or they may decide to name a joint committee. If one meeting is at a distance, a correspondent from one meeting may be appointed to confer with the clearness committee at the meeting where the wedding will take place.
- When one of the couple is not a member of the Religious Society of Friends, the clearness committee endeavors through consultation with the couple and the family and friends of the non-member to discover whether obstacles exist.
- If the meeting agrees to consider a marriage under its care when neither party is a member of a meeting, the clearness committee takes the necessary steps to become familiar with the couple and their circumstances before recommending approval. It should encourage the couple to take ample time to attend meetings for worship and to allow themselves and the members of the meeting the opportunity to come to know each other.
- The clearness process
The term clearness referred originally to clearness from other marriage commitments. Today, the marriage clearness committee also explores with the couple what it takes to achieve the permanence and satisfaction of a committed, loving relationship, and the extent to which the couple is prepared for the dedication and constancy such a relationship requires.
The purpose of clearness is well served when members of the committee ask thoughtful questions, listen attentively and leave space for worship in the exchange. A committee under the weight of the couple’s marital success knows that failure to speak truth in kindness is to risk possible suffering.
The committee might ask the couple such questions as the following:
- How did the couple meet? What values and beliefs do they hold in common? On what matters do they differ? Can they meet differences with humor and respect? Are they open to considering outside help if such guidance seems warranted?
- Do they both see marriage as sacred? Are they open to seeking divine assistance both when things are going well and when they encounter difficulties? What are their plans for nurturing the spiritual basis for their marriage?
- Do they each see themselves and their partner as equal and trusted, sharing responsibilities and decisions? Do they communicate feelings, needs, dreams and fears?
- Are they aware of the need for other friendships that contribute to both individual growth and the marriage relationship?
- Have they thought about children, and the joys and the challenges families create, including consideration of how the work is shared?
- If either partner has children, has the couple discussed with them the changes that marriage will bring?
- How do they view their relationships to their extended families? To their community? To society as a whole?
- Are there prior obligations—legal or financial or both—that need to be met?
- What are the views of the parents concerning this relationship? (Parents may send a letter.)
- What other questions does the couple have?
The clearness committee does its best to confirm that the intended partners follow a true leading in seeking marriage. The focus for the committee is the two people being married and attention to their responsibilities to each other. Particularly with young people, the meeting seeks from the parents of both partners expressions of their unity with the planned marriage, usually in the form of a letter. When either partner brings children to this union, their well-being must be considered. The clearness committee and the couple may include the children in the clearness process, if helpful and appropriate.