Ask Team Practical: Parents and Priests

At the start of wedding planning, my fiancé and I had a very clear idea of what kind of wedding we wanted. We quickly chose a destination that meant a lot to us and that many of our guests would enjoy traveling to. After a while, it became clear that no one in my fiancés family had any interest in going—or could not afford it. His family lobbied for us to move the wedding to his home state, which was not even our second choice (I’m from another country and would have preferred to get married there, but again, his family couldn’t make it). The deal was thus that if we just hold the wedding where they wanted, we could do all the other arrangements as we pleased—they were just happy to be able to be there.

Although not our first choice, this arrangement turned out to be perfect. All kinds of services and vendors are available, and friends and family from around the world are excited to come. Until now. Suddenly the demands are coming. Although the guest list was fixed and we had agreed on an intimate and personal ceremony, we are now getting requests to invite peripheral family that we’ve never even met. We’re being asked to include certain traditions that we do not consider ours. But most of all, we are now being what feels like forced into having a priest. We’ve told his parents many times that we do not intend to have one. My fiancé is religious but particular about his choice in clergymen, and he is not interested in a stranger officiating on a most personal day. And me, I’m not religious at all. My main concern is having to lie in my wedding day and make promises about a god I don’t believe in. I have told them I am open to include a religious reading or blessing in our otherwise secular ceremony, but so far I’ve gotten nowhere. His parents have now taken the step of talking to my parents to get them to convince me to have a religious ceremony. And they’re being moved… I feel like I am being bullied on all fronts now, and that the ceremony we’ve carefully been working on with our good friend who we intend to officiate is but a dream. How can I keep refusing their requests without making enemies? Will our guests think our secular ceremony is a hoax? Should I give in and declare my love for God and feel like a sell-out on “our” day? Any advice would be most helpful.


Dear Anonymous,

Is it just me, or does adulthood feel like a succession of compromises? I feel like I’m constantly trying to decide where to stand firm, and where it’s okay to ease off. Picking a spouse is like that. You’ve gotta decide what things are important (that she’s intelligent) and what things you can sort of get over (that she’s got a stupid laugh). The same goes for weddings. There are things that it’s okay to compromise on, and then there are times when you just need to stand your ground. It’s really not my place to tell you what makes an acceptable compromise and what doesn’t. I mean, maybe her laugh really is that annoying. But, let’s be honest, I’m probably gonna tell you what to do anyway.

We talk a lot about the wedding as an opportunity to bring your loved ones together and honor them. Because of that, yeah, what your parents think factors in. But more important than honoring the people you love, your wedding is about making a promise to one another as a couple. That’s the primary purpose of the whole day. Making that promise about something you don’t believe, to someone you don’t believe in? That sounds like a big mistake. This is it. This is the foundation you’re building your marriage around. This is the commitment that serves as the basis of it all. To parse out, “Well, I meant this part, but not really this one,” just sort of muddies the whole thing.

Beside all of that, if you don’t sort out this religion stuff now, it will (more likely than not) creep up later. Parents will furrow brows or make side-eye when there are no christenings for grandbabies. There will be guilt trips heavy with exasperated sighing over whether or not you were in a church on Christmas and Easter. And even if I’m wrong and the religion-pushing stuff dies off after the ceremony, butting heads with parents over whether or not they get a say, probably will not. This is the chance to begin to lay the groundwork for standing firm. Although it may take several rounds of reestablishing boundaries before they stick, it gets a little, teeny, tiny bit easier with some practice.

The guest list is a bit of a different story. Take a look at those two major meanings of the wedding day that I gave you above. First and foremost, to make a promise to your partner. Second, to involve and honor and celebrate the people you love. Those two main ideas should serve as the basis for each decision. (I mean, most of them. Some of it is just, “Oooh, this is pretty!”) The question is, which parts of the wedding are about honoring your family, and which parts are about representing and building the foundation for yourselves as a couple? It’s possible that keeping the wedding small is really tied up in how you view your relationship to your partner. But it’s possibly more likely that the guest list is just the guest list, and tacking on a few extra people would be a nice way to love your family.

I know you sort of hoped to avoid navigating that, but, sorry, tradesies don’t work in weddings. You can’t say, “Well, now that you’ve weighed in on this part, you’re not allowed to care about the rest.” Your parents are going to care. It’s up to you to now begin navigating which parts of your wedding, and later your marriage, their care impacts.


Team Practical, how did you determine where to compromise with family on the wedding day? Did any of you have religious services, despite not being religious yourselves?

If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!

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  • One More Poster

    Right on, Liz!
    And not only that, but I say this as an ordained pastor in mainline Protestantism and a post-modern gal myself.

    I would MUCH rather a couple be true to who they are, rather than living out someone else’s expectations. To make promises before a community of faith and God just to fulfill family pressure or childhood/societal ideal of the “perfect wedding” (but the church is so pretty!!. Isn’t it what we’re *supposed* to do?!) is disingenuous–and unfaithful in its own stead. It also reinforces the ingrained idea in the States that the Church is civil religion and reduces the faith to nice platitudes.

    I find, too, that some folks have a distorted understanding that if they get married in the church, then somehow all with be perfect and well when things get tough.

    A secular ceremony does NOT mean your marriage is doomed; that the commitment is less; that you’re an uncouth heathen; or that you have completely shut the door on faith, whether Christianity or other expressions.

    • Kess

      I feel somewhat conflicted about this comment. I’ve been considering being married in our family church despite the fact that I no longer consider myself to be a particularly religious person and my partner is an avowed atheist. I like that the church has such a connection to our family and our history, our minister is a really lovely person, and I know it would mean a lot to certain members of my family to have the marriage celebrated there. We haven’t decided either way what to do yet, but I hope it doesn’t make me disingenuous and unfaithful if we do decide to go that route!

      But of course I appreciate the rest of your comment, people definitely shouldn’t let themselves be pressured into a religious ceremony for the wrong reasons!

      • Jaya

        Oh no I accidentally reported your comment instead of hitting reply AND I’M SO SORRY.

        Ok on to the actual response.

        I think your dilemma is different because you actually feel a connection to the church, and want to be married there, rather than your family forcing it down your throat. People have all sorts of different relationships to religion, and if yours is less I-believe-in-God and more I-believe-in-this-place, I think that’s pretty valid. If it’s meaningful for you and your partner, go for it, but make sure that it’s what’s true to you, not just to please everyone else.

        • KB

          Kess, I totally feel you and Jaya is right-on – I personally am getting married in a church with a religious tradition that I didn’t grow up in, even though my partner (the more religious one of us!) didn’t really care one way or the other about a church service. It just FEELS right and “real” to me, more so than the most personalized secular venue would. It’s like love, there’s no rhyme or reason sometimes, and doesn’t need to be – it just is.

          • Kess

            This pretty much sums up exactly my feelings on the matter :). Figuring out your feelings on this stuff is so hard. Especially seperating out what is your own legitimate personal feelings on a decision and what is just internalized societal or family pressures. I think Jaya is spot on that the real issue is whether it’s truly meaningful to you.

        • Kris

          ” I-believe-in-this-place”
          Wow, you’ve summed up all my hard feelings about getting married in a church! I’ve been struggling to explain to my non-religious friends why I feel fine getting married in a church.
          I’m an atheist and can be pretty anti-religion, however my fiance is catholic. We chose to get married in his parish church not because it was “right” or to give into family, but because we shared so many happy memories there as a couple. So while it does make me uncomfortable to reinforce the getting-hitched-in-a-church stereotype, I believe in the space and my memories in it.
          APW commenters rock!

          • Laura

            Kris, I would love to hear how you navigated all of the Catholic pre-cana stuff as an athiest. I’m a not-so-much-practicing-anymore Catholic, and my dude is an athiest, and the question of whether to get married in the church is something that we will have to figure out soon. I feel like it would mean more to me to get married in the church, but i’m not so sure that we will be able to meet the Catholic marriage requirements and be able to go to the Catholic pre-marital counseling, especially since we live so far away from the church I grew up going to, and I haven’t really found a home parish in my new city.

            And I feel you exactly on believing in the place!

          • Kris

            I wish I had some awesome advice to give, but we haven’t even begun the pre-cana class hoopla yet. We live 3 hours from his home parish and we worked it out with the priests that we will attend the classes here and be married there. They even offer the classes online for a small fee. There are different ‘levels’ of wedding ceremonies, including one for a couple where one partner has no faith/religion. The upside is that one is also the shortest!
            I feel my fiance feels similarly as you do, he doesn’t go to mass all the time but it means something to him to be married in the church he’s attended since he was born, where he was christened, where he was confirmed, and where we met. My decision is to get married in a beautiful place with my beautiful guy and not worry so much about the rest. That being said, I know there maybe specific instances where I don’t agree with the church’s teachings. I trust that he understands and supports me and my beliefs.
            I would say just try to go with your gut. It’s very common now days for inter-faith couples to marry and everyone I’ve met so far has been very understanding (we’re getting married on Halloween and no one at the church even batted an eye and I live in the southern bible belt).

      • kyley

        I think the key is that One More Poster says that you have to be true to yourself as a couple. If getting married in this church, but this minister, speaks to your values as a couple, then you’re being true to yourselves. Those values can be religious, but they can also be community-based values (this is a special place for my family, I value the role this minister has played in our lives, etc.) and that’s totally cool.

        It’s not cool if you’re pushing your values to the side b/c of external pressure, as seems to be the case the OP is describing.

        • One More Poster


          I want the couple to be honest with who “they” are and what they desire, not what their family wants or thinks is socially appropriate.

          Plus, I understand that faith is a very fluid thing; what draws us Gen X and Yers to church, temple, mosque, ashram is not the same as our parents. We are searchers. Our doon-to-be spouses often share a different faith tradition (or no faith tradition) that we do. I’m fairly flexible within wedding planning.

          Though, I’m clear with people that since I am a Christian minister, it will be a Christian service. I will mention the name of Jesus and bless using Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Other ministers may have a different take, but that’s a boundary for me.

      • One More Poster


        Obviously, I don’t know you and your particular situation. Whatever you work out with your family and officiant (whether religious or not) is what’s going to be right for you.

        As you’re considering this, you might want to ask yourself:
        “Why am I doing this?
        Beyond the fact that it will mean a lot to my family, will it mean a lot to *us* as a new baby family?”
        “Will it make my partner uncomfortable?”
        “Can I pray the prayers, say the vows, and mean them?”

        That may help you come to a decision that is authentic and lets you be you with integrity.

    • Melissa

      “A secular ceremony does NOT mean your marriage is doomed; that the commitment is less; that you’re an uncouth heathen; or that you have completely shut the door on faith, whether Christianity or other expressions.”

      THIS. I just had a huge fight with FH’s uncle (and, by extension, his grandparents) regarding getting married in the Catholic church. I wish I’d had the presence of mind (beyond utter shock) in the moment to say those words to him. If ever it comes up again, I will be borrowing your words in my stand for who we are as a budding young family.

      • One More Poster

        You’re welcome! Now, off to finish my Maundy Thurs. sermon!

      • Laura

        The Catholic church is so all-or-nothing about weddings! Either you meet ALL of the requirements and have a Catholic wedding, or it doesn’t count at all in the eyes of the church. Or at least that’s what it feels like. I see that a lot of other christian denominations and other religions have so much more flexibility with how to bring religion into the ceremony, and I wish we Catholics could have that too! I imagine that Catholic families have more conflict over religious vs. secular weddings for this reason.

