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
Being part of an interfaith marriage was not a new experience when I remarried almost three years ago. My first marriage was to a man who had been raised Presbyterian. Our son Michael was raised Jewish, but we also celebrated Christian holidays with my spouse's family.
My current spouse, Jim, is a very spiritual man who has enriched my experience when we worship together, whether in the synagogue or in his church. He is a member of a mainstream Presbyterian church where many of my close friends, as well as many of my son's close friends, belong. In fact, we met in a nonsectarian class, "Newly Single," sponsored by the Singles Ministry of his church. Jim, of course, loved introducing me to his friends as his "church lady," and then watching their response when he told them I was Jewish.
Interestingly, when Jim and I began dating, his son, Matthew, was engaged to a Jewish girl (they were both students in college at the time). His engagement ended, but Matthew subsequently began a relationship with another Jewish woman.
When we married, our two sons were twenty-three-year-old college graduates, living on their own. We have had many warm and loving family celebrations together, some involving religious holidays and others just because our sons enjoy getting together. Although they have never lived with us, or lived together as brothers, they each seem to be enjoying their first experience of having a sibling. Jim and I feel very lucky and blessed to have sons and extended families who are very accepting of our interfaith relationship. We know that this is easier because our sons are grown.
Our boys have seen us incorporate aspects of both our religions into our lives, beginning with our marriage ceremony. Even though they are at an age where they are not actively practicing their religions, each of our sons identifies with his faith heritage and each is comfortable with who he is.
Jim and I were married in Naples, Florida, where my mother lives year round and where Jim's parents coincidentally spend three months each year to escape Ohio winters. We were given excellent advice to have our wedding in a neutral setting, not a church or a synagogue, in order to set clear expectations for our families that we each intended to continue practicing our own faiths. We were very fortunate to have access to a lovely room in the high-rise my mother's lives in, where we exchanged our vows in a beautiful ceremony surrounded by our families, followed by dinner in my mother's apartment.
Although we had intended to have a rabbi and a minister participate, our experience with the rabbi was quite uncomfortable. As a result, we were married by a wonderful Presbyterian minister who embraced our unique situation, stated that he believed God had a hand in bringing us together, and even alluded during the ceremony to the fact that God must be playing a trick on us because Jews and Christians were not supposed to fall in love. He very lovingly and warmly wove Jewish and Christian elements into our ceremony, and had our sons be the witnesses who stood with him as he performed the marriage. He included readings from the Old and New Testament, the Seven Wedding Blessings, and the blessing over wine. Our sons participated by saying the blessing over wine, my son in Hebrew and Matthew in English, using a crystal Kiddish cup (wine glass) that Jim had given me for Hanukkah.
Michael and Matthew roomed together while we were in Naples, and quickly revealed how they were going to adapt to being stepbrothers in an interfaith family. I took little gift bags to their room with favorite snacks and drinks for each of them. I looked at Matthew and asked if he was ready to assume his new, awesome responsibility of becoming the older brother. I then looked at my son and said, "Sorry Michael, you are not the oldest any more." Matt asked me how far apart in age they were. I counted and told him about five-and-a-half months. Without missing a beat, Matt smiled and said, "So, technically we're twins." We had a great laugh, but we still refer to them sometimes as "the twins."
Since we were married out of town, we had a party several months later to celebrate with our friends and share some of our wedding experiences. Jim welcomed everyone and described our wedding to give them a flavor of what we had included. Then he asked the boys to give the blessing over wine. When the boys got up, Michael took the glass, recited the prayer in English and handed the wine to Matthew, who proceeded to give the blessing in Hebrew. I was totally surprised they had switched roles, but suddenly realized that when we were waiting to get up in front of our friends, the boys were joking with me about who gets to go first. "I want to go first." "No, the oldest goes first." I love how they played at being little brothers who fight and that Matthew made the effort to learn to recite the prayer in Hebrew!
Because Michael grew up in an interfaith family, he had always been accustomed to celebrating Jewish and Christian holidays. Matthew had been experiencing the same because of his relationships with Jewish women. Our current situation is a sharing of both faith practices, melding traditions from the boys' previous lives. Every holiday season has brought fun experiences: potato latkes for Hanukkah, picking out a Christmas tree to be cut down at a tree farm, and Easter baskets filled with favorite candy. Matthew has moved out of town, which means fewer holidays together, but we are looking forward to many years of shared holiday experiences in our new blended family.