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By Lynda Barness
You are now engaged! NOW WHAT?
Here are five things to consider before jumping in, from a Master Wedding Planner:
1. Breathe. Iâm not kidding! Take some time to enjoy your engagementâand each other. And your families. And your friends.
2.Â Get to work. When you are ready to start working (and yes, it may feel like work, so now would be a good time to consider a wedding planner if you are thinking about hiring one), you and your partner will want to have a discussion about your wish list: time of year (and which year), which city, what type of officiant, what kind of venue and more. So often there are other voices in this discussion, but the couple can prioritize their wish list first and then discuss it with family and others.
3. Get your guest list in order. You canât possibly pick a place for a ceremony or reception without knowing how many people you will invite. A question that I am asked very often is about the drop-off rate. If you invite your whole guest list, how many can you figure wonât attend? You canât figure this at all, so please donât bother trying! I know of a wedding where 277 guests were invited and 275 attended. The moral of this story is to look for a venue that will hold everyone you have invited. Remember, you wouldnât be inviting these guests if you didnât want them to come, so they just might!
4. Choose an officiant. The officiant will need to be the first to be chosen/hired. You need that person to be available and willing to be with you on your wedding day, and youâll need to nail that day down before you can confirm with a venue. InterfaithFamilyâs clergy referral service is the perfect place to start! Next step is finding a venue…
5. Secure the reception venue and start hiring your wedding professionals. This looks very simple in the abstract. It is not! Especially if one partner has always imagined getting married in a synagogue and the other has a picture of an outdoor ceremony in mind. This is a big decision to figure out together and often requires compromiseâwhat better time than the present to work on that skill? If you are hiring a wedding planner, or are even thinking of hiring one, it will be helpful to have this person on-board at this point as well.
When it comes to the wedding day itself, there are four things that I think are essential to keep in mind:
1. Invitations and their wording. Do the names of both sets of parents appear on the invitation? Are only the hosts (the ones who are paying) listed? Hereâs some advice from a planner: It is lovely to include all the parents and have them all feel a part of this day, and it is a clear signal to everyone that the two families are joining together.
2. Ceremony logistics. Who sits on what side, who walks down the aisle with whom and who stands or sits where? This can get complicated, especially since different religions handle it differently. Itâs a matter of compromise and sensitivity. Do mom and dad walk down the aisle with their child as Jewish tradition dictates? Or has the bride who is not Jewish always imagined herself walking down the aisle with just her father? Do the parents stand, do they hold the chuppah or do they sit during the ceremony? These are great questions to discuss with your officiant and one of the reasons clergy can be so helpful.
3. Religious ritual objects. Do you want to have a chuppah? What about a ketubah? Which rituals from each of your faiths do you want to include? How can you best represent your individuality and your coming together as a new family? Again, your officiant can be a huge source of assistance here, and if you are having a Jewish wedding, a great place to learn about rituals and ritual objects is in Anita Diamantâs go-to book, The Jewish Wedding Now.
4. The Jewish tradition of yichud is one that seems to have become both modified and universal. After the ceremony, the couple has some private time (often with hors dâoeuvres and drinks) to simply share the first moments of their marriage alone with each other. This is such a special time and lovely tradition, and I always recommend it.
The best advice I have heard is to take some days off every week and donât even discuss wedding planning. It will be exhausting if you try to do wedding planning every single day from now until your wedding, so spend a little time with your honey without the stress of wedding or religion talk.
Lynda Barness launched I DO Wedding Consulting in 2005 after a successful and award-winning career as a real estate developer and homebuilder. Lynda earned the designation of Master Wedding Planner from the International Association of Wedding Consultants and also has a certificate in Wedding Planning and Consulting from Temple University.Â She combines education with years of experience as she helps navigate the complexities and challenges of planning the big day–with consulting services, day-of services, customized and full service planningâin the Greater Philadelphia area and beyond. Her background and experience are varied, and she has been both a participant and leader in a variety of civic, philanthropic and political activities.
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 âinterfaith marriageâ 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! Itâs like someone has done this alreadyâŚ
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 familyâwe 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 churchâand that maybe the church wasnât 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 Zachâs 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 wasnât 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 didnât know what to doâwe 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. Martinâs 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 Godâs work. We would not have met them if we had taken the easy wayâsuch as asking the rabbi to officiate and having a priest say a blessing.
A friend asked me the other day what Iâm most excited for on our wedding day, and other than the dress (itâs gorgeous), I am most excited for our ceremony, a unique blend of the faiths and prayers and people that matter the most to us. Iâm 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 weâve put some finishing touches on it!
