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Over the July 4th weekend, Zach and I spent some time with my family in the Philadelphia area. As mentioned on my previous post, we got ambitious with some DIY projects, so we planned a few (three) weekends to go home and visit (work) with family to complete those projects. The first weekend in July was one of those weekends.
In thinking about blogging for InterfaithFamily, Iâ€™ve thought about what readers might be interested in, and family acceptance probably ranks pretty high. Itâ€™s an obstacle many couples (including some of my friends) struggle with, but luckily, weÂ did notâ€”my family loves Zach. Loves him. This cannot be stressed enough. They ask about him all the time.
While it doesnâ€™t surprise me that everyone loves Zach (I do, after all), it did surprise me how that affected their reaction to us getting married. No one was disappointed that I wasnâ€™t marrying another Catholic, because they all knew and loved Zach. They knew how well we worked together, they knew how well he got along with the rest of the family, and they knew how well he complimented my strengths and weaknessesâ€”and same for me to him. They got to know him as a person so that by the time we announced our engagement, everyone was on board. They knew I could not find anyone who complimented me better, challenged me more and treated me better than Zach.
Thatâ€™s not to say that this path has been super easy. It took some time for my parents to understand that my family life probably wouldnâ€™t look like the one they had provided for meâ€”with private Catholic school and a strong rooting in Catholic parish life. I loved growing up with that setting, but it might not work for our family-to-be. Thatâ€™s a struggle that Zach and I, along with our extended families, will have for the rest of our lives. But I feel that both families see the love that we have for each other and know that for us, the struggle will be worthwhile.
Readers, excuse the interruption, but Zach has something to add!
Hi, this is Zach. While Lauraâ€™s been doing most of the heavy-lifting around here, I wanted to insert myself into this post to say that my family also loves Laura a ton. Weâ€™re more of a secular bunch than her family, but there was still somewhat of an expectation that I would end up with a Jewish spouse. But theyâ€™ve been nothing but supportive of our relationship, and everyone can see how good we are for each other. So thereâ€™s excitement on both sides for us as we begin this journey together.
Back to Laura:
One of the most fun parts of being an interfaith couple is learning, with your entire family, new things from your significant other. One year, Hannukah started while we were home with my family for Christmas. Zach led the family in prayer in lighting the menorah, and the next day my Grandma called to make sure that we had gotten home in time to light the menorah. Zach taught my family to playÂ dreidelÂ by the Christmas tree, and everyone had a great time (while he hustled us). Weâ€™re taking the same fun, learning approach to our wedding. Below is a video of Zach explaining to the camera and my parents the significance of the tradition of breaking the glass after the wedding ceremony. We were testing out a glass to make sure it would actually break!
Our first hurdle in planning an interfaith wedding (other than the insanity of touring and booking a venue) was findingÂ an officiant and creating a ceremony that reflected both of us. TheÂ day after we got engaged, I began fumbling around for some guidance. I knew what a Catholic wedding looked like, but I had no idea what was important in a Jewish ceremony, much less what we could do if we wanted to combine them.
As the daughter of a lifelong librarian, I put my research skills to the test. Surprisingly, my local library had exactly what I was looking for. A quick search in the card catalog for â€śinterfaith marriageâ€ť turned up a fabulous book by Rabbi Devon A. Lerner: Celebrating Interfaith Marriages: Creating Your Jewish/Christian Ceremony. Yes! Exactly what I was looking for! Itâ€™s like someone has done this alreadyâ€¦
I read the book cover to cover. It was super valuable during this process and covered almost every ceremony question I had: from the treatment of Jesus in a Christian-Jewish ceremony to what to expect when we met with the rabbi a few weeks later. The book included several sample ceremonies and really opened my mind to what we could create. The next step to realizing that vision was to decide on a venue.
