This afternoon’s post is about an issue I know very well: the curveball of falling for someone outside your religion, and having to negotiate the fraught cultural waters of making two backgrounds mesh into one family and one wedding. And like Stephanie and Dan, David and I both came to the table as fairly religious, practicing in our own religions. There are, of course, as many compromises and solutions as there are couples. Ours involved conversion (though the real solution will take a lifetime and as many words to describe). Stephanie’s and Dan’s involves two religions. And when there are two religions and one wedding, finding an officiant is difficult (heck, when there are one religion and two families, finding the right officiant can be difficult). And of course, as with most difficult things, the learning process is a powerful one. So here is Stephanie to discuss how they’re dealing with finding a solution.
Dan and I knew each other for two years as just friends. We played outfield together on a co-ed office softball team, me in left field and him in center. Two kids raised 1000 miles apart, who grew up wanting to be astronauts and came to Houston to work for the space program. We were brought together by mutual friends, the same dream job, and chance.
Two years ago I was dumped by my ex and devastated. So I went to J-date. That’s where nice Jewish girls go if they want to find a Jewish husband, or so I’ve heard. I met a few nice boys but nothing clicked. Softball season started back up again, and there he was. My friend Dan. My really cute friend Dan. My really cute, Catholic friend Dan. Whoops.
In Jewish mysticism there is a concept of soulmates. G-d takes a soul and divides it in two. Each half is sent down to earth in a separate body, and their goal is to find each other and become one complete soul. Sometimes this doesn’t happen right away and the souls have to try again. In Hebrew the concept is called beshert, both a noun meaning soulmate and an adjective describing something as meant to be. Dan and I were drawn together by the universe, by destiny, by a higher power. Our finding each other was beshert.
Dan and I are different from most interfaith couples, because both of us are fairly religious. We aren’t a cultural Jew and an occasional Catholic; we both practice, we both believe. We knew it was important, so we discussed and decided on how we would raise our children before we even knew we’d be marrying each other. Though a difficult conversation, we arrived at our decision without much conflict. Until the wedding planning started.
I already knew that my rabbi would not officiate. I attend an orthodox Jewish synagogue. Going there is like being part of the family—the two rabbis lecture lovingly, their wives always make too much food, and their kids are always underfoot, shouting and playing. They took me in immediately and make sure I always have a place to go for holidays. But they cannot and will not perform interfaith marriages. They offered congratulations on our engagement, but they do not support my decision. Although this was not a surprise, it is still upsetting to think of losing that family, not having the support of my community. But it also makes me angry that I am forced to choose between love and religion, because I can have faith and love.
When we got engaged, we picked a target date rather quickly. We didn’t want to get married during Lent; and right after Lent is the Omer, fifty days counted from the second night of Passover to the Jewish holiday Shavuot, during which Jewish weddings are forbidden. To honor both traditions, we picked early February, ten months away. We found a venue we loved after two weekends of searching. It was already booked on our first choice weekend, so we made the decision to snag it for the other weekend before anyone else could. We had exactly what we wanted: a beautiful, neutral place where we would both feel comfortable, where our Jewish guests and Christian guests and non-religious guests would all feel welcome.
Since we both believe in G-d, we didn’t want to have a civil ceremony. As Dan once said, we need divine grace even more than any other couple, since we have a harder path. We want to honor both traditions. We want a ketubah and a chuppah. We want Bible readings and a blessing from a priest.
Blessing from a priest? That sound you heard is the needle scratching off the happy record in my mind. Not because I don’t want a priest at my wedding. I’d love to have one… if we could find one. We contacted Dan’s church. The Deacon, we were told, does all the interfaith marriages at his church. As it turns out, there haven’t been that many of them and he admitted he’s never had a Jewish/Catholic wedding, or any wedding where the non-Catholic partner wasn’t Christian. He’s clearly out of his depth in dealing with us.
We were told at our first meeting that if we want to have our marriage recognized by the Church (the institution), it must take place in the church (the actual building). We explained that we already had a date and secular place selected, so he told us that we could have a secret wedding first, our official wedding for Church and state, then do whatever we wanted in front of our family and friends. I managed to hold it together until we got to the car. “I don’t want a secret wedding,” I cried. “I want to stand in front of our family and friends and marry you right then. I don’t think we should have to hide.” My wonderful fiancé agreed this was not an option. At our next meeting, we would tell the Deacon that we would not be getting married before our wedding.
I was feeling so abandoned—by my religion, and by his—that I felt like we must be entirely alone in the world. But as I searched online, I discovered we weren’t alone after all. A few additional options arose. We could get a convalidation, basically a church ceremony after the original, “unacceptable” wedding. I also started to find more information about the stipulation that we must get married in the church. Turns out there’s a separate dispensation you can get (aside from the one he must already get to be allowed to marry me) to not have it in a sacred place. The form even uses Jewish/Catholic couples as an example for when you might require this dispensation.
Armed with this new information, we went to our second meeting. Dan stood up for us and told him there would be no secret wedding. We explained what we had researched and that we thought there were other options. He said he’d have to ask the priest or bishop, before our next meeting.
So we are waiting. We don’t know if we will have a member of the Catholic Church participate in our wedding. We don’t know if or how our wedding will be validated by the Church. We don’t know who will officiate.
We’ll just have to have faith.
Photo by: Kelly Benvenuto Photography