  • Anne

    In my experience, parents (yours or your partner’s) often end up second guessing the choices you make for your wedding, but I’m sorry they’re not listening to you at all about something that has deep personal significance — that can be really frustrating.

    We had a priest marry us. I’m not particularly religious, but it was important to my husband, and I wasn’t opposed to the idea; we both grew up in households where we went to church regularly, and both enjoy singing in a church choir. However, I was fairly clear that I didn’t want to make promises in our ceremony that I didn’t believe in — and that meant cutting any references to god out of our vows. The priest who married us is a good friend of mine, and she was totally fine with allowing us to rework some of the language, as long as she still felt comfortable.

    This ended up being the right choice for us, but I get the sense from your post that you may be more put off by having a religious ceremony than I was. If so, I agree with Liz — some things are negotiable, but others most certainly are not.

    • One More Sara

      It sounds like being married by Some Random Person/Priest is the thing the letter-writer and her partner are most opposed to… maybe if she frames it that way, taking the religious argument (mostly) out of it, the future in-laws might be able to understand better?

      • Granola

        It wasn’t clear in the post whether there was a secular someone the writer already had in mind to perform the marriage. If you have an alternative, then I think it’s easier to make the case of “we don’t want a stranger marrying us.”

        But if there isn’t a known alternative, then religious objection may be the more effective tack.

        • SAmantha

          “I feel like I am being bullied on all fronts now, and that the ceremony we’ve carefully been working on with our good friend who we intend to officiate is but a dream.”

          • Granola

            Ah! Thanks for the clarification. Reading fail.

          • Samantha

            Not at all it was hiding in there!

        • One More Sara

          I went through something similar (though not nearly as extreme) when choosing the church and pastor for our ceremony. My home church has been getting a new pastor almost every 2 years for a while now, and since I moved away over 3 years ago, I haven’t had a chance to get to know the new guys. (I also heard a first-hand account that one of the new pastors literally preached to the not-religious groomsmen, trying to convert them to Christianity at the rehearsal. I didn’t want him within 500 ft of my wedding, let alone officiating.) While my mom REALLY wanted me to get married at our home church, I explained my feelings about really not wanting a stranger officiating ([Pastors] are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.), which might exclude having the wedding at home church, bc outside pastors must be approved by the pastor at that church, and the last two had strictly not allowed any of that.

          tl;dr While my mom was dreaming big about a ceremony at my home/childhood church, she knew that that might require a stranger officiating, which she understood I was SOO not down with. (Throwing in a horror story to illustrate my point didn’t hurt either.)

        • Emily

          I hear you about not wanting to get married by a stranger. Unfortunately, due to the laws of where we’re getting married, we can’t get a friend/family member to officiate.

          This might not be the best option for the writer, but we’re treating our (secular, stranger) officiant as an MC, and most of the content will come from friends and family offering their thoughts and saying the pieces that are important to us. Luckily she’s very open to doing/saying whatever we’d like her to do, but that might not be the case with a priest I recognize.

  • B

    The wedding day is also about announcing in public your new baby family, and what better way for his family to start respecting that than to stand your ground and establish some boundaries. Your fiancé might be their son, but its yalls wedding and it needs to reflect your values as a couple.

    • Claire

      Yeah, what she said.

  • Rose

    My two cents – I compromised and had a ceremony with religious elements even though I am not religious at all. In fact, I mentioned god in my vows. I regret that most about my wedding, 5 years later!

    To be honest, I never really tried to have a purely secular ceremony (this is going to sound dumb, but as the first of my friends to get married, and before wedding blogs were ubiquitous, I didn’t know you could have a secular ceremony), but I knew the whole time that I wasn’t entirely comfortable with the religious stuff and I let it happen anyway. Biggest wedding regret

  • Liz B.

    I totally agree that you should stand your ground on who marries you. Although our entire wedding was awesome, the ceremony was the most personal part of it. I really didn’t think it would matter all that much to me (we dated for ten years before getting married and lived together for half of that time) but knowing the person who performed the ceremony made it so incredibly amazing. Perhaps it is different for everyone, but if you/your partner feel strongly about this- hold your ground.

    The guest list is something that you can probably bend a bit on (assuming you can afford to accommodate more guests). Both of the mothers requested we invite people we either hadn’t met or hadn’t seen in ages. Only four of those people accepted and although I had truly believed having them there would make us feel awkward, they weren’t even on my radar except for the five or so minutes I spent chatting with them. If it keeps the peace and you can afford it, it probably won’t impact how you feel on the day at all. It’s also possible you’ll meet people you wish you’d known all your lives or want to keep in touch with after the wedding. Families are like that sometimes.

    Best of luck :-)

    • Martha

      I am so sorry you’re having trouble with the ceremony. Though I have not experienced difficulties with this, my heart goes out to you – as this truly is the most important part of the day.

      Which means I agree with Liz B. The guest list thing, eh? Just let it go. My mom really pressured me to invited extra people I don’t really know, but at the end of the day, it really won’t matter to me if they are there (and a few of them have rsvp’d no so far). Now, this is with my parents footing the bill for the reception. If your parents are not, and the extra guests pose a budget issue, then hopefully you can explain it from a monetary perspective and make your parents understand.

      Best of luck!

  • I’m wondering if priest means Catholic priest here. If so, usually there’s a lot that goes into having a Catholic ceremony outside of the priest showing up–like Pre-Cana classes, providing documentation that at least one of you was raised Catholic, very specific ceremony requirements, etc. My husband and I had a Catholic ceremony, since we’re both from Catholic families and knew it would be important to them and didn’t mind doing it. But if you’re already not feeling it, it might be WAY more work and stress than just showing up for a religious ceremony.

    • Tania

      I agree with you Annie. My fiance is Catholic. He feels very strongly about us having a Catholic ceremony and because it is very important to him I am happy to go along with that, despite not being Catholic myself. However, I don’t think he knew quite how much was involved in a Catholic ceremony – the classes, the paperwork, etc etc. I think he’s starting to regret it, and he’s even suggested that we just have a secular ceremony instead!

      • Erin

        My husband and I got married four weeks ago in the Catholic Church in which I grew up. Our experience with the preparation was that it was not arduous, nor did it feel like a burdensome task once we really started it. He is Christian but not Catholic, and although we were worried that Engaged Encounter would be uncomfortable, it was actually illuminating and extraordinarily helpful. You can really get it all over with in one weekend. We prepared for our marriage with two priests in two different Archdioceses because we live in one and got married in another; despite that extra step, all of the transfer of paperwork went very smoothly because the Church does this all of the time. They like to keep really good records of things. They will help you with the paperwork. We found Catholic marriage prep to be a very purposeful and well-structured process that was worth the time. I’d give it a chance!

        • H

          Our Engaged Encounter was kinda horrible. It ended with a lecture on how birth control is causing Muslims to take over Germany, and then further, how that’s a problem. Really.

          • Granola

            We had really mixed experiences at our two day-long Pre-Cana classes (not Engaged Encounter).

            I think the upshot (and drawback) is that you don’t really know what you’re going to end up with. However, we found out later that we could have chosen any one of the area sessions (we live in NYC) and I wish we’d reached out to some Catholic acquaintances about a recommendation.

          • H

            Well, it was the better of the two options I had. A) It was only one day, as opposed to a weekend away at a nunnery. B) It didn’t involve a mutual friend whom I know in a professional setting telling us intimate details of his relationship with his wife. C) I got to hang out with my parents, who I don’t see that often, afterwards!

        • I agree with you Erin, and I was the non-Catholic party. I worried (especially since I’m not even Christian) that the Engaged Encounter would be super awkward, but it wasn’t bad at all. Though they never anything as bad as what H described, they did do a fair amount of talking about things I personally disagree with (especially on the birth control front) but since it was a lecture not a dialogue you just have to sit through it and it’s over soon enough.

          As for the rest of Pre-Cana it was actually really awesome, although that is largely dependent on the person you are meeting with.

          That said, if the OP’s future in laws are talking about a Catholic priest then they may also be levying the requirement that you have to get married in a church (though the Catholic church does allow you to get married outside the church in certain cases, if you do that the priest cannot receive the vows so you would need a co-officiant). OP if you are even considering acquiescing to their demands, you need to do your homework on what they are actually asking for.

        • alicia

          I’m glad that Catholic pre-cana wasn’t too bad for you, but it seems to vary widely from Diocese to Diocese and church to church. My husband and I are both Catholic, but they wouldn’t marry us until my husband went through all of the prep again (baptism, communion, confirmation, etc.) all because my husband is from a third world country that lost his baptismal certificate and records in a fire.

          I agree though that the classes can be really helpful. We learned a lot from ours even though we got married in a church from a different denomination.

          • Martha

            I completely agree – it really does vary from diocese to diocese. And even from church to church! I am Catholic and my fiance is not. The first church we contacted made it seem like this was a problem – that it would require a ton of paperwork. Quiet frankly, the priest I spoke to was rather stern and did not give me the confidence that our wedding prep would be a positive experience for my fiance.

            Well, that church did not have the date available This was definitely a blessing in disguise. The priest who is marrying us was much more laid back. Told me it definitely in no way a problem my fiance was not Catholic. Told me he has never had a couple not get “approved” to be married. We as a couple feel very confident our wedding will be great, and it is all thanks to one priest. The officiant can make or break your ceremony so I think it is very important for the couple to be completely comfortable with that person (whether it be your friend, local priest, relative, or the freaking mayor).

          • @Martha-
            We had a similar experience between two deacons in the same church (I wrote about our experience on APW).
            The first deacon we met with told us we absolutely had to get married in the church building no question. False. But then we ended up meeting with a different Deacon who said we could get a dispensation to get married anywhere.
            We even told the deacon who performed our wedding that we were planning to raise the kids Jewish and we still got approved and he still co-officiated at our outdoor wedding under a chuppah.

      • Theodora

        It’s also possible that “priest” refers to a Episcopalian/Anglican priest, as that’s what this faith tradition refers to their ministers as.

    • Meg

      I’d love hearing from more Catholics here who have found compromises, given our church’s distaste for compromise. Sadly, when you search for information on this online, it’s easy to find a lot of hateful information about “invalid” marriages and how you should shun/not even attend weddings that do not include the Catholic sacrament.
      What I have found does indicate that it’s possible to receive the sacrament and recognition in the church after the fact, even if you have a secular ceremony, provided you go through the necessary steps and the spouse is a baptized Christian. My fiance was raised in a loosely Protestant household, and I have a lot of respect for his desire to have an honest ceremony that is inclusive to both our families. However, I worry about the idea of my family seeing our union as “invalid.” Has anyone had any positive experiences seeking the sacrament separately from the wedding ceremony?

  • Meaghan

    Yeah, that would be a total deal-breaker for me – I could never have based my vows on something I don’t believe in. I spent way more time than I should have googling to make sure that the NYC city clerk’s office ceremony didn’t include any references to god.

    • It is worth noting that the Catholic vows don’t mention God.
      I, (name), take you, (name) to be my husband. I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.

      Plenty other parts of the traditional service do though, including the ring exchange. (Take this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity in the name of the father, the son, and the holy spirit.)