Looking for an officiant? InterfaithFamily can help!
I have planned exactly one party in my lifetime. It was a surprise sweet sixteen birthday party for my best friend during our sophomore year of high school. The party was held in my parentsâ basement decorated with balloons and streamers. Party guests successfully pulled off the surprise and spent the rest of the evening gobbling slices of pizza and birthday cake while mingling and listening to the latest tunes playing on my boom box.
Fast forward 12 years to 2016. I am knee deep in planning the biggest party of my lifeâŚmy wedding! Jarrett and I are approaching our one year engagement anniversary (March 20th) and have been busy wedding planning for nearly 11 months now. We continue checking items off of our to-do list as we move closer to our October 2016 wedding. While our to-do list is much shorter than it was 11 months ago, itâs safe to say I probably looked like a happy deer in headlights last April. I was so excited about our recent engagement but had NO idea where to begin when it came to wedding planning. So I thought it might be helpful to share some planning tips that worked for us. We are by no means professionals when it comes to wedding planning but weâre having a lot of fun figuring it out!
1. Talk Details! Jarrett and I sat down one day and discussed everything we knew about weddings (mostly from the weddings we had recently attended). We brainstormed what we wanted and did not want in our day. We talked seasons: Summer? Too hot. Winter? Too cold. Spring? A spring 2016 wedding would only allow one year of planning which felt too rushed. We also discussed that weddings are very expensive and the additional months of planning would allow us to save more money. We had made our decision. A Fall 2016 wedding would allow a year and a half for all of the planning, decision making and money saving (it also happened to be my favorite season!). We drafted a guest list based on who we knew we would be inviting plus estimated a number for our parentsâ guest lists. Our guest estimate totaled 150-200 individuals so we knew we needed a venue that accommodated at least 200.
Finally, while the wedding day is about celebrating us as a couple, we knew the majority of our guests would be traveling to celebrate with us and we did not want our wedding day to be an inconvenience for our friends and family. We knew we wanted a Saturday evening wedding with the ceremony and reception at the same location. So we had determined season, guest count and venue wish list. Then we discussed budget. We listed each wedding vendor we would need for our wedding day (Venue, Caterer, Photographer, DJ, Florist and Officiant). We created a budget range for each potential vendor prior to setting up any appointments. From there, we estimated a total budget range for all wedding vendors plus additional details (wedding dress, invitations, etc). It seemed we had it all planned on scratch paper! Now what?!
2.Â Get Organized! After our engagement, friends and family members had bought me a number of wedding magazines and I was so excited to start browsing through for inspiration. Over time, I started cutting ideas I liked out of the magazines so I could keep them in a pile and easily access them. I realized I needed somewhere to hold all of our wedding planning resources. I bought a three-ring binder and visited one of my favorite websites, Pinterest, and searched for âWedding Organization Printables.â I found free print-out dividers and resources for âfinancials,â âguest list & seatingâ and âtimeline/to-dos.â I knew that everything would be in one place and nothing would get lost. Through each step, I write in the amount we spent and checked it off the to-do list! As we decided on each vendor, I placed signed copies of our contracts in the binder so I could refer back to them when I needed a quick reference or to see when a future payment was due.
3. Do Your Homework/Be Willing to Be Flexible! I began searching for wedding vendors in the Philadelphia/South Jersey area. I utilized âThe Knotâ website/app on my phone to search vendors by location. The app made it easy to learn details about different vendors and read reviews from people who had utilized their services. I could even look at samples of vendorsâ work (ie: photography/floral arrangements) on âThe Knotâ app.
First, we chose wedding venues to tour based on those that met our search criteria. We knew we would need a confirmed wedding date and venue selection before being able to book any additional vendors. I made the vendor appointments and Jarrett came along to every meeting to provide his opinion and support. It is helpful to make the decisions together since after all, it is our wedding day! We made a list of questions to ask before each meeting so we would be prepared. The reason I suggest being flexible is because many wedding venues, especially popular ones book up far in advance. We toured a wedding venue in April 2015 and fell in love with it. We knew we wanted to host our wedding there but it was booked through September 2016 for Saturday weddings. This is how we decided on an October wedding date (based on venue availability). If you have your heart set on a specific wedding date, you may need to be flexible with your venue choice. The more time you allow for planning, the more choices you will have!
