Co-Officiating at Interfaith Weddings
It is hard for couples to find clergy who want to co-officiate at interfaith wedding ceremonies. Their serious effort to find such clergy, and the lengths the bride and groom are willing to go through to have their marriage blessed by their individual traditions, is proof of how much they respect each other, how much they want each of their heritages recognized.
This is a great start for a marriage. The respect and recognition they have for each other's background sets a tone of mutual understanding for when important issues arise later in life--issues like how to raise the children or how to celebrate the holidays or how to find common ground with each of our families. Of course issues like these should be discussed before the big step is taken. But then again, the chemical imbalance we refer to as "being in love" often leads to perfect, yet rosy compromises in matters that are still somewhat theoretical. When reality starts chipping away at the "being in…" to leave the "love" only, it is good to know this love is sustained by the initial respect and acknowledgement displayed at the ceremony.
With this in mind, the ceremony being much more a reflection of a shared future than the connecting of two pasts, it is often amazing to see what the couple-to-be has in mind for a ceremony. They often want to have the Jewish partner, and the Christian partner, with the Jewish clergy facing the Jewish partner, the Christian clergy facing the Christian partner, and everybody does their own thing. That would be interfaith for sure, but only because both clergy happen to be there at the same time and same place. The only thing lacking from that plan is a reading that says something like "Apply pressure and hold for 10 seconds."
That ceremony would do exactly what it should not--connect two pasts, clearly outlining the differences in traditions. Rather, what should be expressed, and what I emphasize when I officiate, is the communality of the traditions, how each of the partners is welcomed into the other's heritage, a celebration of what we have in common, instead of what separates us. Fortunately, each of our traditions have more than enough sources to draw from to create a meaningful crossover between the two traditions, or--pardon the pun--a star of David over, all depending from which side you want to look at it.
A unified welcome citing Psalm 118 is a good way to start, and when it comes to exchanging the rings, verses from the prophet Hosea come to mind. While exchanging the rings, it's always a nice touch when the Jewish clergy gives the ring to the Christian partner and vice versa. As a finale for the ceremony, the priestly blessing is always a good choice, since it is cherished by both traditions and can be recited in both Hebrew and English.
Between the beginning and end of the ceremony there is a wealth of texts to chose from. The seven wedding blessings can be recited by the Jewish clergy, or if you are lucky and the Jewish clergy has a good-enough voice, chanted even, followed by the English translation given by the Christian clergy. It's all about balance, about both traditions being recognized. But it is more than counting the amount of words and making sure that both clergy have the same amount to say. It's about mixing and matching, about what role you want the clergy to have in recognizing the individual traditions, but also in addressing and welcoming the other partner.
In choosing readings, Jewish clergy have generally only one stipulation, and that is not to mention Jesus Christ. But even with this restriction in mind, Christianity has produced beautiful prose that is suitable for the situation. Think for instance about Corinthians, a true homage to love. And at the end of the day, when the cake is cut, speeches are spoken, dances are danced and painful shoes are off, that's what it is all about.