      • Blimunda

        Really? In Italian Catholic vows say “I welcome you to be my spouse, and with God’s grace I promise…”

        • Straight from the hands of the Deacon, those. They are the US traditional vows. vows.
          There are plenty of God-y parts you have to promise (the statement of intentions, the rings, etc) but this isn’t one of them.

  • Lisa

    One angle you could take with the parents is to explain that you feel that it would be disrespectful to their religion to have a religious ceremony when you are not a religious person. That way you’re framing it as trying to honor and respect their beliefs (by not making false promises in your wedding). I think having a religious reading or blessing is a great way to incorporate some mention of God into the ceremony to appease the parents without you having to make any statements that would feel untrue to your beliefs (or lack thereof).

    • Marie

      This is how we handled it with my family (I’m atheist, he’s agnostic). Told them how disingenuous it would be for us to say the words but not mean them, and we didn’t want to do that to their religion. (I thought this was a fool-proof plan. It’s a humble stance, full of acceptance and well-meaning.)

      My grandmother replied, “Well I don’t care whether you believe it or not, you just have to say it. Otherwise you won’t be married.”

      She has since realized that she was kind of a bitch about that, and has told us that of course we’ll be married, she was just hurt that our wedding won’t be what she envisioned. Still, fun times.

      • Melissa

        I’ve had a similar reaction. One uncle said, “If you’re not married in the eyes of God, why bother?” I doubt he’ll have the same realization that your grandmother did, but luckily we couldn’t really care less what he thinks.

    • Whitney S.

      We had this same problem with my parents wanting a random preacher marrying us. And we used this same argument to explain why it wouldn’t fly. Then my mom said a similar phrase to, “I don’t care. You have to get married by a preacher. If you don’t you aren’t really married, and we are withdrawing financial support.” I told her to do what she felt like she needed to do, and we walked away from a big chunk of money. I’m still really disappointed in my parents. It’s not the choice I would make if I were in their shoes. BUT. I haven’t regretted it once. It was the right call. We will figure out to pay for a wedding on our own terms.

  • Emily

    I grew up Jewish, and my husband was raised Catholic (all the way through high school) but neither one of identifies as a practicing Jew/Catholic. When we were planning our wedding, his Catholic mother was so desperate for us to have a religious ceremony that she called the town’s only temple to ask that rabbi if he’d officiate. I still laugh about that.

    I recommend figuring out what you want and standing your ground here. It’s your ceremony, and the words you hear and say on that day are about you and your husband first and foremost. There are wonderful officiants all over, some who have religious affiliations and some who don’t. You can even have two officiants!

    We chose to include a few lines from the Old Testament in our ceremony, to mollify his mother. I would never use anything from the New Testament, so that was the line I drew. I love the quote our officiant (who studied Buddhism for her ordainment) chose. We were all happy with it.

    • That’s similar to me, except I still practice Judaism (although my spiritual beliefs are more agnostic, I keep pretty firmly to a lot of the traditions and holidays–munching on my lunchtime matzo as I write this!) Preyonce is firmly atheist, but raised Catholic, and his parents (mother in particular) have suddenly gotten more religious.

      We will not be married in a synagogue because I was raised in and practice Conservative Judaism, and Conservative Judaism does not allow Rabbis to perform intermarriage and does not allow an intermarriage ceremony to happen in a synagogue (preyonce has no desire to convert–although we will be raising a Jewish home and having a Jewish wedding–and I’m not going to push it obviously, although he has allowed that he may change his mind one day, especially if kids are involved). Yes, the Conservative Jewish stance on this is WAY lame, but this also brings up the issue of…who is going to marry me? My childhood Rabbi, who I think is AWESOME, can’t do it, and while I sort of know the reform Rabbis in my hometown I don’t know them that well. So it will likely be someone random, sigh.

      Also, preyonce is really against the mention of God in the ceremony, and I’m not a huge fan of it myself (see: agnostic). But, I still want a Jewish ceremony. I’ve found some Reconstructionist Jewish language that has no mention of God, but this is going to take A LOT of research and planning.

      And we haven’t even DISCUSSED it with the parents yet, ha! This is going to be fun.

      • Emily

        Can you share some of this non-G-d Jewish ceremony language, please? I’d appreciate some help with navigation, since I’m in a pretty similar boat.

        • I found it in The Book “The New Jewish Wedding” by Anita Diamant. It is basically non-God vows if I remember–my copy of the book is at home so I’ll have to check it out later, but it is useful in general if you are trying to research Jewish weddings. (Also Meg recommends it in her APW book).

      • Emily

        What an intriguing process you get to move through!

        I suppose I was married by “someone random” except that she became someone very important to both of us. I found her online, and as I read through her website, it felt right. I liked what she said, and I liked how she wrote. We never met with anyone else; we met her and knew she was the right one. Her process of writing the ceremony was lovely, too; we filled out questionnaires separately, discussed them, and she crafted it from there. There were many edits and many skype conversations, and it was all thoughtful and enjoyable.

        The rigidity of Judasim (and other religions) bothers me. I wish your rabbi would marry you for the sheer reason that he sounds like the right person for you.

        Anyway, this is such an involved topic, and I could go on at great length, but perhaps you’ll find a “random someone” who is able to become someone really special.

        • 100% in agreement with all of this, and the hopes you have, and the rigidity of Judaism. I am hoping that Conservative Judaism gets with the program soon. I’m not comfortable in Reform synagogues (intermarriage is allowed to be performed by Reform Rabbis) so that just wouldn’t be right for me. My father actually offered the intriguing solution of my childhood cantor (person who does the main singing in a Jewish service). I was close with her as a kid and consider her an influence, but she’s retired now and so doesn’t fall under the same restrictions that practicing clergy members do. But who knows, it will be an adventure, ha.

          Very glad to hear you had such a positive experience with your “someone random”!!!, officiant style!

        • Amanda

          My husband and I also went with “someone random” for our wedding. We got to know her before the wedding, she helped us with our vows, and she was so receptive to what we wanted.

          In the state we got married in (Washington) you must have a minister or officiant marry you, otherwise we would have gotten one of our friends to do it. Too bad we weren’t Quakers, who believe that the couple has the power to marry themselves, no officiant involved!

  • It was important to us to have a friend marry us and not have a disingenuously religious ceremony. However, this was deeply upsetting to my mother, so I asked a friend who I’d met through high school youth group (20 years ago) to read a (very non-specific regarding deity in question) prayer at the ceremony. I think it helped my mom feel better about it and I was happy to be able to include this friend in the ceremony. She would still much rather have had us married by a pastor, but we made it clear that we weren’t budging.

    However, I do wish I’d been less uptight about the guest list. I was pretty unhappy that my husband’s dad had invited his cousins (who we’d never met) and they planned to bring their kids and mom. In the end, none of them came, but they sent us one of the most generous gifts we received.

    • Megan

      I think having a friend do a reading is an awesome idea. We’re incorporating something similar into our (secular) ceremony: a group prayer at the beginning of the ceremony. Though I don’t have a particular leaning one way or another, we thought bowing our heads at the beginning would help make my religious family and friends more comfortable and happy. (Um, hopefully.)

    • thursday

      I attended a wedding that was totally secular except for one reading, performed by one of their fathers, that was 100% Jesus. I thought the end result was lovely with no need to compromise on their vows. (Although I’m not sure how the religious folks felt about it).

  • Maybe I’m a bit of a jerk here, but I’d be standing my ground on both of those issues. They’ve already made an agreement with the two of you in exchange for a pretty big compromise and now it seems like they’re trying to back out of their end of the bargain.

    The ceremony in particular it seems like you and your fiancé both have strong opinions about and that if you give in neither of you is going to be overly comfortable. As far as the guest list goes? There are a lot of factors that could determine the feasibility/sense of that but unless your fiancé wants those peripheral family members I’d hold to a no, myself.

    • Granola

      I think that you’re not a jerk at all, if both sides saw the location change as a clear compromise in recognition of one party’s interest. If his family saw it as “Not a big deal and a decision that made way more sense,” rather than a boon that they received, then it might be a harder sell. Unless the couple can get them to see it that way. Though since the family did seem to explicitly agree to a location change in exchange for the couple getting their way, maybe this shouldn’t be up for discussion.

      • Laura C

        This is my life right now! Not the religion part, but how my wedding planning compromises are understood by my future MIL. I made a huge compromise right off the bat: we’re going to have two to three times as many guests as I would have chosen, because my boyfriend has a big extended family and a lot of friends he just can’t imagine not having there. But his mom keeps pushing for other compromises from me, and I’m not sure if I haven’t fully communicated to her how big this one was or if she knows and still wants more compromise from me.

        It’s a real problem when you make a giant compromise right at the outset, because then you may end up in a position where to have your wedding reflect your vision and values, you have to refuse to compromise on pretty much anything else. So you end up saying no again and again and again, and while each individual no may be small, you end up feeling like a negative, difficult person.

      • SJ

        Exactly my experience! I agreed from the get-go to have my wedding 6000 miles from my family and friends to make things easier for my fiance’s family. Instead of recognizing this massive compromise on my part, my future MIL basically takes it for granted that the wedding should be here and complains constantly about everything else, including the wedding being an hour and a half drive from her (we picked a venue in the city where we live, which is close to the only international airport). She went so far as to accuse us of NOT compromising and only making it easier for MY family. Who are flying 12 hours to be here. Right.

  • Liz nailed this. Extra people, oh well. God? For an atheist, a religious wedding is as bad as a Catholic wedding might be for a devout Muslim, or vice versa. Religion, or lack thereof, defines our relationship with that which can only inferred, i.e. the future.

    • Elemjay

      This is exactly right. It’s not “just” a ceremony that is completely meaningless. It is the WHOLE point of the wedding and it must be right for the couple. Making vows in the name of a god you don’t believe in asks some big questions about integrity and authenticity. Please don’t get bullied into doing something you don’t want to do!

      • KB

        Such a good point – and, really, which are you going to remember more, the couple extra people that you can put at some random table in the back or the words that you say to your partner’s face as you make an everlasting promise to each other? I mean, unless those extra guests dance around naked with a lampshade on their heads (or something more attention-grabbing), chances are it’s the vows that should be the line in the sand, here. They’re commenting on who you are as a person and pressuring you to change that – which is total b.s.

  • Megan

    This was the first major hurdle we had to jump in planning our wedding. My fiance and I aren’t religious, but I come from a religious family. As soon as we announced our impending nuptials, people began to ask if I would “get married in the same church as my parents,” and I had to politely decline (or step out of the conversation!). Though I know my family would prefer us to have a church ceremony, it wouldn’t be authentic to us — and this was the first time I had to really stand my ground. As someone who is often swayed by not wanting to disappoint family, this was tough for me. (And maybe still is, but we’ve made our decision — and that’s that.)

    I totally agree with Liz — there are big things on which you must stand firm, and there are smaller compromises you can make for the sake of keeping the peace. Who marries you? Definitely a big one. Though it may create a maelstrom now, I think Anonymous will feel empowered if she stands tall on the secular ceremony . . . and I wish her strength and happiness!

  • Granola

    One thing that I don’t see mentioned here is how the original poster’s partner feels? Are the two of them on the same page, and if so, how is he handling his parents’ opinions? If his parents are trying to appeal to you to do an end-run around him, I don’t think I’d be comfortable with that.