Other selling points for our venue included the staff; they thoroughly and professionally answered all of our questions and put our worries at ease. We learned that we could have both our ceremony and reception on-site and they even had on-site catering and bar service so we were able to save a few steps. Once we selected our venue, we continued booking our remaining wedding vendors one by one. We carefully read the vendor reviews, made lists of questions and compared prices and availability for our chosen wedding date.
My final planning tip would be to have fun! Many people have told me wedding planning is so stressful and they were happy when it was over. Truthfully, because we gave ourselves a lot of planning time, I have been enjoying this life chapter and may miss it when it all comes to an end because itâs truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We are still seven months away from the big day and there is still so much to do but I am content in what we have been able to accomplish thus far; especially since weâre figuring it out on our own and with the support of one another! Next up on the to-do list: designing invitations and yarmulkas! Stay tuned for more wedding fun.
Here are some places that we quickly checked off the list:
– A rotating wedding with stops at each temple or church where a friend of ours works as a rabbi and/or spiritual leader: problematic mostly as this particular world wide wedding tour would probably require a month long commitment for any wedding participant.
– My very first truly Jewish home, the Smith College Kosher Kitchen: while the space is filled with amazing memories of learning how to braid challah, welcoming Shabbat, and being part of true community, itâs notÂ exactlyÂ equipped for a wedding shindig.
– The churches that Justin attended growing up: a destination wedding wasnât something we were 100% opposed to, but asking family to trek out to the winding trail of places he called home (from Ohio to South Dakota back to Ohio and on to Pennsylvania) as he grew up wasnât exactly practical.
After all, as an interfaith couple with varied roots and no shared official physical spiritual home, there is no obvious, easy answer. And, as we look to bring together a diverse group of family and friends, we want to avoid the âeekâ feeling that often accompanies being in someone elseâs religions home base. (Weâre introducing enough new things as it is!)
Our dramatic question of belonging (or a lack thereof) answered itself when we took a different tact to planning. When we rephrased the question from âwhere do you get married when you put religious tradition in the centerâ to âwhere do you get married when you put your own relationship in the centerâ the options started to reveal themselves.
A ceremony in a science museum? Why not? (Unless there are mummiesâI have an irrational fear of mummies.)
A ceremony on a boat? Sure! (Weather permitting. And is one allowed to be both captain and bride?)
A ceremony in an abandoned theater with no lights, no running water, and a more than fine layer of dust? Yes. Thatâs the winner.
When we looked at locations that had significance to us, a vacant theater became the obvious choice. Justin has been a part of a community of urban explorers for far longer than Iâve known him, and Iâve come to appreciate the beauty that is found in a place paused in time.Â We are people who, individually and as a couple, value adventure, the offbeat, finding experiences that might not jive with the normsâand so this feels more like “us” than any church or synagogue we might find.
I wouldn’t go as far as saying that this is where we find our “sacred” … but, there is something holy about appreciating glamourÂ where someone else might not look twice.
Taking a space, one that has been forgotten by its surroundings, and stepping back is a powerful experience. Thereâs beauty in seeing a place for what it once was, what it is now, and what it could be. (And, isn’t that the essence of a relationship? Appreciating all steps of the journey?) For us, the idea of transforming a quiet, slightly downtrodden theater into a site for a ceremony just makes sense. Weâre adding the lights, weâre bringing in the huppah, but the magic of the building was already there.
These last few months have been busy with dress fittings, selecting the menu, arranging the seating chart, creating the invitations, ordering the suits, and other wedding plans. Sam and I continually remind ourselves that the wedding is only one day and we should focus on preparing for a marriage.Â This lifelong commitment to each other begins at the wedding ceremony. With that in mind, we are trying to combine the rituals and symbols of both Judaism and Catholicism in our ceremony.
We specifically chose our priest and rabbi to not only co-officiate the ceremony, but also to guide us along this spiritual journey. The rabbi is someone very dear to Sam and the priest is the presider of my familyâs parish. These two special people have been a part of various life cycle events in Samâs and my life. They know us and our families very well, and we are honored that they will be officiating our marriage ceremony. The rabbi and priest continue to help us in the marriage preparations by proofing our ketubah language, assisting with Diocesan paperwork, and helping us with the order and symbols of the ceremony. In our first meeting with the priest, he gave us words of wisdom to keep in mind, throughout this entire process (and our lives): âKeep your own faith at heart, but do not minimize or trivialize the faith of the other.â
If I were converting to Judaism, or Sam to Catholicism, we would have chosen a specific house of worship for our ceremony, such as a synagogue or church. Because we are not, we decided to have our ceremony in a country club, a âneutralâ location. This way, both faiths are equally visible and our guests wonât be uncomfortable in attending a wedding in another house of worship. By having our wedding on a Sunday afternoon, Sam and his family can still go to Shabbat services, and my family can go to early Sunday morning Mass.