After doing some research and talking with Zach, I decided I needed to reassess my dream of being married in the church where I grew up. That church meant a lot to me and to my familyâ€”we had received all of our sacraments there, attended the connected parish school and built our family life around that community. Discussing it with Zach, I realized that my in-laws-to-be might not feel comfortable in the churchâ€”and that maybe the church wasnâ€™t the neutral ground zero from which the rest of our lives would start.
We needed somewhere that was meaningful to both of us, because that compromise or give-and-take is pretty emblematic of our life together. We found a beautiful venue in Historic Graeme Park that combined my Pennsylvania roots with Zachâ€™s love of (and my appreciation for) nature. With a meaningful space secured, I set out to tackle the big question: Who would officiate our ceremony?
I first asked a clergy member from our local parish to officiate. He congratulated us and promised to look into the logistics. After some discussion and deliberation, we decided that it wasnâ€™t the right fit. The diocese where we were getting married had policies about diocesan clergy (priests and deacons) performing wedding ceremonies in a dignified space–which typically means inside, not outdoors. (A Catholic diocese is a district that is under the supervision of a bishop and is made up of parishes run by priests.) I had done my research beforehand and, to the surprise of many (myself included), the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops does not appear to explicitly ban outdoor weddings when it comes to a Catholic-Jewish ceremony because they recognize the need for a neutral space. But, as I understood it, this diocese had their own restrictions.
We didnâ€™t know what to doâ€”we had just selected a beautiful park to be married in, not thinking it would make finding an officiant more challenging. The decision on how to move forward really shook me. I felt like I had been part of a family for my whole life and now they were taking issue withÂ something that seemed inconsequential to our marriage. We had looked at hotel ballrooms and fancy mansions in our venue search, but none of them really felt like a venue for us. We thought about having the ceremony inside the tent at the venue and we considered having a Catholic clergyman (priest or deacon) do a blessing after the ceremony. But after discussing it together and with my parents, we decided to see if we could find another Catholic officiant for the outdoor ceremony.
Our success in finding such an officiant was a small miracle, likely brought about in some part by the fervent prayers of my mother. After reading the book Being Both, we looked up the Interfaith Families Project of Greater Washington to see if they offered any resources on interfaith marriage. We found a couplesâ€™ workshop for engaged and married interfaith couples, and I contacted the Catholic priest listed as a speaker at the workshop. Fr. Michael Kelly of St. Martinâ€™s in DC was a godsend. He talked with me over the phone and agreed to help us fill out the paperwork, do the required marriage prep and find an officiant. On his recommendation, we contacted Rabbi Bleefeld in Dresher, PA, and met with him a few weeks later. Having read up on my stuff, I was thankfully aware when the rabbi asked us about things like a ketubah and the seven blessings. He has been a pleasure to work with and a resource in putting together our special day.
The priest was a little trickier to find. Fr. Kelly connected us with an order of priests that were not subject to the same rules and policies as diocesan priests (name of the order withheld). We met with Fr. Mike around Thanksgiving: He came across as kind, gentle and generous. He talked with us for a few hours about our relationship and what we wanted in our ceremony and he happily agreed to officiate our wedding.
Now we finally have a Catholic priest and a Jewish rabbi, both doing equal parts of the ceremony and offering us the flexibility to incorporate parts of our traditions that have meaning to us (more on that in another post). It has been a long process to get to this point and I experienced a crisis of faith in my struggle to gain a Catholic officiant for my wedding. ThroughoutÂ this journey, we have met so many incredible people who are doing Godâ€™s work. We would not have met them if we had taken the easy wayâ€”such as asking the rabbi to officiate and having a priest say a blessing.
A friend asked me the other day what Iâ€™m most excited for on our wedding day, and other than the dress (itâ€™s gorgeous), I am most excited for our ceremony, a unique blend of the faiths and prayers and people that matter the most to us. Iâ€™m so thankful we can have it all present as we start our life together. Check back in a few weeks to see the ceremony, after weâ€™ve put some finishing touches on it!
Looking for an officiant? InterfaithFamily can help!