    Also, a big *exactly* to Liz’s advice about “tradesies.” It may be that you guys see it as “we gave in on the location, but now we’re done.” Since you bring it up in your letter, that leads me to believe you see them as related. But, you also mention that the location change turned out great, and it was clearly more important to have his family there than the location you initially wanted. So maybe some inner work is in order to forgive them that initial change, and just deal with the religious issue on its merits. Holding the location change over them as “leverage” won’t make the second conversation any easier.

    Lastly, in my family at least, religious objections died down over time. Sure, my cousins didn’t get married in Catholic ceremonies and my grandma whined, but that’s part of what families do and we don’t love each other less. So if their objection falls into the “whiny but not a family tie dealbreaker” then perhaps you can just trust each other, make your decision and stand firm, no matter how bad it is now. Whatever happens, best of luck and congratulations!

    • SAmantha

      I think she said that although her partner is religious he is against having a priest they don’t know do the wedding and they had been planning to have a friend officiate. Also the reason she talks about them like “tradsies” is that it seems her in-laws said if they did the wedding in their state/town they could do everything else the way they wanted. Even though, she maybe can’t take it so literally, it would be very frustrating to me to have this said and then have their actions be different. But I agree with everyone here . . . we gave a little on our guest lists, but big things are BIG and you have to stand your ground.

  • KH_Tas

    My advice, with the best of love and good wishes, is to stand your ground on the ceremony. Liz is right, and if you’re anything like me, faking religious belief while under oath and on such an important day would completely ruin it. Maybe a talk to your parents is in order? Explain that you feel ganged up on and maybe some of what you’ve said to us here?

    Hugs and fistbumps

  • Mackenzie

    Totally agree on both points! The ceremony was the most meaningful part of the day for us and I would hate for you to have mixed feelings looking back on the vows you made. Ours was fully secular, with an officiant for hire at our reception venue. We sprinkled the religions of our childhood in by asking our mothers to each do a reading of their choosing- and both picked passages from the Bible. To even it out, we had our officiant read a reading of our choosing as the closing words which felt right- our parents raised us in a faith based environment but now we were stepping out on our own and defining our marriage on our own non religious terms. We also asked a grandparent to say grace before dinner as a way of honoring him. Just some ideas that might help find a compromise!

    As for the guest list- I’m glad we held firm in the original guest list, but a few last minute additions (one of which involved family members threatening not to attend if a certain person wasn’t invited) were not worth the arguments and tears. When we caved and added them, everyone’s sanity was restored and it became a bit of an inside joke with my husband at the wedding whenever we spotted the strangers (we’d quote How I Met Your Mother: “damn you Patrice!!!” But with their names and secret fist shaking and then giggle). And we truly we so busy with all the people we DID invite that they were barely on our radar.

  • Katherine

    I was raised with a smattering of different religions, went to Catholic school and was baptized Anglican. My parents don’t identify with a church anymore, even though FH and I attend the church he grew up in which happens to be Mennonite. His parents want us to have a mennonite ceremony, but I know that would make my parents and family uncomfortable. We sat down with a pastor from the church whom we know and designed our own service incorporating the anabaptist elements that seemed to have significance to us and eliminated the ones that didn’t. While is family wasn’t quite thrilled the saw us putting the effort to making his upbringing honored. With that said, you should never have to say vows you don’t believe in, you should as Liz said start setting your boundaries, even if it is rocky at first.

  • CPM

    We’re treading this ground right now. Both of us want to do a Quaker-style ceremony (where we set aside some time for silence/ allow members of our community to speak) because while neither of us is religious now, we each grew up Catholic and we have family and friends from many religious traditions. We want to give our loved ones an opportunity to voice their support/blessings, using the words that are meaningful to them, in the ceremony. The sense of community was always the most meaningful aspect of religion to me, so this is a way for us to honor the traditions that shaped us without subscribing to them ourselves.

    Our parents are all fine with it, but my grandmother has apparently been complaining to my mother about us not getting married in a Catholic church (although several of her other grandkids have also had out-of-church ceremonies). Since she’s the only grandparent who will be there, I’m thinking of having her read 1 Corinthians 13 as a way to both honor her and– is it so wrong?– appease her.

    • H

      Ok. I know it’s crazy, but can we have an open thread on readings (and INCLUDE religious readings) ? I mean, 1 Corinthians is gorgeous, but I have heard it at every. single. wedding. I have ever been to, and I would like some other options to be known to the world. That is all.

      • CPM

        Hee, we’re thinking about 1 Corinthians precisely because it’s at every wedding! Nothing would say “tradition” to the people in our lives who care most about it more than 1 Corinthians. Also because there isn’t any “God” language in it, which makes us a little more comfortable with it– there’s a little about faith, an allusion to life after death, but nothing too too Christian-specific.

      • KB

        I second this, but a couple suggestions – my friends had an outdoor, Methodist-influenced type ceremony and one of their readings was the Beatitudes, which was quite lovely, even though it’s not a traditional wedding reading like 1 Corinthians. I’m also partial to Ruth (wherever you will go, I will go, etc.) for sentimental reasons. There’s also a more generic love-oriented reading in John II (or III?) about loving one another – although it mentions “love” so many times, it could be its own drinking game. Most mention God in some way or another – might want to try Song of Songs, though, there’s some great stuff in there. Another “outside-the-box” suggestion for religious-oriented readings that haven’t been done before – have someone read a hymn instead of singing it.

        • Blimunda

          “Wear me as a seal on your arm, as a seal on your heart”. Best love words ever. I read them at a friend’s wedding, and I was happy to do it even if I’m not religious.

        • Amy

          I’d have to find our two biblical passages, I’m sure one was Old Testament and one was New Testament, however neither was 1 Corinthians. I married a biblical scholar who LOVES to point out that 1 Corinthians is written to the church, not to people.

        • MDBethann

          John 15: 9-17 has some great words about love (we used it as our Gospel reading last year). We also used Colossians 3 12-17, as well as 1st Corinthians. I tried not to use Corinthians, but a bunch of the other readings on the list our pastor gave us had some very clear language against divorce, and while I don’t plan for us to ever get divorced, our marriage is my DH’s 2nd (1st one ended in divorce), so I didn’t want anything that made it sound anti-divorce. His 1st marriage wasn’t healthy for him and he got out.

          Anyway, there are some lovely Psalms too that you can use.

      • Diane

        We’re doing 3 readings — Colossians 3: 12-14 (“As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”), the “Irish Wedding Blessing” and one that’s entirely secular. For us, it’s a balance that ties us to our families and our traditions while also representing us.

        • MDBethann

          We used that one too, though we also included verses 15-17 as well, which are also beautiful.

    • Amy March

      Just a caution- I’ve been to a Quaker ceremony where the guests were not Quaker, and during the time for people to voice their support and blessings, you could have heard a pin drop. It was awkward and disappointing for the couple. I highly reccomendarion seeding the crowd with people who have decided in advance to share something

      • Amanda

        I researched wedding traditions before my husband and I got married, and though neither of us is Quaker, we loved the community aspect of having a friendship circle at our wedding. Since none of our guests had experience with this tradition either, we told them all about it before hand, wrote it in the invitation, and asked one person to be the lead-off. People talked if they were comfortable, and it was really nice to have our community contribute in the ceremony. If you want your guests to behave a certain way, you have to tell them before the wedding!


    I totally, absolutely get the stance on “No Strange Preacher-person is marrying me.” I grew up in a non-denominational, non-Bible chucking Christian household. It worked wonders for me but I’ve moved to Texas and never really planted myself in a chuch…so I’m not comfortable with getting married in one. Much a relief to my agnostic FH who would rather not be in a church anyways.

    My mother was going to officiate (which I think would have been lovely) but she’s convinced she will bawl the entire time so we’re just going to let her be the MOB. I’m thinking about having my uncle officiate…he’s a deacon, but when I told him that FH had proposed his only concern was, “He can change a tire and take care of you right?” Yes, Uncle….we can change tires and take care of each other…

    So for now, we are officiant-less, officially. But I feel you. I wouldn’t want my FH to claim something he doesn’t actively believe in and I wouldn’t want to do it either. To me, your ceremony is the beginning of claiming yourselves, as a unit and to have something embedded in that claiming that you don’t consider true to the two of you….that just seems unfortunate. I hope you can find a way to stand up for what you DO believe in. Best wishes!

    • K

      While you should definitely get whatever officiant seems best to you, I just wanted to offer the perspective that one of the most moving ceremonies I’ve ever attended was when a good friend got married and her father, who was a pastor, officiated. They both cried during the ceremony. It was amazing and heartfelt and beautiful. As a guest/member of the wedding party, I couldn’t have imagined anything better.

  • We went through something similar, my Dad is very atheist and would feel uncomfortable in a religious ceremony and my fiance’s Mum was very upset at the idea of us not being married in a church with God’s blessing. My fiance and I aren’t religious but our views were more spiritual than a civil ceremony gave us space for. So finding something that would keep everyone happy has been difficult.

    In the end we are having a Unitarian minister marry us, we have managed to put together a ceremony that incorporates a bit of religion including a prayer, but doesn’t mention God in our vows or anything surrounding them. The whole ceremony is more us and we are happy with it, and hopefully having a minister marry us although not in a church will make his family feel more comfortable.

    I have to say the conversations we had arising from this problem have been some of the most interesting in our engagement. xox

  • Marie

    Wow. Three years ago I was in exactly the same position regarding religion, with the added benefit of my husband’s parents flat out refusing to come to the wedding if we didn’t have it officiated by their choice of a clergy person. I am not religious, and my husband is somewhat religious, but had no desire to have a religious wedding. We stood our ground on this issue, and for what it is worth everyone did end up coming. Even though standing our ground was tough, I am so unbelievably glad we had to work through the religion and family arguments. It absolutely strengthened our relationship and taught us how to set boundaries as a team.

    We spent a great deal of time in premarital counseling talking about this issue, and there are a few things that we picked up that really helped us if you decide not to compromise on this:

    1. Make sure you and your partner decide together what your ‘no compromise’ points are and that you are both equally committed to these points. You need to be able to stand together on this and always present a united front. If your partner’s (or your) parents are anything like my in-laws, they might try to divide and conquer, which can have devastating consequences for your baby family.

    2. Find out the underlying reasons why the parents want a religious wedding so much, and address those as best as you can. For us, his parents thought that I was pulling my husband away from his religion (and them by extension). We dealt with this by only having my husband deal with his parents, reassuring them that he is not being manipulated/leaving them/leaving his religion and telling them both his personal and our joint reasons for not wanting a religious wedding.

    3. Once you have explained your reasons and addressed their concerns to the best of your ability, stop engaging. You don’t need to continue justifying your decision to anyone but yourselves, so if they continue to whine/threaten/complain then simply state your decision and tell them that this is a personal and joint decision and that you will not be willing to compromise.

    4. Don’t shut them out completely though. Change the topic and try peace offerings that you can live with. For us this was asking for opinions from them on aspects of the wedding and ceremony we didn’t feel so strongly about, and having a relative sing my mother-in-law’s favorite song during our ceremony. Perhaps for you this is letting them offer some suggestions for a religious reading?

    I wish you both the best of luck in this with whatever you decide to do!

    • Army Amy*

      Fantastic advice! I especially agree with the two of you standing together when it comes to not compromising with others and handling those people by getting to the root of the issue. We didn’t have this issue with wedding planning, but it reared its head in married life (where to spend holidays, career changes, where to live).

