Visit our new site at

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Ask the Matriarch - Interfaith Wedding Resources

I'm hopeful that some of you out there have some resources you can share for our questioner this week, as the matriarchs have come up almost empty. Perhaps not many of us have officiated at interfaith services? Or perhaps we all just "roll our own" as opposed to relying on resources? At any rate, if you do have resources you would recommend, please do share. Here is our question:

I am interested in resources for blended marriages. I haven't actually performed a mixed marriage between the couples, but often the families have some members who are Jewish or of some other faith than Christian and want the ceremony to be sensitive and inclusive. I've done a funeral like that and worked with a friend (rabbi) who was giving pastoral care to the family (but they wanted a Christian pastor to do the funeral so she called me). I've also used some of the blessings from her son's bris in child dedication services. Our combined resources made a great worship service. What do other revgals do in these circumstances? What say the matriarchs?

Jennifer responded:

Like you, my best resources for blended ceremonies with another faith tradition have come from working closely with a faith leader from the other tradition. It's a fruitful and fun process to create a worship service that honors the traditions of both. If one does not have such a resource, I think it's very much worth seeking one out. What a fun question! I look forward to hearing more from the other contributors!


Thanks, Jennifer! I look forward to hearing more, too!

In my experience, there are multiple ways to approach an interfaith wedding. One is to have two entirely separate services. My husband officiated for a Christian-Muslim couple that chose this option. The Muslim ceremony was held on Friday night, with an imam officiating, and the Christian ceremony was held Saturday afternoon, with my husband officiating. It kept the integrity of each tradition intact, and allowed guests to fully experience both traditions. It was lovely.

A second option is to have a blended service with co-officiants - one from each tradition. I co-officiated for a Hindu-Christian couple that chose this option. The Hindu leader took part of the service and I took part of the service. This can be a little more difficult to pull off and to keep a balanced representation of both traditions, but I found the ceremony to be a very rich experience for all of us.

A third option, and the most common I've encountered, is to have a Christian minister officiate an essentially Christian service with elements from the other tradition blended in. It sounds like that is primarily what our questioner is asking about. I recently officiated at a service for a Christian-Jewish couple, and that's the approach we took. They were very clear about which elements they wanted included - the chuppah, the ketuba, the breaking of the glass - and I did some online research to help me understand the background of those traditions (I'm sorry I didn't keep a list of resources). I took the time in the service to explain each of the traditions, as at least half the guests were not Jewish. I learned a lot in the process, and I felt the service was an adequate representation of both their traditions (some Jewish congregants even thought I was a Reconstructionist rabbi, so I guess I explained things right!).

I'm sure there are other ways to approach it as well. My first resource is always the couple themselves, I try to get very clear on exactly what they are envisioning, and why. I think the idea of consulting a leader from the other tradition makes a lot of sense, too.

So what about the rest of you? Are there resources, online or otherwise, that you would recommend for someone crafting an interfaith wedding ceremony? Please share in the comments section. And, as always, if you have a question you'd like the Matriarchs to discuss, email it to us at askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com.

-- earthchick


  1. While I think figuring out the service is important, I think the biggest issues is figuring out what you would do religiously speaking if you had kids. If the couple decides not to have kids then in many ways life will be a bit simpler, but if they decide to have kids or aren't sure yet then I think they have to plan ahead.

    There are many many things that you can compromise on, celebrate Passover with his family and Christmas with hers no big deal. But things like Baptism are a yes or no choice there is no middle ground and they should both be comfortable with their decision (also decide now on Briss, hosptial circumcision, or no circumcision, weekly/regular/holiday participation in a synogogue or church, Hebrew school or Sunday School, Confirmation or Bar/Bat Mitzvah, etc.) before they get married. And they need to remember she is marrying him but she gets his synoguge attending parents too and he would be marrying her but he gets her church attending parents too. Whatever decisions they make will need to be "explained" to all four parents who will expect certain religious things to happen or not happen to their grandchildren.

