My Interfaith Ministry
Becoming an Interfaith Minister was not a conscious choice for me. I think of it as God's choice for me. I was professionally employed as a Counselor serving a multi-ethnic, international population and decided that I might want additional education to assist me to better serve my clients. I wanted to understand the belief systems, religious and cultural differences that defined the individuals with whom I worked.
Initially, my goal was to study, to learn and to be of service. Later I fell in love with what I was doing. It was an amazing and exciting experience to identify not the differences, but the similarities of the world religions…
The majority of interfaith weddings that I am asked to perform are Jewish-Catholic combinations. People come to me because they are in love and have been told by more traditional clergy that they should make a choice between one religion and the other. A couple may also have decided that they prefer to have one officiant representing both of their religions. Most often, when neither partner is particularly religious, nor practicing his or her respective religion, this seems to be a preferred option.
Sometimes I am the one to educate people about their own religion and to make suggestions as to which elements of each religion might be appropriate to include. Occasionally, it is the non-Jewish partner who asks to have Hebrew included in the ceremony out of respect for the family he or she will be marrying into.
I have several meetings with couples in preparation for a wedding. They come to me and discuss their history. They may have dated and broken up because of religious differences or family pressure. They may have tried to meet someone else who is more "appropriate". Finally they may have realized that love is too precious to lose and that they are unwilling to live without each other. They then begin to seek assistance to help them move forward. Some seek counseling prior to announcing their engagement and that is actually a good idea, since we can explore the issues and prepare for them before they actually arise. Some couples decide to choose one religion for their family. However, more and more couples are moving into marriage planning to introduce both religions into the home. Their intention is to respect and honor both of their histories, to teach their children about both of their religions. They realize that ultimately their children will make their own religious choices as they themselves have done…
Often the actual ceremony includes readings from both the Old and New Testaments. We may say both the Sheheheyanu and the Lord’s Prayer. We may have a Unity Candle Ceremony in which the couple, with or without their parents, light tapered candles signifying their individual families and traditions, and then simultaneously light a larger candle signifying their newly married status and the union of their families and traditions. This can be performed in various ways. Sometimes both sets of parents are involved, often only the mothers join the couple and sometimes a couple chooses to be the only ones involved.
We may also have the Breaking of the Glass, which becomes a symbol of the breaking of barriers between people of different faiths and cultures. We pray for a world in which all religions are celebrated and respected peacefully.
I write each wedding for each couple representing what they have chosen to include. Each wedding is unique as each couple is unique and has different needs. For example, many interfaith couples opt to have a huppah under which they are joined by their parents. Since the bride and groom reverse positions in Christian and Jewish weddings, we often decide which side each will stand on according to the heritage of the bride. Some Christian grooms decide to follow their own tradition of waiting for the bride rather than being part of the actual processional or being escorted by parents as in a traditional Jewish wedding…
There are opening remarks, prayers, blessings, a personal message …and often a memorial for family and friends who have passed on. There may be a blessing over the wine and the accompanying wine ceremony. There are vows, personally written by the bride and groom, and a ring ceremony. My task is to weave the traditions together gracefully so that all present recognize something that is indicative to them of what a wedding in their own tradition would include. Mostly there is the mutual sharing of joy, love and happiness.