Downton Abbey Portrays Reality of Interfaith RelationshipsBy Gerri Miller
Go inside Season 5 Episode 9 where the story line of Atticus and Rose's interfaith relationship comes to a head.Go To Pop Culture
Earlier, I talked about our search for a rabbi willing to not only officiate an interfaith wedding, but one also willing to co-officiate with a Methodist minister. Going into the search, I knew it would be difficult. Eight years earlier, my sister had gone through the same search, with no luck, but I was hopeful. The big question in my mind is: why is it so difficult? Why are more rabbis not willing to participate?
There are many articles here at InterfaithFamily.com that address this question, and it seems that for most it is a very personal decision, one that is reached after a great deal of consideration. Mostly, it seems that it comes down to their interpretation and understanding of their rabbinical function, and whether that allows them to perform interfaith wedding ceremonies. For others, their decision might be based on their congregation’s desires. And still others might be willing to officiate an interfaith ceremony, but only if the couple meets a certain list of conditions. Finally, there are those rabbis who are willing to officate and even co-officiate interfaith weddings with no strings attached, except for perhaps one connected to a rather large price tag (most of these rabbis are not in it for the money, but you should be aware that there are some who do not have your best interest at heart). No matter the rabbi’s decision, I think that it is important for those of us entering into an interfaith marriage to respect that decision, and that for those rabbis who choose not to officiate interfaith weddings, that interfaith couples don’t take the decision personally. As Rabbi Steven Foster’s article states in the title: “It’s Not about You, It’s About Me: Why I Don’t Perform Interfaith Weddings.”
Rather than listing all of the other articles that I’ve found helpful in pondering this question, I’ll simply provide a link to the entire collection: Rabbis and Interfaith Weddings.
We’d be very interested in hearing others’ comments and experiences on this.
As most of you know, I have two children from a previous interfaith marriage, and while they are being exposed to both Judaism and Christianity, they are basically being raised Christian. They’ve always been included in all Jewish holiday activities, but this year, for the first time, we’ve got a conflict.
My oldest son has a tee-ball game scheduled for the first night of Passover. If he was being raised Jewish, then there wouldn’t be any question as to what to do–we’d go to my Dad’s house for Passover. However, since he isn’t being raised Jewish, I don’t think it is fair for me to force him to miss his game. On the other hand, it isn’t fair for me to automatically exclude him from going to Passover with Julie and me.
I thought that I had this all worked out…that I’d give him a chance to decide, and that regardless of his decision, Julie and I were going to my Dad’s for Passover. But now I am not so sure… What example do I want to set for him? The one where sports are not the most important thing in life, or the one where I am always there supporting him?
For the record, his mom says that it is fine for him to miss the game and go to the Passover seder as planned. Ultimately, this instance isn’t a big deal, but it is the first of what will likely be many similar situations, and so the precedent that is set is important.
Bryan and I had another really good session with Reverend Bassford this morning. I mentioned in my last post that we were to have written down religious holidays that were important to us (individually) and that we’d discuss how to celebrate them respectfully in our interfaith home.
Well, we didn’t write them down, but we did both think of them and had a good discussion this morning. My big one was, of course, Christmas. Bryan’s list included Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Hanukkah, and Passover. He talked, too about how enjoyable Sukkot was last year (his Dad and Stepmom built a sukkah for the first time last year), and how he enjoyed the big family dinners that his grandparents used to host every Friday for Shabbat.
What we ended up focusing on more this session, though, was religion and spirituality. We talked about how to make sure both families feel equally included in all the various holidays. More than that, we talked about ways we can help to foster an inclusive and open nature regarding our faiths and beliefs and practices for our families. I mentioned how helpful many of the articles at InterfaithFamily.com have been to both of us and she was thrilled that we’ve added yet another resource (in addition to her and Rabbi Charlie) to our “toolkit” for life together.
