Langley Hill Friends Meeting Interchange Reports
Wedding Celebrants Bring Change to Virginia Law
Laurie Wilner (Langley Hill)
I share this story of change both in celebration and in witness to Margaret Mead’s statement, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
As one of Langley Hill’s marriage celebrants, I was called to sign the marriage license of a young couple; the bride grew up in the Meeting with my son. It was a delight to serve her in this way. Until…
Virginia Code for marriage celebrants is Quaker-friendly; it states the officiant must sign a “certifying statement of the facts of marriage.” The license, however, read, “I certify that I joined the above named persons in marriage on the date and at the place specified.” Sitting in direct contrast to these chosen words is what George Fox wrote in 1669, the year he married Margaret Fell, “For the right joining in marriage is the work of the Lord only, and not the priests’ or magistrates’; for it is God’s ordinance and not man’s; and therefore Friends cannot consent that they should join them together: for we marry none; it is the Lord’s work, and we are but witnesses.” I could not sign the statement.
Fortunately, prior Langley Hill celebrants have a history of altering that language to allow our yea to be yea. Following in those footsteps, I altered the language to state that I witnessed the marriage of the above named persons…
It was more than a year after this that I received a call from the bride. Apparently, the marriage license had gotten lost in the mail and they needed an affidavit from the officiant. I complied and then, after learning that the license had been received timely but had been rejected, received an “Order to Show Cause” commanding me to appear before an Arlington County judge.
Sadly, this was not the first time a Langley Hill couple’s marriage had to go before a judge but this time more than an affidavit was requested. The Meeting got involved; the Board of Directors met and learned that insurance would not cover my attorney. Rip Sullivan, an attorney and Arlington County’s representative in the legislature, felt this was as much his job as a member of the legislature as it was a legal matter and represented me pro bono. He also attended Meeting as a teen.
Thankfully, the judge listened to Rip, read the license and said, “Well she can’t sign this!” He had me alter the language again, this time to reflect the language in the Code, and sign it. The marriage was affirmed as of the date of the ceremony.
Rip, as a member of the legislature then went to work on a permanent fix. Just before Christmas 2016, County Clerks throughout the Commonwealth received a new form that now asks officiants to sign, “I certify to the facts of the marriage of the above named persons on the date and at the place specified.”
Langley Hill continues to offer many rich opportunities to its members and attenders and hopes these offerings attract new attenders especially families. Our Religious Education curriculum has been revised to add focus on Quaker values, simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality and stewardship. Concern about diminished numbers has re-energized our advancement and outreach efforts. Our internet presence is improved, we have WiFi in the Meeting House, and a successful workshop for children and adults on spirituality included communities beyond our Meeting. We’ve welcomed two new children born into the Meeting, Theo Colaninno Brown (7/16) and Bridget Elise Isele (7/29). Theo’s great grandfather was a founding member of the Meeting. Second Hour programs included several intergenerational worship sharing times to bring all our youngest members together with the adults. Programs are already scheduled through May. A weekly “drop-in session” before worship, a mid-week worship hour, and a monthly discussion group on third first-day evening completed opportunities for the Meeting to gather opportunities for the community to deepen its relationship with the Divine. Several topic groups are active: movie night, racism working group and, of course, our committees. We cherish our community, value and appreciate our improved Meeting House. We are blessed.
Summer has been a quiet time at Langley Hill with many away at the FGC Gathering, Annual Session, and various vacations and travels. We have been blessed by a steady flow of visitors. Several members and attenders who had shared writings and poetry over 20 years consolidated them into a a book called Quaker Spirituality from ‘Inside/Out,’ edited by John Surr, Judith Larsen, and Pardee Lowe, Jr. Meanwhile our small, but diligent, Committee on Racism has been meeting regularly and makes more and more materials available to all of us through our Meeting listserve and special events at the Meeting House.
Sadly we have lost two long-time members: Stanly Berkemeyer and John Kettelle. Stanly was one of our Meeting’s founders and served in many positions, including Clerk, before moving to Friends House about 10 years ago. We cherish her in many ways—so it was gratifying at Annual Session to hear additional tributes to her roles among the larger world of Friends. John Kettelle came to us from Radnor Meeting in Pennsylvania, bringing children and grandchildren along, too. John loved to speak in Meeting, and we came to value his wisdom and insights. Like great trees in the forest under whose shade we flourished, Stanly’s and John’s deaths leave great holes in the canopies of our lives. (And for John’s service, as requested by far flung members of his family, the service was broadcast to them via Skype.)
After celebrating our 50th anniversary as a Meeting last fall, our community remains as lively as ever. First Day School students are studying Quaker values. One Sunday the senior high students performed a skit about authority that led to an inter-generational worship sharing on the topic. Other classes are writing and producing a series of plays. For adults, before Meeting gathers, one Friend conducts one-hour “drop-in” sessions on a rotating basis: Quaker texts, scripture, art, and material by and about women. We hold mid-week meeting every second Tuesday evening–a rich experience for all who attend. Among our many travelers are two going to Kenya. Georgia Fuller is teaching a session on the New Testament at Friends Theological College in Kaimosi. Chuck Kleymeyer will be attending the Friends World Conference in April. Our weekly vigil at the west front of the U.S. Capitol continues each Saturday–we approach the 10th anniversary of holding a simple banner declaring “Seek Peace and Pursue It.”