Blending Religions

By Chandra Orr

December 18, 2009 5 min read

With a little compromise -- and the right officiant -- a mixed-faith couple can design a ceremony rich in tradition, one that reflects their shared values while satisfying families on both sides.

"One of the biggest challenges is for the couple to be true to themselves, accommodating to their parents and gracious to their guests," says Celia Milton, a minister and civil officiant based in North Haledon, N.J. "It is a delicate balancing act, but when done well, an interfaith ceremony can present mixed groups of guests with an experience that they find interesting, informative and inspiring rather than alienating or exclusive."

*Find the Right Officiant

Who will preside over the ceremony? It's one of the biggest questions facing mixed-faith couples. Some opt to blend the two traditions with co-officiants, one from each religion. Others bypass the predicament with a secular civil servant.

"Many couples choose to go this route, eliminating all religious references from their ceremony, thereby sidestepping the problem," says Maureen Thomson, wedding officiant and owner of Lyssabeth's Wedding Officiants, with offices in California, Colorado and Oregon.

In each case, an open-minded officiant is a must.

"A professional wedding officiant who is not a member of either faith would be the best option -- someone who honors all beliefs," Thomson says.

Look for an officiant experienced in mixed-faith marriages, one who can offer plenty of advice on blending the two traditions.

"They'll be able to guide the couple to rituals and readings that will be appropriate to the ceremony," Milton says. "They'll also be able to counsel the couple on traditional elements that they might not have considered but that might be very, very important to the parents and family."

Even if your pastor, priest or rabbi makes an appearance, skip the church, the mosque or the temple, and opt for a secular location.

"Start with a neutral playing field," Thomson says. "Holding the service at a place of worship will send the message that one religion trumps the other in the marriage, no matter what elements of the other religion are interwoven into the ceremony."

*Create New Rituals

Instead of fussing over your differences, focus on the commonalities between the two faiths.

"Embrace the diversity of beliefs right at the start of your ceremony, framing it as a positive element, as opposed to a challenge," Thomson says. "It is rare that there are not some common fundamental beliefs that can be used as the bedrock of the wedding ceremony."

Consider the important rituals from each religion -- from the glass breaking at the end of a Jewish ceremony to the unity candle common in Christian weddings -- and use those rituals as a tie between the faiths.

"These can all be combined or new rituals created," Milton says. "I had a Jewish-Christian couple who did the glass breaking at the end, but they used a glass Christmas ornament hidden in the velvet bag."

"Another couple had their moms, one Jewish and one Buddhist, present them with their wedding rings and offer a short traditional blessing as they did. It was lovely," Milton says.

Look for ways to incorporate subtle symbolism. Ask the officiant to honor each faith with an article of clothing -- a yarmulke worn with a stole bearing a Christian symbol or a prayer shawl worn with a clerical collar. Such representation can go a long way toward appeasing older relatives without saying a word, Thomson says.

According to Thomson, when blending religious customs -- such as lighting a unity candle under a chuppah -- focus on the symbolism rather than the religious interpretation and your guests will be onboard. Ask your officiant to explain each ritual and offer insight into the history of the diverse customs.

"Oftentimes, once the meaning of a ceremony is explained, objections dissolve," Thomson says.

And don't overlook the reception.

"At the reception, there is generally less stress about convictions," Thomson says. "Consider a dual blessing over the meal; incorporate traditional dances and customs from the separate cultures; or make a toast to both sets of parents, celebrating diversity and tolerance."

Above all else, focus on what you as a couple want in your ceremony -- but be mindful of others. Throughout the planning process, talk openly and honestly with your family.

"Oftentimes, parents are afraid that their child's love for someone of another faith means that they are rejecting the faith of their upbringing," Thomson explains. "Reassure parents that you still ascribe to your own faith but simply wish to honor the faith of your spouse-to-be."

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