I’d be interested in comments from other interfaith families and couples of how to make either or both families comfortable with their dual-faith relationships. And in a more broad sense than just celebrating more than one set of holidays, but also in religious, spiritual, and family decisions, and just life in general. Is it easier or harder to do if you choose to set up “house” in one faith vs. both faiths (i.e., deciding to have a Jewish home or a Christian home rather than both)?
Bryan and I have a couple of new tasks to take on this week, after our latest pre-marital counseling sessions with Rabbi Charlie and Reverend Bassford.
When we next meet with Rabbi, we’re supposed to have come up with some goals – personal goals, goals as a couple, and goals for our family. We’re actually supposed to each have our own sets of goals and work on them separately., Then, when we talk with Rabbi next time, we can talk about how we can really help take charge of those goals and see them through. This will actually be our last session of the “programmed” counseling with Rabbi, though we’ve talked about doing an extra session to focus on interfaith topics. I’ll speak only for myself in this post (though I think Bryan will agree with me) that these sessions have been incredible. They’ve given us lots of tools that will help us throughout our marriage. And, it’s been such an enjoyable process…and spending time with Rabbi is always enjoyable.
For our next session with Reverend Bassford, we’re each supposed to list the religious holidays that are the most important to us, so that we can talk about them together and find ways to make sure that those holidays continue to be treated the way we want them to be as we build our interfaith home. I think this is to make sure that we are aware of which holidays are the most important to the other, and why.
I’ve been doing some thinking…being Christian, the obvious religious holiday for me that’s the biggest is Christmas…and Christmas is BIG in my family. We do it all–the decorations, the tree, the PRESENTS, the family time, the music, Christmas Eve church services–the whole shebang. Bryan has seen the spectacle that is a Guess family Christmas, and it didn’t scare him off (so far), but there will be things that we’ll need to discuss regarding how Christmas will be handled in our house, especially when it comes to children – both his from his previous marriage, and any that we have together.
I’ll be interested to see what Bryan’s holiday list is. We talk a lot about our different faiths–how they’re similar, where they differ, and why we believe what we do (in fact, they’re some of the most stimulating religious conversations I’ve ever had in my life)–but I’m not sure we’ve ever sat down and listed out the religious holidays and traditions that are the most important to us. I think this will be a real opportunity for growth for us. I’ll follow up with a post about anything interesting that comes out of this session.
I know that we’re kind of posting things out of order. But, since it’s apparent that we’re having both a Minister and a Rabbi officiate our wedding, I thought someone out there might like to know how we came to find our Minister.
I’ll be honest – I had read that couples who wanted a co-officiated wedding needed to be prepared for a real search…for a Rabbi. I was not expecting difficulty finding a minister. I really had hoped that the music minister from my parents’ church (Friendswood United Methodist Church) would be able to be our minister. He’s known our family for years and it would have just felt right. However, he had a prior commitment that weekend. Since I have never transferred my membership to a local church in Fort Worth, when “my” minister didn’t work out, I was sort of at a loss.
My next step was to contact a very large congregation in Fort Worth. I had visted there many times during and after college. They have a large ministry staff, so I thought maybe someone would be available – or would at least be a helpful resource. I started by contacting the church’s wedding coordinator and explaining what we were looking for and when. Imagine my disappointment when I was told “I’ve forwarded your request to our ministry staff, but since it’s on a Sunday, I don’t know there’s much we can do for you.” There was no offer of any other kind of help, and I never heard from them again.
Keep in mind that our search for a Rabbi at this point isn’t going much better. We were seriously considering just going with a judge…But, I continued researching and found Alliance United Methodist Church. The church is almost directly in between my apartment and Bryan’s house, and I had noticed it several times. I’d never visited, though. I found their website and there was a link to email the pastor. I did, and that started our relationship with Reverend Bassford. She was immediately warm, welcoming, and her style has been refreshing. She’s open-minded, really listens, and really wants to be a good resource for Bryan and me.
So, if you’ve been following along in the posts, you’ll see that it really took some looking and we followed a few dead ends before we found our co-officiants. But, find them we did, and we couldn’t be happier. (And, as an added bonus, we also found Rabbi Charlie, who is a wonderful teacher and has become someone very special to Bryan and me.)