Throughout the ceremony, we want to honor each otherâs faiths, focusing on the similarities, rather than the differences. We have asked my brother, Chris, and Samâs sister, Stacey, to help us explain the wedding rituals and symbols in each of our faiths at the start of the ceremony.
There are a few symbols that are used in both religions, such as bread, wine, rings, and most importantly, the vows. Sam and I will say the blessings over the bread and wine in our own respective religions.Â The priest and rabbi will guide us in exchanging our vows and rings.
We have adapted some rituals and symbols to be more conducive to an interfaith wedding.Â The chuppah is a symbol unfamiliar to my Catholic family, whereas the unity candle is a symbol unfamiliar to Samâs Jewish family. We will sign our ketubah during the ceremony rather than before it, honoring the Catholic tradition of the bride and groom not seeing each other beforehand. The traditional Jewish Seven Blessings will be said, with both fathers participating.Â At the end of the ceremony, we will break the glass. This has many meanings in the Jewish faith, but for the two of us, it will also symbolize the breaking down of barriers between people of different cultures and faiths as our families are now joined together.
By incorporating some Jewish and Catholic wedding rituals in our ceremony, we will signal to our friends and family our intent to continue practicing our religions.Â We hope that this public declaration of faith will communicate our plans to remain strong in faith while supporting our partnerâs religious practice.
Welcome back. If you remember from our introduction, our wedding date is November 8th of this year! It is 205 days away, but then again, who’s counting? đ
If you know anything about a wedding, you know it takes careful time and preparation. That is not unique to an inter-faith wedding, but some of the things on the check list are approached with a different perspective.
Letâs start with the reception venue. The reception space is always one of the biggest items on anyoneâs wedding check list. We went with a re-done barn, known as The Centennial Barn, which was built in 1898, but renovated in 2010 in order to host events. What is great about this space is that not only is it affordable, but the money spent here actually has a higher purpose. The money goes into the work of the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor. A few examples of the Sistersâ community work are to provide haircuts for the homeless, bring art into poverty stricken parts of the city and help young women to make better lives for themselves by helping them to get off the street. Helping others is a big part of who Lisa and I are as individuals and as a couple. Lisa spends many of her hours volunteering as a Merchandise Director for an amateur sports team here in Cincinnati. I work in the nonprofit sector, but also do community outreach mentoring. No matter what faith we fall into, helping others is a tenet for everyone. We didn’t realize reception site picking would end up being a faith-based decision!
The reception choice was easy, but the wedding ceremony would involve a lot more conversation and lot more faith discussions.
One thing to know about Lisa is that she is a grounded individual. She balances my often imaginative personality. We all have our desires as human beings, but Lisa tends to keep it realistic and much more achievable. If she wants something she tends to have fear about putting it out in the world. On the grounds of the Centennial Barn, there is a beautiful chapel, the St. Clare Chapel. When Lisa saw the Chapel, she wanted to get married there. It was comforting to her faith and she knew it would mean a lot to her every-Sunday-church-going family as well. However, we had decided to have a Rabbi marry usâŚ Would the nuns be OK with this decision? Would our Rabbi be OK with this decision? I had to ask myself if I was OK with this decision.
It didn’t take much meditation though. I knew I was OK with it. I always want to provide for Lisa, even if it is just happiness. I knew from some interfaith classes I had attended that it was important to encourage one anotherâs faith, and getting married in the chapel was a way in which I could support Lisa. Plus, she had agreed to have a Rabbi marry us, which was more important to me than the venue.
The Chapel is not as easy as writing a check either. We needed approval from the Arch Bishop of Cincinnati. So here I was, a Jew, writing a letter to the Arch Bishop and the Nuns trying to convince them to let us get married in a chapel. The letter was not far off from this entry, but I knew at the end of the day that I simply could not buy the space and had to trust in G-d to show us that this space was for our big day. When I got the approval, the Head Sister (Nun) sat me down and said that they prayed (and she admitted–cried) for us because they were so touched by our story and our trust in G-d. We had our wedding day venues!
In this video, Yolanda and Arel reveal their wedding date which is coming up right around the corner. They also talk about their venue and why they chose it.