Finding Our Faith

“Book officiant.” That’s what all the bridal magazines told me to do at least nine months before the wedding.

To be honest with a year to plan I’d been more preoccupied with short ribs or halibut, buttercream or fondant, than with deciding who would perform our ceremony. But somewhere between selecting mini crab flautas to be served during cocktail hour and corn bisque for a starter, I realized the menu shouldn’t be my top priority. For the first time, Eric and I would have to explicitly address our different religious backgrounds and decide how Judaism and Christianity would factor into our life together.

While we were dating, Eric and I had introduced our different traditions to each other. I relished giving him his first Christmas stocking. Now we celebrate that holiday with my family in Pennsylvania. Sometimes we dine with friends on the Jewish Sabbath and for Rosh Hashanah. When we celebrated Passover with his family, I was introduced to the prayers and the food in addition to the extended family.

The religious differences that had seemed simply novel early in our relationship became more significant after he slipped a ring on my finger. Neither of us demanded our religion take top billing. I didn’t want to get married in a church and offend Eric or his family. He didn’t want to force us to have the ceremony in a synagogue. Yet selecting the place we’d be married and someone to officiate would be viewed by friends and family as a public announcement of the identity we’d assume as a couple and the religion we’d most likely pass on to our children.

I would have gone to city hall the day after he proposed, but Eric wanted a more traditional celebration. I got on board with the idea and, as in many couples, assumed the female lead in executing the plans. Initially, I focused on creating a completely secular event. We moved forward with plans to book our ceremony in an outdoor courtyard with a reception in one of our favorite restaurants. We considered asking a friend to marry us, having fun thinking about who would tell a good story, who would cry. Our second thought was to hire an officiant, someone without ties to either of us. I’d found nondenominational and interfaith leaders who would travel to Boston, learn our story and craft a custom ceremony for our day.

Eventually those ideas fizzled, and we found a meaningful, if not religious, place for the ceremony and reception. The Boston Public Library was devoted to art, architecture and learning. A hidden courtyard offered privacy and intimacy. Eric and I were both excited about the space. Still, we had a site, but no one to perform the wedding.

Our families, meanwhile, were further along in the debate over our religious future than we were. Throughout our planning, Eric’s parents encouraged us to talk with their rabbi. On the wall of Eric’s childhood bedroom is a poster of him clutching a basketball and wearing a baseball cap. The poster is inscribed with words of congratulations for his bar mitzvah. Mazel tov, the kids from school penned in red and black Sharpie. His parents probably look forward to participating in the same coming-of-age ritual for their grandchildren. I suspect they also may worry that since I’m planning the event, Christianity will trump Judaism on our wedding day and beyond because it’s what I know. But my own family wonders if our kids will be raised Jewish, perhaps assuming that our physical proximity to Eric’s parents and their more active role in a religious community will influence us.

In any case, Eric wasn’t actively seeking a Jewish congregation to join, and I hadn’t been interviewing Protestant churches. Maybe we were just being lazy; maybe we were avoiding a task that would send us in different directions rather than help us move forward together. I didn’t expect to find our answer at the voting booth. I’d rushed into the church that served as our neighborhood polling place for the local elections one fall day, worried there would be a line. But I was alone to cast my vote. When I left, the sun was beginning to fade. I breathed in the fall air and glanced around. I hadn’t noticed it when I went in, but there were two flags out front – one with the seal of the Episcopal Church, the other with the Star of David.

I learned from the church’s website that in addition to the Episcopal gathering on Sundays, Jewish services were held there on Friday evenings. There was a rabbi in residence, and the two congregations had formed an urban interfaith center.
But it wasn’t until my first Sunday service that I found out the Jewish worshippers had roots in this old Protestant church. The progressive Jewish congregation didn’t just lease space. The faiths shared offices and worshipped under the same roof. The Episcopal priest prayed with the Jewish congregation, and the rabbi addressed Christian worshippers once a month. For the last five years, the two faiths had literally been living and growing together.

It sounded like a good prescription for our marriage. After church that day I called Eric, who was traveling for work. I think the relief in my voice was audible. I told him the lines in that church were blurred just enough that I could see our future there.

And I added another check mark to our wedding planning list.
– Lauren Keiper