    My sister is dating a Jewish man and although they are not yet engaged they do plan to get married. She just emailed me to ask about pre-martial resources. Neither of them are very religious but both come from families who are still quite active in their church/synagogue.

    In addition to resources for an interfaith marriage ceremony I would be interested to hear about good pre-marital counseling resources for interfaith couples.

  2. The best advice I've received, and the only advice I've given, is to find another practising inter-faith couple and set up an evening of "how we've made it work".

    I did run into the situation where the bride was from a Lutheran background, the groom an active and committed Ismaili Muslim, and the bride was apprehensive/resentful that her children would "get" formation, rituals etc. from her husband's tradition and -- because she was inactive in the practise of her inherited tradition -- nothing from her side.

    And her solution to this was that her husband should cease his religious practise because "it wasn't fair" -- and their children should receive "equal nothing" from both sides!!!
    Face/palm, head/desk...

  3. church near cows, thank you for your thoughts about premarital counseling! You are so right that the issues involved in raising kids in an interfaith family are far more complex than the issues involved in putting together a wedding ceremony.

    And Crimson Rambler, great suggestion about setting up an evening with another interfaith couple! That has never occurred to me, but it's a wonderful idea. Thank you for sharing it.

  4. One the topic of ceremony - one resource I found very helpful was Celebrating Interfaith Marriages- Creating your Jewish/Christian Ceremoney by Rabbi Devon A Lerner. I received it through a Jewish mother of the bride who was concerned that the wedding honor both faith traditions. The book provided helpful context and a range of options as well as a chapter of explicit discussion of when Jewish and Christian traditions conflict... and sample services and Hebrew with transliteration for those whose spoken Hebrew is - shall we say- rusty...

    As for life after the service... that is a whole other conversation...


  5. Seminaries are tremendous resources as well, as they often have faculty from other religious traditions. If your ministry is in a smaller community or a religiously homogeneous area or both, that may be the only access you have to clergy from other faiths.

    One discussion I have had with couples who want to combine Native American traditions with a Christian wedding is that our worship services (which, in my denomination, weddings are considered to be) are times when we affirm our identity as children of God. We can express that identity in many diverse and beautiful ways, but I cannot officiate a service that misrepresents or contradicts our central monotheistic Christian beliefs. That helps them articulate whether the content they want to add to the service is religious, cultural or just personal, and it helps them to understand why I sometimes cannot comply with their wishes.

    Please note that I started this comment three hours ago and am only just now getting back to it, so if I've duplicated someone else's thoughts, I apologize!

  6. I would like to echo Suzy's comments. If there is no clergyperson from the 'other' tradition involved in the service, it can be a great help to consult one directly ... I've had excellent wise help from this source when I was confronted with an "interfaith" service.

  7. I wrote a long response this morning but couldn't post it because of issues with my computer...sigh...I have done several interfaith marriages and echo what has been said here.

  8. I married a Jewish guy my first semester in seminary. It is great -- we have shared significant values/ethics. The more I learn about his Judaism, the deeper sense of my own faith I have.

    Of course pre-marriage counseling is advised for every couple and I love the idea of finding another couple to explore how to negotiate the terrain. However, please don't think you can decide on all the big questions before you are living them. It is critical that couples have a good sense of what they each prioritize and how they will make decisions together, but our kids have stunned us with their spiritual quests and challenges. They are the best spiritual directors I've ever had. FYI -- they do both Hebrew school and church Sunday school. Nothing warms a pastor's heart like watching her 5 yr old practicing shins and tavs :)

    It has also been my experience with quite a few interfaith or cross-cultural weddings, that despite a family association with a tradition, the couple may not understand their own traditions/rituals. This is where I ask them what would make the day most meaningful to them and work from there.

    If anyone would like specific info -- feel free to contact me.



You don't want to comment here; instead, come visit our new blog, We'll see you there!

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.