      My father-in-law tried to get me to talk my husband out of joining the military (after it was too late). Even if I had reservations about the decision, I made it clear to my FIL that my husband and I were happy with the choice, we valued his opinion, but it wasn’t up to him. He still fights us on other decisions, but it helps my husband and I to know we can rely on each other when handling him.

  • This sounds a bit like our wedding in some ways. I wanted a Colorado wedding, but we knew that my husband’s family wouldn’t be able to afford the trip, so we compromised and had it in Minnesota where we are living. We started getting pressure to invite family we didn’t know and friends of my husband’s parents, but we quickly told them there wasn’t room in our venue and that was that. It’s very important that you and your fiance talk about what is important and present a united front to both sets of parents letting them know exactly how your day is going to proceed. Bottom line – it is your day and things like religion are important and his parents (and yours) need to know what to expect in the years to come. My dad wasn’t super pleased with my relationship with my husband when we first started dating, but he really likes him now and accepts him for who he is despite their many differences (including religion). I think it’s okay to compromise on things like flowers and seating at a wedding, but when it comes to something as important as whether or not a priest will officiate – put your foot down!

  • Rachel

    Although I have only been engaged for 2 months, I have already had family drama. My mom had a dream in her head that I was going to get married in my hometown, in my childhood church, with a reception in our backyard. In fact, we dreamed about my wedding growing up and I could picture that wedding too. The thing is, I didn’t have a groom at that point, and the wedding isn’t between my Mom and I.

    When my wedding turned out to be very different from that (we chose a city between our hometowns), she hated every decision I made. She even got resentful towards my groom to be, even though they were our joint decisions. It was pretty awful for a few weeks. There were many tears. My fiance even wanted to step in and talk to her. But I stood up for our joint decisions. And then guess what? We held our ground, and she came around. She’s more excited and supportive as ever.

    I’m sure if you fiance held his ground with your JOINT decisions then she would come around too. I definitely think its up to him to address it though!

  • It’s obvious the OP cares about her future in-laws and her parents since she’s even given them a voice in the wedding plans.

    But to me, and I see this here sometimes and it kind of bugs me, the OP shouldn’t be guilted about “honoring her family” as a main part of her wedding. I thought weddings were about the bond one makes with their partner and the guests honoring that love. My wedding wasn’t about honoring anyone but my husband and I. As a normally over the top selfless person, I’m confused about why the message is always about other people and the wedding. I just wish we had a little less selflessness and a little more selfishness. Because I think for a lot of people, putting themselves first is something they rarely if never do and I think we should encourage more self love and self care – especially on like one day of your life. Surely that one day its ok to please yourself first. If you don’t want what your parents want for your wedding, you tell them no, with kindness and love, but you tell them no. You don’t have to contemplate whether this is where you can honor them.

    Maybe I’m warped here, but everyone gets their chance to feel special in life. Your parents get to feel special on their days, they don’t need to feel special on yours – or at least it doesn’t have to be a main focus for you unless you want it to be. So I’m here sticking up for the selfishness. Because I think its ok and I want that said a little more often.

    • KEA1

      AMEN. “Exactly” wasn’t enough here for me. Disclaimer: I am from a family who *chronically* hijacks other people’s experiences (good and bad) and makes them about themselves instead, so this is a very big sore point for me. Having said that, I have honored my family for my entire life. I have congratulated them on their various accomplishments, celebrated with them when they’ve wanted me to celebrate with them, supported them when they’ve needed my support, and EVERY. SINGLE. OCCASION. I have made sure that I take my cues from what *they* need so that the celebrations of their joys or the support for their sorrows could be the most appropriate to them. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that they would show me the same consideration when it comes time for me to be the focal point (or half of the focal point, in the case of a marriage) of the celebration. Just as people grieve differently, and people have a responsibility to respect that, people celebrate differently too–so people have a responsibility to respect that.

    • elizabeth

      Because–as Liz points out, and very rightly so–“Take a look at those two major meanings of the wedding day that I gave you above. First and foremost, to make a promise to your partner. Second, to involve and honor and celebrate the people you love.” If it really is just about you and the spouse, then go have a special photo-shoot and elopement. Weddings are much more than just a super special day for the two people getting married, and that’s why compromises have to happen.

      And not everyone gets to feel special in life–but really, that’s not what a wedding is about. It’s about the beginning of a new family that brings together two previous families.

      • Thank you, I appreciate your thoughts and I understand what you are saying, but do you understand that everything you wrote is an opinion and only an opinion? It isn’t a fact and therefore you can’t hold everyone to that standard. There is no rule or law that says the wedding is about family.

        And I think its important to remember, especially on a great site like this one, that always encourages brides to feel safe expressing views against the grain, that we aren’t required to think weddings mean anything. At all.

        If you have a family, or are close to your family and you want your wedding day to be about them too – go on lady! Good on you! I’m happy you have that option. But not everyone does. And not everyone wants that option.

        “It’s about the beginning of a new family that brings together two previous families.” To some people. It wasn’t to me. And I’m pretty sure that’s true for others as well. So let’s please stop making broad statements like this, and accept that to each his own, and no one is a bad person if their wedding is about them. The couple getting married. It’s ok that it be just about them and for the guests, it can be the option of celebrating them making that commitment. It DOESN’T have to be about anyone else, not if you don’t want it to.

        • Marina

          I do think if you want guests to be at your wedding, your wedding does, to some degree, have to be about them. If you don’t care whether or not you have guests there, absolutely it should just be about you and your partner. My reading of this letter is that Anonymous not only cares about whether or not her and her husband’s parents are at the wedding, but also cares about what her relationship with them will be after the wedding. That’s a very good reason to consider their wishes for the wedding. (Not necessarily a reason to give in! But consider.)

          • Inviting guests and being super glad and touched and moved and humbled that so many people wanted to share in my husband and I’s day of love, fits just fine with my idea that our wedding day was about US. My husband and I. We were not required to honor anyone but each other nor do anything other than pledge our lives to each other. That’s what everyone was there for. And we were extremely lucky to have some wonderful friends honor US with kind words and loving thoughts.

            What did we do for our guests? We fed them and gave them drink and music and celebrated with them. But our wedding was still about us. I don’t honestly understand why that’s such a bad thing to say and why we can’t let one another celebrate and share our wedding days in the way we choose to. You have your wedding where you make special concessions and compromises to please a bunch of other people because that’s what makes you happy and I’ll have mine, where we celebrate how much we love each other and allow the guests to feel as they choose – perhaps even honored they were even invited to share the special moment with us.

            I just wish there was more open mindedness here and me pointing out how judgmental some of these comments seem, isn’t getting me anywhere so I give up.

          • However you see your wedding, parents are going to be in your life for a long time afterwards and the decisions a couple makes about the wedding can definitely have a huge impact on how that relationship plays out over years.

            I myself would not be giving in on either of the points the OP brought up … but I’d also need to find a careful way to navigate making and articulating those decisions. In some ways it’s harder compromises to me that it’s the partner’s parents because who wants to start their “official” relationship with their in laws off on the wrong foot? The decisions might just be about the wedding but the relationships last longer than that.

        • Dawn

          I think I’m with Kristen here. I think maybe I look at weddings more as birthday parties for the new family that is being built. So sure, if I were to throw a birthday party for me or my partner, I’d want my guests to be comfortable and well fed and have a great time. But I’m not honoring them. And I’m not inviting random people I don’t know just because some of my guests know them. And I’m not having someone, like a priest, speak when I don’t believe in their views (well, I guess at a birthday it’s not like anyone would be officiating but still).

          If and when my partner and I ever get married it will not be the beginning of a new family bringing together two previous families. I love my family very much and my partner does his but to be blunt, the only time they will ever interact will be at our wedding and while sure, we’re a product of our families, our family will be bringing together two individuals into one new family. It’s not about our families of origin. I get that for other people that is what it’s about but I’ve actually never really seen that and it doesn’t play any kind of role in what my wedding will be.

        • Whitney

          Kristen, I get you. It’s all about personality styles, I think. I’m very,” Look. We’re gonna get married. You guys can come if you’re interested.” And those that are, will show up. Some folks take the approach that they are throwing a party or celebration, in which that point of view I think lends itself to having guests and making them comfortable…like when I invite people over for cocktails and snacks or something.

          I think the “community event” POV might be in direct response the over-the-top intensely selfish parodies of bride we see these days in media. I think everyone can agree that there is “this day is about our relationship” and the there is “I WANT ALL THE THINGS PERFECTLY OR I WILL POKE YOUR EYEBALL OUT!!!!”

          So yeah. I’m also on team “This is a day to celebrate us”. I’m excited if you’re excited but I’m really going to still be excited if you hate everything :)

          • Yes, Thank you, I think you’ve really nailed it. I just wish we could talk about when its good and healthy to be selfish, or let’s call it, self focused. I think your wedding day is a more than appropriate time to not put everyone else before you and your partner. How anyone could argue against that, is frankly appalling to me. The wedding day is about the bride and groom. If they want to open it up to be about their parents, or their families, or community, etc., great! But its first and foremost about them.

            As someone who has a problem with constantly putting others before myself, as someone who is happiest when I am doing for others, thinking of others, helping others, I feel my temper raging when I get push back about putting myself first on the rare occasion. I’m not a martyr, nor do I want to be. I’m allowed to be selfish on my birthday (though I’m not) and I felt I was allowed to be selfish on my wedding day. And by selfish I mean not listening to others opinions on how I should do things. Or not asking anyone but my husband how the day should be. We paid for it, we planned it, we’re the ones who are getting married, it was for US. It seems like part of the way we can eradicate the nasty bridezilla sterotype is by allowing that its effing natural and OK to want your wedding to be about you and your hubby. It’s OK! And for anyone to intimate otherwise, is in its own way selfish. Selfish to put your own thoughts and wants over what the couple themselves wants. It’s their day. Like seriously. Let them have it.

    • Another Anna S

      Kristen, I just want to thank you for so clearly articulating my exact feelings on this issue. I don’t think it’s ‘warped’ to acknowledge that everyone is coming to an event to honor you two and your commitment to each other. I am with you 110%; pressing ‘Exactly!’ wasn’t enough!

  • Mags

    This might have already been said in the comments, but you really need to make sure you and your partner are standing firm together on this issue. And since it seem’s like it’s his parents who are doing most of the trouble-making, he’s the one that needs to talk with them.

    My parents are religious and Catholic, I kind of am, and my husband is not at all (he was also raised Jewish). Being the one closer to my parents and the one in between on religion meant that I needed to put my foot down on how much religion was going to play in our lives. If my husband had tried to explain to my parents why we weren’t going to have a Catholic wedding or even incorporate any religious undertones, they probably would have resented him and been more upset that I’m “giving up my religion for him” (not true, but I’m sure this thought has crosssed their minds more than once). So during our wedding planning I was the one who simply said “no, we’re having an outdoor, secular wedding, let’s move on” and that I think made a big difference in how they thought about our wedding. This was our decision as a couple and didn’t involve them. (It also helped that I had siblings who had secular weddings, but if you’re the first, this is even more important.) In the end I’m sure my parents and most other religious people at the wedding did not think our wedding was any less valid because it was secular.