The following series of events led us to the rabbi who will be co-officiating our ceremony. In a future post, I will get into why finding a willing rabbi was so difficult…
As soon as we had established that we wanted to have a rabbi and minister co-officiate our wedding, we began our search.
The first step we took was to contact the rabbi at one of the local synagogues (Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker at Congregation Beth Israel) and introduce ourselves. After a couple of email exchanges, we met with Rabbi Charlie in person. Among other things, we discussed our plans for the wedding and asked if he could provide any information regarding having a rabbi and minister co-officiate our wedding. He explained to us why he isn’t comfortable participating in the ceremony that we were planning, but emphasized that he was very happy to help us in any other way that he could, including helping us locate a rabbi, even though he’d just moved to Texas and didn’t really know any of the local rabbis.
We both felt immediately comfortable with Rabbi Charlie, and were really disappointed that he would not be able to co-officate the wedding, but we understood and respected his position. So, instead of co-officiating our ceremony, Rabbi Charlie is guiding us through pre-marital counseling, and we are attending an “Understanding Judaism” class that he leads.
After this first setback, I fired up my web browser and began to google for rabbis who were willing to co-officiate interfaith weddings. That search led us to this website, and specifically to Amy Rovin, the Community Connections Coordinator. She quickly replied to our inquiry and directed us to Renee Karp, the Program Director at Temple Emanu-El in Dallas. I emailed Renee, and she replied with the name of a rabbi in Dallas who does co-officaite weddings…unfortunately he was not available at the time we were hoping to have our wedding. It seemed like we’d reached a dead end.
After letting our second disappointment settle a little bit, I began the search again, with little success. Eventually, my Dad mentioned that he had run into the head rabbi at Temple Emanu-El, Rabbi David Stern, and that he had asked Rabbi Stern if he had heard from us regarding our search. He hadn’t, but he urged my Dad to have us give him a call. Unfortunately, Rabbi Stern was able to offer little more than what Rabbi Charlie had offered…fortunately, the “little more” was actually the name of a rabbi that he thought could help us, Rabbi Murray Berger.
I contacted Rabbi Berger and explained what we were looking for. While he certainly conducted interfaith ceremonies, he was reluctant to participate in a co-officiated ceremony. Just when it seemed that we’d reached another dead end, he gave us the name of another rabbi, Rabbi Marc Ben-Meir.
A quick call to Rabbi Ben-Meir confirmed that not only does he participate in interfaith weddings as a co-officiant, but he was also available for the date and time we were hoping for! Our search was over!
A couple of days later, we met Rabbi Marc and his wife for a lovely dinner. We talked about what we were looking for, and Rabbi Marc shared some of his experiences, and offered suggestions. All in all, it made for a very enjoyable experience, we had a rabbi, and we had a plan for our ceremony.
Something I haven’t yet talked about here–which I can’t believe I didn’t think of before–is the pre-marital counseling we’re doing. We’re actually doing counseling with the Rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel and the Minister at Alliance United Methodist Church. The counseling with the Rabbi thus far has been pretty traditional pre-marital counseling–communication skills, conflict resolution techniques, talking about families of origin and how they affect our relationship today. Our next sessions will delve more into the dual faith aspect of our relationship. The counseling we’re doing with the Minister is a little more focused on the interfaith aspects of our relationship.
We initially set up to do premarital counseling with Rabbi even before we found anyone to co-officiate the wedding. After talking with him the very first time, we were immediately comfortable with him and knew we wanted him to do our counseling, even though he respectfully declined to co-officiate the ceremony. The Minister definitely wanted us to do premarital counseling (she requires it of all couples she marries), and was satisfied when we told her what we already had set up with Rabbi. However, when we talked more with her, we realized that we really could benefit from some sessions with her, too.
(As an aside, this arrangement made my family very happy also. They didn’t have any problem with us doing counseling with the Rabbi, but voiced strong opinion that it would be beneficial to have help/input from clergy of both faiths.)
