Three Ways to Make Your Interfaith Marriage Successful After You Say Your Vows
Can you feel the love?
It’s that season again.
Each summer weekend, worshiping communities across the U.S. will open their doors to excited guests, nervous partners, and committed clergy. At any given sunset, convertibles will boast tin cans and shaving cream-covered windows announcing, “Just Married!”
For nearly all of us, the behind-the-scenes chaos of planning the big day won’t be obvious. Determining the liturgy and making the grandmas happy will be beyond our purview. We’ll see only seamless love and benefit from delicious goodies.
Can you feel the stress?
For couples who hail from different religious and non-religious traditions, wedding planning can be stressful.
Determining where they’ll get married and by whom comes first. Next, more complex choices emerge: who will feel left out if we offer communion? Should we include the ancient or modern ritual? Whose scripture should we use?
According to Naomi Schaefer Riley’s research in Til Death Do Us Part, nearly 45 percent of Americans find themselves in this conundrum. And, with the rise of these types of unions comes an urgency for clergy to adapt.
In a recent Christian Century article, Celeste Kennel-Shank describes how modern clergy help partners navigate questions beyond determining the seating chart.
“Clergy who participate in interfaith marriage ceremonies have to maintain a delicate balance, respecting the couples differing religious traditions and the concerns of the two families while staying faithful to their own religious commitments.”
Clergy officiating interfaith weddings help couples look to their tradition’s symbols: “You find there is a lot of commonality,” says Rev. Joyce Shin, associate pastor for congregational life at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago. “They might be from different traditions, but people quickly and easily grasp onto the meaning of symbols and are moved by them.”
Fred and I attended an interdenominational wedding last Saturday. The bride was Episcopalian; her groom United Methodist. Just as Rev. Shin suggested, symbols became their harmonizer in a beautifully balanced betrothal that included Eucharist.The couple used the United Methodist liturgy of Word and Table along with the Episcopal option of receiving wine directly from the cup. Though the method by which the cup was received differed (intinction vs. drinking directly) the mystery and meaning of the Eucharist united them.
But, what happens after the vows?
When the big day is over, and the careful attention clergy and couples have devoted to a thoughtful service has dissipated, what happens next?
Even couples who have executed the perfect wedding day must still face one another after the honeymoon, when the euphoria of cala lilies and first dances have faded.
How can those who worked so hard at blending faith traditions at their nuptials ensure success after the vow?
Here is post-wedding advice from interfaith and interdenominational partners who have kept their unions vibrant:
- Respect one another:
Partners who share different spiritual frameworks must cultivate mutual respect in order to survive and thrive. When the wedding is over and they are on the cusp of a new shared life, it is essential to establish ground rules that help keep respect at the forefront.
Magin LaSov Gregg writes of her Jewish-Unitarian interfaith marriage:
Our treaty goes something like this: I respect his search for truth and
meaning. He respects mine. As symbols of our religious accord, the chalice from his ordination sits on a shelf beside our chanukiah.
- Be willing to compromise.
Jana Riess, Religion News Service blogger and devout Mormon, says that one of the secrets to her successful interfaith marriage to a Protestant is “the art of compromise.”
Be prepared to be honest and explicit about what’s important to you, and ask him to do the same. Do you care about having someone to sit next to in church? Does he want you to fast with him in solidarity on Yom Kippur? Talk about these issues openly. Neither of you will get everything you want, but you’ll be ready for the give and take.
3. Work at it. Then work some more.
Fred and I keep God and our faith in the center by practicing together: sometimes that takes the shape of worship, prayer, fasting, and reading scripture. Other times, it means minding the boundaries of our partnership so that we are guaranteed quality together time.
We do not divide our spiritual lives from one another. Instead, our faith journeys have become a beautiful, sometimes messy reverberation of Eastern and Western practices. Neither faith is watered down; each path is strengthened by the presence of the other.
Rev. Shin writes that she and other clergy offer interfaith couples space for reflection after their weddings:
“… in many cases interfaith couples, after their weddings, continue to attend a monthly dialogue that a rabbi, an imam, and I co-facilitate for interfaith families. The dialogues are designed to focus each month on a topic that will likely arise in interfaith homes. We assume that not all the topics will matter to all the couples; that is why couples are encouraged to take part in the conversations on topics that matter to them. Some examples of topics are: “What Are We Doing This December?” and “How Do We Handle the In-Laws?” and “How Do We Raise the Children?”
Raising children tends to be the sticking point for most interfaith partners and, perhaps the area that requires the most stick-to-it-ness.
Susan Katz Miller, interfaith activist and author offers hope in the midst of hard work:
The concept of raising children as “both” continues to raise eyebrows, hackles, and goosebumps. From where I stand, with my second-generation-interfaith children almost grown, the benefits of raising them with both religions seem clear.