    Also, this will come up again and if it has to do with your husband’s family he will need to continue to mediate. This past Christmas I simple said “my husband can cook that dish for Christmas Eve dinner, because he won’t be going to church with the rest of us.” They would have preferred if he had come, but they accepted it because I had accepted it. It’s hard to deal with, but the longer you do it the easier it gets. So definitely start now.

    • KB

      I totally second this piece of advice, that YOU have to be the one to talk to YOUR parents because otherwise it creates bad blood between them and your fiance. There are certain responsibilities that you will always have as a couple and dealing with your own parents is one of them. It reminds me of that scene in The Fighter where Amy Adams comes with Mark Wahlberg to his parents house to talk about his career and his mother is shooting her death glares every time she opens her mouth – sometimes it’s best to just let your partner handle their parents, even if you think it’s clumsy/not thorough/etc.

    • ” “my husband can cook that dish for Christmas Eve dinner, because he won’t be going to church with the rest of us.” They would have preferred if he had come, but they accepted it because I had accepted it. It’s hard to deal with, but the longer you do it the easier it gets. So definitely start now.”

      I am dreaming of the moment when my preyonce says that for me. As a Jewish person, Christmas Mass is just SO uncomfortable for me, and I am hoping that I can duck out of it soon and, you know, just offer to stay home and bake everyone cookies!!!

  • I believe I’m in the minority here, and want to preface this by saying that I got VERY lucky. Also, my family is protestant, which allows a lot more leeway than many other sects of Christianity.
    My husband and I used the minister at my parent’s church, at their request and against our wishes. This is a man that I refer to as “the linebacker for the lord” and neither my husband nor I are religioius. It was really important to my parents, so we met with him and read through our list of concerns honestly (we wanted to be married by someone who belived in marriage equality, would not include God in our vows, and would remove all references to wives serving/being owned by their husbands). Surprisingly, he was very open to our requests, supportive of our beliefs and turned out to be pretty awesome at officiating weddings (probably because that’s his job). My husband and I truly enjoyed getting to know him through our pre-marriage counseling and our ceremony remains my absolute, hands-down, favorite part of the day. He did an amazing job, the ceremony felt like “us” and I am SO SO SO glad that we gave him a chance.
    In any case, I don’t know the particulars of your story, but wanted to be a voice for the fact that it can work out well, provided the clergyperson in question can cope with your values.
    It may calm your future parent’s in law down if you take a meeting with their priest and determine, based on your questions and values, that it is not going to work for you. Then at least you can say that you tried.

    • Heather

      That’s kind of what we did – my mom would have really liked us to have a religious ceremony but we are both completely agnostic. But the church I grew up in is super-liberal ELCA Lutheran, so we agreed to meet with the pastor (who we both knew) and talk about what kind of ceremony she would do.

      It turned out that she wasn’t comfortable excluding religious references and we weren’t OK with including them, so we found a secular officiant. But I think it made my mom feel better that we were willing to at least look into it. (Of course, my mom is not into guilt-tripping. If she was…well, let’s just say that my oppositional-defiant inner child would have made quite the appearance.)

  • Lauren

    It is deeply important to me to have a religious ceremony, and my atheist fiance is 100 percent on board with that because it is important to me.

    That said, we are taking an X-Acto knife to the UMC marriage ceremony to avoid him having to promise anything to God in particular. He’s OK with prayers being said over us, and God being invoked, but not with making any false promises. Our pastor is also quick to point out that he doesn’t want my fiance lying all up in the church! Our community of faith is extremely accepting of my fiance where he is, even if, as he puts it, his faith journey has dead-ended.

    But in your case, I’d say be true to yourself and your relationship. I’m a huge fan of telling people to suck it and move on, but if that’s not your style, get him to back you up. Or, be like Fezzik in the Princess Bride: “Everybody MOVE!” You’ve got somewhere to be. That place is married.

    • Brittany

      I feel like that pastor hit on how I feel about this. I’m a devout Catholic, and I find a lot of meaning in the traditions of the Church, and I would definitely prefer that someone who is deeply uncomfortable or disingenuous not use the sacraments to please others. There are lots of places and ways to get married, and their are ways to respect the religious beliefs of parents (ask a priest or deacon to do a blessing or say a prayer at the ceremony? If you look you will find someone who will do that), but I think there is something a bit, disrespectful is maybe too harsh, but I can’t think of the right word, about walking into a church and making those promises but not meaning them. There are lots of good reasons to get married in a church- identifying with the traditions, alignment with your beliefs, a connection to the minister or priest, a connection to the place (ie- it’s the place my parents were married or I was baptized, etc) but pretending to make someone else happy on a day where you are making a pretty serious set of promises doesn’t seem quite right. I’m not sure if that comes off super harsh (I’m not intending to be judgmental). I think Meg talks about using religious traditions really well in the comments of this post ( had to go searching for it).
      I guess what my point really is is that you shouldn’t do something or say something that you can’t do or say honestly, especially in the context of making one of the most important sets of promises you will probably make.

  • Anonymous Atheist

    Hi! I wrote this post, and am so glad to see all these comments – and that you all think that this is one issue I can stand firm on. The conversation on to priest or not to priest has not ended yet, it comes up every time my FH is on the phone with his parents. It’s actually gotten to the point where they’ve said that as long as we dress up our (Jewish) friend-officiant in a(Catholic) robe and tell everyone from their side of the family that he is a priest, its ok. Which to me sounds a whole lot like its not really the religion that’s important, but what everyone else from church is going to think about us – and them as parents. This makes me even more sure that our (current) decision to say no to the priest is the right one. My FH is open to having a priest come bless us at the end of the ceremony, though. Does anyone have any experience with this? We’re getting married outside of both our hometowns, and don’t know any priests in the area. Would priests be willing to do that, or are they likely to be more ‘all or nothing’ when it comes to wedding ceremonies? And would we have to pay him, if he’s not from my FHs church?

    Just for the record, my parents heard his out, but told them it was our decision to make and that they would not try to influence us (despite my parents also being religious).

    • alicia

      1) Honestly, I don’t know if a priest would bless you shortly after the ceremony-especially if he catches a glimpse of someone dressed up in garments he earned through study and sacrifice (ok, that sounds a little dramatic, but I’m still on my first cup of coffee).

      2) If his parents just want it to “look” like a priest married you, it makes me question the authenticity of their beliefs.

      3) I doubt a friend of yours would want to dress up as someone from a different religion to perform the ceremony. That strikes me as ridiculous.

      My three cents…

    • Anne

      Many denominations (or at least the Episcopal church) will do a separate blessing of a secular marriage — maybe that would be a way to appease them. It’s usually a separate ceremony, but would allow for a religious blessing without incorporating it into your ceremony.

      I’ve also been to ceremonies with co-officiants, where one person did most of the ceremony and the other did more of the peripheral elements — if you have a family friend or acquaintance who’s a priest, depending on the denomination that would be a good way to incorporate religion into the ceremony. But again, if we’re talking about a Catholic wedding, then probably not. I know in the Episcopal church and many other Protestant denominations, a blessing would be perfectly acceptable at the end of a secular ceremony.

    • Laurel

      A fake priest costume? YIKES.

      On the guest list, I’m curious how many extra people they want to invite. At one point my dad wanted to invite all 35 second cousins to an 80-person event; that was a no go but adding an extra 5 people we didn’t know well was totally fine.

    • B

      what about having each set of parents say a blessing instead? they could read a short scripture during it if they wanted to add something to it. whats the point of having a strange man in a robe who doesn’t know you or your family ‘bless’ your marriage and than waltz off again? it still doesn’t get to the point of your dilemma.

    • elizabeth

      We got married in a civil ceremony in Scotland (spouse’s home country), then had a Catholic vows-ceremony here in the States (I was raised this way, spouse knew and liked the priest even though he’s a hardcore atheist).

      Anyways, my uncle and three cousins have also had civil ceremonies that were later blessed by a priest following a Catholic mass. This is a typical thing that can be easily done–but the Catholic church does have a lot of rules about who they’ll bless (no previous marriages, both baptized or equivalent, etc. etc).

      All that to say: the idea of a Jewish friend playing dress-up and pretending to be a priest would probably upset most Catholics and I cannot imagine a priest agreeing to bless that if he’s aware. It’s honestly pretty offensive, and I agree with previous poster who said that their suggestion makes me question their real motivations. However, having a civil ceremony and then having a small private blessing–perhaps just his family invited, a week or month or whatnot later–by a priest, is normal and happens.

      Also, there’s usually a $100-$200 cost for priests to marry people, give or take. If this is a stranger who has no connection to your family, there’s no way to know how he’ll react to the blessing. While there are some really amazing priests out there, there are also total kooks.

      In the end, I think you need to stand firm and tell his parents that after you’re married your way, then you can look into a Catholic blessing. But it will happen LATER.

      • So many people replied to this comment, and they’re all ringing true to me. But Elizabeth ended with what I wanted to say, so I’m posting here.

        There are lots of reasons to have religious elements in a ceremony. Sometimes it’s an important expression of faith, sometimes it’s a nod to tradition and the culture you were raised in, sometimes it’s to ease the entrance into a community and faith you want to raise your children in (That’s what I’m doing), and there are innumerable other reasons as well. Having a friend play dress up to keep appearances for parents is not one of those reasons. It might be worth it to see why they are so interested in having a priest be a part of the ceremony.

        Secondly, priests are all different. Some will be more than happy to bless your union, or lead a prayer. Others will try to make you convert. Never be afraid to talk to a few people instead of just one.

        Good luck!

    • Laura

      I do believe that a priest will perform a blessing of your marriage. They might not make a special trip to your ceremony to do it, but if you arranged to have a blessing one Sunday after Mass they’d probably be okay with it – I’ve heard of them doing that before. Worth checking out anyway.

  • I think my blood pressure went up when I was reading this! This kind of conflict was one of my biggest fears, as I want a completely secular ceremony and it’s non-negotiable. Luckily, it’s a non-issue for us, but I feel for any couple who has to deal with this situation.

    I think Liz’s advice about the possibility of religion becoming a recurring source of tension and the need to establish boundaries now is spot on! I also got really upset on the OP’s behalf when I read the part about them going directly to her parents. That really feels like it crosses a line to me and if you feel like it does too, that might be something to speak to your parents about now (and maybe have your fiance speak to his about). I don’t know how close your sets of parents are, but that kind of thing just feels very disrespectful to me.

    • Claire

      Agreed. I felt that attempt to make an end run around you in order to get your parents to participate in pressuring you to cave to their demands was just so blatantly disrespectful. It might be worth the difficult conversation to call them out on that and make clear its not acceptable and will never be an effective tactic to overrule your decisions. But the other part is needing to stand firm because if you do cave, that reinforces that behavior and the parents are likely going to use that trick again to get their way.

  • OP, I agree with the others that you can and should stand your ground on the ceremony. It took hours of tears and months of heartache to get everyone on-board with the ceremony my husband and I wanted, but it was so worth it when it all came together.

    However, if you get into a pickle where standing your ground isn’t working, I have a recommendation. Co-officiants!
    The priest your in laws want can stand at the front for the whole ceremony, he can do a reading or two, and your friend can do the rest of it. This is what we did with the catholic Deacon at our wedding, who was permitted to be there but couldn’t (according to the rules of the catholic church) do the vows or rings because it wasn’t in the church.
    Technically the deacon was “a reader” and the rabbi was “the officiant” but if you play it right, it will look to people as if it was co-officiated.