We had our 5th session with Rabbi Tuesday afternoon. Due to scheduling conflicts on both sides, we just had our first session with the Minister Wednesday morning. All the sessions (with both Rabbi and Reverend) have gone really well.
For anyone planning a wedding, I HIGHLY recommend pre-marital counseling. For interfaith couples, it might take a little searching at first, but it is possible to find a rabbi and a minister (or whatever clergy you need) willing to really work with you. Both our Rabbi and our Minister are very committed to helping us build a strong interfaith relationship, and no one is trying to convert us to either faith. Both have really emphasized to us that they’re here to provide any support and guidance that we’ll need as we build our interfaith family.
This post is probably too long already, but I’ll tackle more on this (ideas are still bouncing around my head) very soon in another post. I’m sure I’ve left questions and holes for the readers, so definitely respond with questions or comments!
Pretty early on Julie and I realized that there was something different about this relationship, and that there was a very good chance that one day we’d be making long-term plans together. As our relationship progressed, we discussed all of the typical topics that you’d expect—children, faith, short-term and long-term goals, etc.—but we never talked about the kind of wedding that either of us wanted.
I knew what kind of wedding I wanted (the kind where we are married at the end of the day), but I was worried that she would want a church wedding, with all that entails. I wasn’t sure how comfortable I’d be with that. My idea for a wedding involved a faith-neutral site, with the ceremony led by a judge or some other non-religiously affiliated person licensed to marry people in Texas. If all that matters is that at the end of the day we are married, then I really shouldn’t have been concerned about what she might want, but I was. And not only was I concerned, I was certain that this could be a major stumbling block. I should have known better.
Fortunately, it was never an issue. From the very first time we discussed the type of wedding we wanted, Julie was already thinking about how we can have an inclusive wedding, where everyone is comfortable. This included not only the location, but the ceremony itself. What a relief!
Now you’re probably wondering exactly what kind of wedding she was thinking about?
Julie envisioned a wedding at a neutral location, with a ceremony that integrated the traditions of both Jewish and Christian weddings, and hopefully officiated by both a rabbi and a minister. I was thrilled with the plan. I had never really thought about the possibility of having a wedding ceremony that included some religious aspects, so this was all new and exciting.
Of course, reality soon set in, as we began the search for a rabbi and minister willing to co-officiate.
Interestingly enough, our search for a rabbi brought us to InterfaithFamily.com.
Today’s vendor blog is about florists…I was so excited after our initial meeting with a highly recommended florist. Like our photographer, she asked all kinds of great questions when she found out our wedding would be interfaith. She asked things like whether there would be a chuppah, and if so, would we want flowers on it, she asked about other decorations (cake table, unity candle table, etc). We set up for her to get a bid to us in the next week or two…that was January 6, and we haven’t heard from her since. I’ve emailed, called, and gotten no response. Wait, to be fair, she did email back once that she was having email issues and hoped to resolve them in the next day or so, but if she couldn’t get it fixed, she’d send a hard copy bid via “snail mail.” But, since then, nothing. At least we hadn’t paid her any money yet.
So, we now have a meeting with another florist – this one doing a very close friend’s wedding 5 weeks before ours – for next week. I’m beginning to have more antsy “oh-my-gosh-we-still-have-tons-to-do” moments, but so far I’ve kept it under control (Bryan might have a different take on that, of course! )I’ll let you all know how things go in that meeting.
We hope everyone had a Happy Valentine’s Day and got to spend it with someone you love. It doesn’t matter if that someone is a spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend, parent, sibling, or just a very good friend. The point of the day is to be with those you love.
We had a great day. It’s Wednesday, so we got to spend the evening with our boys. It’s been fantastic, complete with heart-shaped pizza and heart-shaped giant cookie for dessert. Julie even got a beautiful red, white, and clear bead bracelet, made in school by the 6-year-old. She’s been wearing it all night.
So, Happy Valentine’s Day, Y’all!