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When Two Become One - Interfaith Marriages

by The Reverends Irwin and Florence Schnurman, Wedding Clergy

In a world that is becoming increasingly global in scope, the chance of meeting and falling in love with someone of a different culture, race or religion is increasing. While most weddings are a cause for joy with family and friends gathering to celebrate a union, sometimes it can be fraught with tension, and even bad feelings, as people try to create a new life from different family backgrounds and beliefs.

We are The Reverends Irwin and Florence Schnurman, Interfaith Ministers performing weddings on Long Island and Metropolitan New York. From our experience, there are more intermarriages than ever before. We also feel that objections to such marriages are becoming fewer.

We may prove helpful to those who are considering marriage to someone of an unlike background in the Metropolitan New York and Long Island area. We strive to celebrate the union of two traditions rather than to impose conditions which the couple must satisfy. The couple will come to view their respective religious traditions as springboards into a shared life. The past honored, the present solemnized, the future regarded with hope.

As Ordained Clergy with deep faith in our fellow man we affirm his right to make significant life choices freely and intelligently. We regard the human mind as one of the great avenues to spiritual realization, we encourage among our adherents the free play of philosophic thought, effectively combining reason with theological proposition. Judging someone else's ability to marry properly is at best an unfair proposition. Yet the religious leaders of the world continue to do so on a regular basis. The verdict passed on an interfaith or second marriage generally reflects disapproval. We need to recognize that the couple who is contemplating marriage or those who have already joined their lives together are the ones who can offer insight into their relationship.

Those who find themselves labeled as a "difficult" or "mixed" or "interfaith" marriage insist that the value and individual qualities of the couple supersede concerns for similar backgrounds. The assumption that unlike backgrounds signifies an inherent flaw in a marriage composition suggests that society can only sanction love when there are no strings attached.

Often couples face bitter obstacles which love alone cannot erase. A quandary exists as to how best to respond to an insensitive, even hostile environment. Some couples question the wisdom and prudence of their heartfelt decision to marry. Some couples elect to move to another place where the expectation is that a less judgmental culture will prove more conducive to raising children of a mixed marriage.

There can be no doubt that couples with diverse backgrounds face a valid wide range of concerns as they pledge to make their marriages work. Concerns expressed to us are:

  • Family disappointment and outright embarrassment.
  • Society's skepticism, "We all know these marriages fail".
  • Grandparents' concerns about which religion the children will be raised in.
  • Religious Concerns. Can the children be baptized in church, will they be admitted to religious school? Can they be Bar/Bat Mitzvah?
  • Family Concerns such as which religious and ethnic customs will be observed and remain intact.
  • Isolation resulting from a breakdown of support from the family and friends.

It would be ludicrous to suggest we have the ability to wholly change the attitudes of the world. It is our desire to transcend the religious and cultural difficulties that those in need have experienced. We wish to extend our compassion, concern, love and caring, which has been our tradition. We welcome those who stand on the periphery of their religious community which chooses not to honor their religious differences. So you may, once again, find each other in the warmth of a caring faith, with support and understanding, during your time of need.

We seek and enjoy full spiritual fellowship with other religious of the world. "Never Instead of, Always In Addition To".

Before considering a civil alternative to your "difficult" marital problem, we suggest it might be wise to discuss your situation fully with one of our Clergy. You will find him/her to be sympathetic, compassionate and understanding. He will listen to you and evaluate your situation with an open mind.

Couples we counsel and perform marriage ceremonies for are couples who come to us for a variety of reasons. Many couples have encountered obstacles from their own churches for such things as a second marriage, marrying a person of another faith, and the question of how the children will be raised. It is sad that it causes animosity. It does not create happiness for a couple trying to be happy. They want to do the right thing and raise a family. Spirituality should make it easier, and not harder.

They feel the only option open to them is to go to a justice of the peace. These are Godly people and they want to be married with God present. However, the pressure comes mainly from the family who are used to things being done in a certain traditional way. An interfaith ceremony can unite people of different faiths who all believe in the same God. There's a lot of hurt out there and we're dispelling it.

In addition, many parents and relatives have become upset at the prospect of a ceremony being performed in just one of the two faiths; or of a ceremony in which one faith is the main focus. For this reason, it is important that couples clearly discuss with their families the type of ceremony they will have and their feelings about not only their own faith, but that of their future spouse. In this way, traditions and cultures of both religions can easily be incorporated into their own unique ceremony, which they sometimes create themselves from the many choices and options we give to them.

Counseling sessions, which are sometimes recommended before a wedding regardless of their religion, offer a good opportunity for a bride and groom to not only learn about the other's religion, but to also consider ways to merge traditions or celebrations during the marriage.

The question of interfaith marriage also can extend to where the ceremony will be held. If one or the other of the families will feel awkward attending a different place of worship, the best choice could be to have the ceremony in a neutral location. Many reception locations have facilities where a wedding can be performed. Problems that arise over an interfaith ceremony can always be resolved by the proper counseling of an Interfaith Minister who will have the best interests and the peace and harmony of the families in mind. Given proper notice, a wedding at any location can be arranged.

While this may seem the most insurmountable of problems to the couple at this point, things can - and probably will - change in the future. The amazing thing that does happen after the original blush pales, is that afterward the family forgets, and the people are taken for what they truly are. We have seen plenty of situations in which the parents were absolutely opposed to a marriage because of the differences, but in the end, came to love the new spouse, and particularly the grandchildren who come along in the future. It never fails.

We think we do try harder to overcome objections. We see happiness being created where there was none. The most important thing to remember through it all is the couple's love for each other, and their desire to share this love with their friends and family, to create a new bond and a new family together.

CREDITS

Article by The Reverends Irwin and Florence Schnurman,
Wedding Clergy, 7 Huntingdale Way, Middle Island, New York 11953-1932
(516) 345-3606, email: weddings@alphamedia.net


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