    • Reading some of the later posts, I have some additional advice.
      My husband and I had a half-Jewish, half-Catholic wedding. We received a lot of unsolicited requests for ceremony contents, even though neither my mother nor his could actually sit down and write out their religious wedding ceremony without the internet’s help. They just knew what was in their mental picture, what a [insert religion] wedding should look like.
      We responded by keeping completely mum on the ceremony save to say: “We are doing what we feel comfortable with. We promise it will be a beautiful and meaningful service. That’s all the discussion we are having on this.”
      They can’t really argue if you don’t give them ammo. You could further say “we will take it under advisement” and then… not. But basically, if you don’t tell them what you’re doing, then they don’t really get ammunition for a rebuttal.

      • Laura

        Please tell us more about your ceremony! (if you want to). I would love to hear more about how you blended Jewish and Catholic ceremonies, especially considering both seem pretty strict about what they are supposed to include.

  • as always, all i feel i can add is “this worked for us” which, of course, may or may not be any help.

    as two avowed agnostics, one of whom (me) is particularly squicky about religion, with a pastor for a father-in-law we spent a long time figuring out how to walk the line about religion.

    what we ended up with was writing our own ceremony to our own (non religious) specifications, and asking family and friends to do readings of their own choosing – including my father-in-law (knowing that this would give him the opportunity to include religion in our ceremony, which was important to them).

    the readings were by far my favorite part of our ceremony. it was simply amazing to hear what people chose for us, and so much more meaningful to not know what was coming (plus, our people have great taste).

    but more to this point, it allowed religion into our ceremony from a very respectful, and not overwhelming, place (because to me it felt not only untrue to us, but really disrespectful to have *us* say religious things we don’t believe – but to have someone who *does* believe it incorporate it felt completely honest).

  • EJ

    Not knowing your particular denomination I can’t advise on whether a priest would participate in a ceremony that s/he is not performing. However, a lot of churches have lay ministers from the congregation who may be able to step in on behalf of the church if the priest cannot/will not participate. My husband and I were both raised in Protestant churches but are not religious, so we had a lay minister who is a close family friend deliver a religious blessing at the conclusion of an otherwise totally secular service. If the chief concern from your future in-laws is largely about appearances or their perception of what their community might think, having a member of that community participate could be a good way to assauge their worries.

    Whatever you decide, completely agree this is one to fight for. But I’d also throw in a pitch for not phrasing it, even in your own mind, as something you’re owed because you compromised on something else– that kind of scorekeeping begets more scorekeeping from all sides, and others (including your in-laws) will surprise you with the things they’ve been tracking and think they have earned through their own compromises. It’s much easier for them to get on board if you’re decisive and clear that this is what you both want, not what you think you’re owed.

  • Hlockhart

    Definitely stand your ground on the religious issue. Also, consider that if you give in now, in a sense you would be leading on your in-laws–if in the future they want you to baptize your children, or give them religious instruction, they might think that you won’t really mind since you went along with it for your wedding. You owe it to yourself and to them to be honest about the really big stuff.

    • “f in the future they want you to baptize your children, or give them religious instruction, they might think that you won’t really mind since you went along with it for your wedding.”

      This point, which Liz also made, is very very important.Especially since they are already demonstrating a “give an inch, take a mile” mentality.

  • In our case, we had a secular ceremony, and the ceremony was one of the most important aspects for us. We sent our officiant all the quotes, readings, and sentiments to be included, and she crafted it into something that sounded “official.” We had a few relatives upset (his side is predominately catholic, although his parents are athiest/agnostic, and my side is predominately protestant) that we weren’t marrying in a church or with any religious traditions in the ceremony, but we explained that those traditions weren’t our traditions. Repeating them felt dishonest, and didn’t seem fair for those who did place a strong value on those traditions for us to stand in front of them saying things we didn’t believe.

    We also had a very small guest list, because he has social anxiety and feels very uncomfortable in large groups of people who expect him to be social.

    Those two items were sticking points for us, and we held our ground in the most polite way we could manage. We did make other compromises to make sure relatives felt their input was being taken seriously, which is how we ended up with a small wedding in our city and two big parties, done exactly how each side wanted, in our home towns.

    What worked for us won’t neccesarily apply or be helpful to anyone else (I always feel the need to say that, because so many people have given us well-meaning advice at different points and assumed the opposite!)

    But we did find that sticking to our guns on these points gave us good practice for doing so on other issues later (like announcing we’d no longer be going to either family’s house for thanksgiving from now on), and we ended up doing somethign that felt authentic to us and didn’t cause either of us dibilitating stress.

    OP, I wish you all the best. These situations are sticky!

  • So, this worked out well for us, in the end. When a UU and an atheist get married, but the atheist’s family is more religious Christian, and the UU’s family is Christian, and you have tons of religious pagan friends, it gets a little complicated. The thing that we figured out was that we wanted our parents and families to take our ceremony seriously – to see it as a life changing sacred promise (even if no deities are involved). For my mom, that meant having someone officiate who looks like a minister standing at the front looking serious, even if there was no Christian rituals. For his mom, it meant sitting in a church in rows, even if it wasn’t a Christian church. We didn’t discuss the content of the ceremony ahead of time with our families – we just told them that it would be in the UU church, and they were happy with that. We got married in a UU church, their minister officiated. We wrote the ceremony, she stood at the front, looked like the minister she is, and it all worked out.

    Regarding the comment above about the in – laws wanting the officiant to “dress up like a priest”, maybe what they’re really asking for is to have the event look “serious,” instead of a hippie wedding in the park or something. Maybe their son could reassure them that the officiant will be dressed appropriately for the occasion (eg: a dark suit), and leave it at that.

    But yikes. No fun to do, but better to stand your ground on this one now than be whittled away, bit by bit.

  • Marina

    After reading your follow up comment, I’m getting a sneaking suspicion that this may be an ongoing issue between your fiance and his parents. Do they regularly push him to do religious things he’s not interested in? Do they tell their friends he’s more religious than he is? Or is this conversation completely out of the blue?

    I would look at this as a chance to practice standing your ground in a way you’re going to likely need to do for the rest of your lives together. (I’m using the plural you here, both you and your future husband.) It sounds like the two of you will ALWAYS be less religious than his parents would like you to be, and his parents will ALWAYS be getting some flack from their church friends for that. I think it’s worth acknowledging that you’re making their lives tough, but that this is not something you can back down on… unless you’re willing to keep backing down on it for the next 40 years.

    • MDBethann

      But is it the children’s responsibility to make their parents’ life “easy” insofar as comments from their friends? Honestly, it is none of the friends’ business what religion the bride & groom are and the parents shouldn’t be pushing their son and his fiancee to change because of that. If the so-called church friends gossip about it, then in my opinion, they aren’t very “churchy” nor are they very friendly and the future in-laws might want to re-evaluate their friendships.

      And based on Anonymous’ follow up post, if the friends that the parents want to “fool” their friends (for lack of a better term) into thinking a priest performed the ceremony, then maybe those “friends” shouldn’t be invited to the wedding. Problem solved. If it is family, it clearly isn’t that simple and I get that. But considering the family would be the groom’s relatives, hopefully they already know what he’s like and what he does and doesn’t want in his life. The original poster and her man will be making decisions the rest of their life together that someone probably won’t love, but it is the COUPLE’s decision, end of story, and they have to live with it.

      I’m lucky – my DH and I are both religious (UCC & ELCA Lutheran growing up, so picking a church was pretty easy for us) and we got married at the church I went to as a child. All families were happy with the situation.

      That said, because I am religious, I certainly wouldn’t want to see anyone saying anything at their wedding that they don’t believe just to make family & friends happy. When it comes down to it, your wedding ceremony is about YOU as a COUPLE and starting your life together, therefore it should reflect YOU and YOUR values. Incorporating readings or songs that represent your families of origin? Sure – it shows where you come from. But YOU need to be comfortable with the words you say and the promises you make because the two of YOU will be honoring those words the rest of your life together.

      I have seen successful interfaith ceremonies (a Lutheran-Jewish one that was beautiful) and at my religious one, found roles even for my Pagan & Jewish BFFs and neither they nor my Hindu friend felt uncomfortable (they held the trays for communion & my Jewish friend found great humor in handing her Lutheran husband his communion cup).

      If a compromise is needed though, I like what some earlier posters have said about co-officiants. It worked at my friend’s Jewish-Lutheran wedding and then the priest or deacon from the church can say a blessing or prayer but the friend can officiate. I wish the OP lots of luck with the in-laws!

  • Funny story from our own secular/Jewish wedding (aka we had some Jewish traditions but the word God was never mentioned).

    Me to my mom: I was thinking of asking Uncle to say the Shehechianu (blessing, which I had carefully worded to not reference God — only blessing in the whole ceremony) because he loves saying it, but I’d really rather ask Aunt because I’m closer to her. What do you think?

    My mom: Oh, that’s easy. Just have Uncle do that blessing, and Aunt can do the blessing over the wine (a typical part of Jewish ceremonies).

    Me: We’re not having that.

    Mom: But why?

    Me: Because it’s a secular ceremony and we just don’t want it and potential for making a mess no other religious elements etc etc etc

    Mom: Okay, then just have Aunt do the blessing over the challah at the reception!


    Mom: Well that’s not a problem! I’ll just pick one up before I get into town!

    Me: (Sigh) Mom, there is no blessing over the challah.

    Mom: Oh. Okay. Well I guess just have Uncle and Aunt do it together then.

    Lesson learned: Explain your goals upfront — I should’ve told my mom from the beginning that we were having a secular ceremony. It would’ve been easier to defend our principles (no religion, no god, limited Hebrew) than to defend our decision NOT to include each traditional element.

    • Please tell me more about your secular Jewish wedding please. Like, everything, all about it. If you don’t want to tell it publicly let me know and I’ll give you my e-mail. I want to have a secular-ish Jewish wedding and want examples.

  • Claire

    I think this is one example of how the work of planning your wedding gives you the chance to practice the skills you’ll need for the rest of your marriage. Setting boundaries is important and everyone needs to understand up front how your marriage and your new baby family will be run.

    Speaking for myself, my spouse and I are the consuls of our family. While we take into consideration the opinions and desires of our parents and the people we love, at the end of the day, we have absolute decision-making authority. Those outside people can have their say, but our family is not a democracy ruled by popular vote.

    We make our decisions thoughtfully, communicate it clearly, respectfully and firmly, and do not participate in any form of negotiation over it. If they keep bringing up the topic, repeat the decision without apologizing for it, and say the subject is closed for discussion. “I hear you, mom, and I know you’re upset we’re not giving you the grandchildren you want. And you know we’ve already made that decision and it’s not up for discussion. I’m not going to talk about this with you anymore, but I’d love to hear how your salsa class is going.”

  • ElisabethJoanne

    I was surprised by how much “what will the [rest of] the family think” came up from my in-laws towards the end of wedding planning. It was particularly frustrating because it was towards the end, when so many decisions had already been made [I thought], and when it was especially stressful to make changes and additions. I think there are 2 reasons why these things came up towards the end:

    1. Only contemporary brides are intimately aware of the typical wedding-planning timeline. So they just didn’t know how strange and hard it would be to hire a videographer 6 weeks before the wedding.