Respect. Compromise. Work.
If these sound familiar, that’s because they are the bedrock of nearly any relationship and friendship. Interfaith and interdenominational partners simply have unique challenges to navigate.
Determine now how you and your partner will practice your faith traditions with mutual respect and harmony.
Interfaith/interdenominational partners: what has been your biggest challenge to date? How have you worked hard to keep your marriage thriving after the big day? Please offer your thoughts in the comments section.
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6 thoughts on “Three Ways to Make Your Interfaith Marriage Successful After You Say Your Vows”
Thanks for mentioning our wedding, Dana! A bit of background that might be interesting to folks- the liturgy for the blessing and consecration of the marriage (blessing, vows, prayers) came from the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church and the Eucharistic portion of the liturgy from the UMH. While the Episcopal and Methodist churches are not in full communion, my husband (!) and I got approval from both bishops (EC Bishop Michael Curry and UM bishop Hope Morgan Ward) to use the Interim Eucharistic Sharing agreement that exists for special liturgies in which both traditions are honored. Having both wine and grape juice is actually a requirement under that agreement. It was important to us that the first act of our marriage was participation in the Eucharist.
So happy you and Fred were able to share in the worship and celebration!
Thanks so much for this background! What a lovely way to begin your new life together.
Fred and I were moved by the incorporation of both traditions–not to mention the fact that we are were impressed that you went above and beyond to secure permission from your ecclesiastic authorities to make it happen. Not all partners would go to such lengths in order to have a blended service. Way to go!
Blessings upon your new adventure! May God strengthen you each day–guiding you in your mutual and individual practices.
In some ways, my wedding was made somewhat easier because of my partner’s religion (she’s Christian (Catholic) and I’m Pagan (Witchcraft)) and some of our specific life choices. The year prior to our marriage, I lived in Illinois, she in Pennsylvania. As a result of that distance, we were unable to attend the Pre-Cana classes together that are required by the Catholic church. As a result, the Church wouldn’t officiate our marriage; we didn’t even try to broach the topic of a Catholic/Witch marriage to them because of this hurdle.
So our wedding was performed by a justice of the peace using a ceremony that we wrote together. Then, the following day, that wedding was blessed by the Church. My understanding (which may be somewhat clouded by the 9 years since that day) was that this ceremony was roughly equivalent to the sort of blessing that would have been performed for converts to Catholicism. It probably helped that the priests in my partner’s hometown are of the more liberal variety and were more than willing to accommodate both an interfaith couple and one in a long-distance relationship just prior to the wedding (we had all-but lived together for four years prior to that distance).
Honestly, since then, we haven’t faced many of the bigger hurdles. She’s very supportive of my religion and I of hers. She’s attended a few ceremonies with me, especially those that were of personal significance, and I’ve attended Mass with her, especially when she was singing. We haven’t started a family yet, she’s finishing her veterinary medical residency in just over a year and we agreed that doing so while she’s working 14+ hour days seemed like an unnecessary hardship on both us and any children. That said, we’ve talked about it and have agreed thus far to engage children in both faiths as much as possible. Even our respective families have been supportive of our relationship; mine has a Jewish and Christian background, hers is Catholic all the way down.
The largest hurdle, believe it or not, was bureaucratic: I took her name and that has caused no end of grief related to computer databases that have no “maiden” name field for those identifying male!
Thanks so much for sharing. Your configuration (Catholic-Pagan/Witchcraft) is fascination–and one folks should learn more about.
I appreciate your offering the details of how you were married, including that you ultimately receive a blessing from a progressive priest. I imagine this will give others hope who are in similar circumstances.
Peace to you as you continue to walk the road of love and happiness,
PS: That’s interesting re: male maiden name on databases, I hadn’t thought of that before–I guess the database creators hadn’t either. Something to advocate for!
WOW! All of this is confusing to read–much less to live! My husband and I are of the same Evangelical denomination from childhood. We have been married more than 30 years. We have four children and 2 grandchildren. The normal stresses that come with merging two lives (and extended families) into one is enough without the complication of choosing to do this with someone of another vastly different way of thinking. We are learners and do not fit in a box. We have learned two foreign languages in the last 21 years and raised all of our children in Asia (we are American born U.S. citizens). I also struggle with witchcraft being called a religion. To each his own. Thank you for the opportunity to express my opinion as well.
Thanks so much for chiming in!
I’m fascinated by your choice to raise your children in Asia (and think it’s wonderful!). How did you come about that decision? What is work that took you all overseas?
Also, what experiences have you had in terms of seeking to harmonize/adapt American culture with Asian culture, if any? Just based on our two week honeymoon in India, I’m certain there are cultural differences, and am curious as to any adjustments you’ve made.
Thanks for sharing,