    2. Only once most pieces were in place could their personalities “see” their issues with our plans. My Jewish in-laws had known for two years the wedding would take place in my Anglican church, but it they had to know lots of details about the ceremony before they could realize we weren’t planning on having kippot at the church, but that having them was important. Likewise, only until we were close to a timeline in 15-minute increments could they realize that assigned seats at the reception were an issue for them.

    We also had months of “We want a rabbi there” flak from my in-laws. My issues with this were 1) preserving the Anglican character of our ceremony (an absolute deal-breaker for me), 2) respecting the rabbi and not having his role reduced to that of a prop or actor, and 3) everyone avoiding hypocrisy, as no practicing Jews were actually involved with the wedding. We worked out that we’d do a full Jewish ceremony at the reception if they could find someone to officiate under the circumstances. We couldn’t find one after contacting a bunch of Reform rabbis and organizations dedicated to interfaith marriages.

    I don’t really have advice. I made everyone make the big compromise at the beginning with the Anglican ceremony, and I knew I had to be flexible about everything else. My mantra was generally, “If you’ll do the work and pay for it, I don’t care.”

  • Claire

    Liz’s advice is spot on.

    My partner and I had a close mutual friend officiate our homemade secular ceremony and that was hands-down the best, most meaningful and memorable part of the wedding. If there is one area that is worth doing in a way that feels honest and true to you, its the ceremony. If you think about intention, the ceremony is how you and your partner choose to bind your lives together and define your marriage in front of your community. It is not a performance for the benefit of your in-laws or to impress their friends.

    If you don’t want to be married by a stranger, then don’t. If you don’t want to lie on your wedding day and make promises to a god you don’t believe in, then don’t. If you have been carefully designing your dream ceremony with your good friend, then declare that dream to be the final decision and make it reality. Don’t worry about your guests thinking it’s a hoax if the officiant isn’t a priest (they won’t). It’s real and its yours.

    You can be kind about it, and respond with all the grace you can muster, but just keep repeating your talking points and don’t engage in an argument or negotiation. After all, there is nothing to argue about because the decision has already been made and its final. (easier said than done, I know).

    Own this decision and then dig in your heels and refuse to be pushed around. Some things are worth fighting for and this is one of them.

  • My family considers themselves Catholic, but goes to church once every couple of years. I received my First Communion, but only because of a fluke. My husband’s family is very religious (my in-laws’ devout Catholicism — we’re talking elders who give out Communion and do readings each week — makes them the least religious branch of his family). He was confirmed in the church and went to youth group in high school.

    Neither of us are religious adults. We are firmly in the Flying Spaghetti Monster camp.

    My mother-in-law gave us booklets about getting married in the Catholic church. When we were including her in other planning and said, “Oh, we really liked your idea about…” she interrupted with a half-joking, “…having a church wedding?” (No, but her catering recommendation was a good one.) We are lucky that my husband’s older sister married a Jew, so we didn’t have to break the mold on her (we heard some stories), but it was still pretty rough.

    My grandmother (of the non-church-going family, remember) thought not having a church wedding meant I wouldn’t get an aisle to walk down. Because rows of chairs can’t make an aisle. Obviously.

    Despite the pressure of assumed-Christianity on all fronts, and reminders that my husband’s uncle (a former Baptist missionary) and aunt (wife of a fervent lay preacher) would be there, we stood firm in our decision to have a secular ceremony officiated by a friend. It was not a ceremony for them. It was our ceremony for our marriage. None of those other people are in our marriage, and therefore they don’t get a say in our ceremony.

    Plus, they really ought to just be grateful we didn’t have any references to His Noodly Appendage.

    Definitely a united front helped on this. I think there were more discussions on his side of the family than I was made aware of, for which I am thankful. We are curious what the aunt and uncle thought, but we didn’t tell them beforehand, and didn’t bring it up afterward. And if they disagreed with how the ceremony was conducted, they had the good grace to just tell us they had a good time and thought everything was lovely.

    We’re going to be dealing with more pressures in the next couple of years when we have the kids we’re planning to have and they won’t be baptized or christened or going to church. I don’t think there’s a way to explain satisfactorily that FutureKids’ Sunday dress-up routine will be so we can take them to a museum every weekend for an hour or so. (Hooray DC!) However, it will certainly be less of a surprise to everyone else given how our wedding was conducted, and the united front for the ceremony will have been excellent practice for establishing our family’s boundaries.

    • Holy crap that was a lot of word-spout.

      TL;DR: Do what’s right for you as a couple, and resist all attempts to conform to others’ expectations. It’s not their ceremony, and the ceremony’s the most important part.

      • FLYING SPAGHETTI MONSTER FTW! His noodly appendage, hee.

      • KEA1

        Every word of that word-spout was worth it. Congratulations on navigating the tricky waters, and best wishes in the years ahead!

        • Thanks so much! I hope we don’t need it, but the fact that my new-to-me Jewish niece still gets religious literature in her birthday packages tells me that we will. ;)

    • KH_Tas

      Your ‘kids museum Sunday’ idea is awesome. Mentally calculating how many museums our much smaller city has for our hypothetical kids’ benefit

      Also, agree with the rest of your post

      • Thanks! If your local museums require payment to get in, an annual membership is a good idea if you have kids, because then you can come and go as you need (if someone gets hungry or has a tantrum or whatever). A friend does this at Baltimore’s National Aquarium and she and her son can just go in for 30 minutes to watch the dolphins or birds and then leave. The beauty of so many Smithsonians is we have a wider variety to choose from, but I don’t expect FutureKid(s) to have huge attention spans for a while, so an hour or less should do the trick. :) Just like church!

  • I am so glad I will largely get to skirt this issue. My family is vaguely Protestant but really not much of anything anymore. I’ve been a pagan since I was 11. My gentleman is an atheist, recovered from a really, really strict sect of Christianity. Neither of us has any interest in having religious elements in the ceremony. If I feel the need to do anything, it will be my own ritual beforehand. We won’t be disappointing my parents, who, truly, will be more concerned with everything being aesthetically pleasing than with any religious connotations. And his mother, who is still in aforementioned strict sect, ought to be fine with a secular ceremony, since she couldn’t attend any ceremony conducted in any faith other than her own — and since her son has been out for a couple of decades now, she has no expectation of that.

    But, really, I don’t think this is an issue where anyone but the couple get a say. It’s too personal and too important, whatever the choice comes down to.

  • Newtie

    Agree, agree, agree, on so many points. Liz and Team Practical have hit it on the head.

    I made some compromises at my wedding – I had a wedding processional when I didn’t want one, I let my parents walk me down the aisle when I didn’t want that, it was more formal in general than I wanted – but that wasn’t the actual CEREMONY. That was just business around the ceremony. Things like location, what you eat, even who you invite – yes, sometimes you have to give in about those things. But the actual ceremony, the vows, what you say, who officiates, etc? That is SACRED (whether it is secular or not) and no one should ask you to compromise there.

    • Sarah

      Please, draw the line with the officiant – especially if you view the ceremony as the public foundation of your marriage. Newtie is absolutely right – the actual ceremony and who officiates is sacred and to have somebody who knows you as individuals and as a couple is so important.

      My fiancee’s family is Orthodox (Jewish) and my family is Reform (Jewish). We decided that we wanted a Jewish wedding because that is who we are and it is important. However, what that means in the Reform and the Orthodox movements is different in some ways. I’ve always wanted my childhood Rabbi to officiate my wedding and my fiancee was totally on board with that – there was no way we were going to have a stranger officiate. But my Rabbi is Reform and a woman so we might have needed a co-officiant and were not going to have his parents’ Rabbi. (Fortunately we didn’t have to go down that road). But there are draw-backs to having our rabbi – including that his family might not say blessings during the ceremony (in a Jewish wedding, there are 7 blessings and we’re asking family and friends to say them).

      We’ve made compromises in regards to the ceremony and the wedding at large (the guest list is already bigger then we had hoped) but we drew the line at a few things – like our officiant. My favorite compromise has to deal with our rings. In an Orthodox wedding, the bride cannot give the groom a ring during the Chuppah ceremony but it was important to me that I publicly give my fiancee a ring. So, after he puts the veil on me in an earlier ceremony, I will give him a ring in front of our guests. By him putting the veil on me, he is signifying that I am his chosen bride and I get to signify that he is my chosen groom by giving him the ring. We both love the twist and that we get to make it our own while respecting his parents’ religious needs.

      Its about making it your wedding and the love of your fiancee and you. I’m not sure if this helps but I hope it empowers you and your fiancee to make your ceremony yours.

  • katie

    My mom really wanted us to get married in a church and it was one of the hardest parts of planning the wedding. My husband and I are not religious at all. To compromise we had a dear friend officiate and included bible verses that I let my mom choose. I told everyone- God is invited, we are just not having the wedding at his place :) Another thing that helped- we were honest and said right now we don’t feel comfortable making religious vows, but if that changes in the future we will renew our vows.

    Good luck!! It’s a tough one, but you are right, you can not make promises that you don’t believe.

  • Michelle

    I can’t speak for anyone else but I made some compromises on our wedding day that I really wish I had not.

    My husband wanted a religious ceremony and before us getting engaged, I was pretty against that as I have some pretty strong opinions against organized religion and marriage being a religious institution.. love softened that stand-point though I guess, and we compromised and found a wonderful non-denominational minister that let me take a big red sharpie to his “standard form religious ceremony” and change the phrasing or omit parts I felt didn’t speak to me or were offensive.

    The one thing I am still on the fence about though, even 7 months after the fact, is letting my Mom talk me into having my Dad walk me down the aisle. He knew I wanted to walk alone, and he never protested. The night before, my Mom told me that he really wanted to do it and if I could please let him do so. I was tired, stressed and at the point of not caring anymore, thinking “everyone always says that things go wrong or don’t go as planned and it doesn’t even matter.. maybe this is one of those things.” I was wrong. I am so happy that I made my Dad happy that day – he beamed and looks so proud in all the photos, but I still would have preferred to walk alone and I have spoken to my Mom about how she made me feel obligated to do something I really didn’t want to do and she had known that from the start. So. I made a choice and I can own that, but deep in your gut, you know the parts that matter and for those parts I wish I had stuck to my guns a little harder.

  • Megan (not the other one)

    I actually think one of the most important things here is to decide what is important to you and what is not. No – fake priest compromises. Either have a priest and all that requires or don’t. Of course this is your choice, but most Catholics will be extremely insulted if you used a “fake priest.” Personally, I have a great deal of problems with the Catholic church but was raised Catholic. My fiance was also raised Catholic. We were considering a religious but not Catholic wedding, but it was very important to his mother that we get married in the Catholic church. I didn’t have a problem with promising to raise children in the Catholic church, but also, was unwilling to be dishonest with our deacon in order to get married in the church. I was honest about my problems with the church, honest about us living together, and honest about my plans not to be an active member in the church anytime soon. I respectfully listened to him tell me why I should be an active member of the church. It was very important to me not to lie or be false in any way in relation to my wedding.

    In my opinion, if you are unwilling to deal with the requirements of the church, especially if you are unwilling to raise your children Catholic, you may want to consider sticking to your guns on this one. The religious pressure is only going to be greater when you have kids (if you choose to do so) as “what would the neighbors think” if the grand-kids aren’t baptized.

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