AOW A-Z of Getting Married – R is for Religion

 

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R is for Religion by Frances

When I saw Lucy’s post on H is for Holy Matrimony , I panicked slightly at the sight of her fully comprehensive fail-safe guide to church weddings. On consideration, I thought I would simply share our experience of deciding whether to have a religious wedding. I speak mainly from the viewpoint of what I know – getting married in an Anglican church – but I would love to hear about your experiences with other religions, or even why you decided that a church wedding was not for you.

1. It’s not just about faith

For some couples it will be a no brainer either way – yes or no, religious or civil wedding. For many of us, that decision is not so easy, particularly where one of you has grown up with religion, or you have both grown up in different religions.

I didn’t realise how much I wanted to get married in a church until I imagined not doing so. Not because I am strongly religious – far from it, in fact – but it did feel right. I was brought up as Church of England (C of E), attended a Catholic school for sixth form and have always had a general all-round understanding of the various aspects of a traditional Anglican church service. I even have a favourite hymn that most people probably won’t have heard of (and sadly which really isn’t suitable for weddings).

A does not share this background. Part of his family is Jewish, the other is C of E, but more by tradition than anything else. He grew up with stories and celebrations from both faiths and yet, arguably, did not have a strong understanding of either.

For me, attending church is not wholly about an expression of faith. I think this is why the image of evangelical-type new life churches with tambourines does not appeal to me.[1] I enjoy the hour or so of quiet private contemplation during a Sunday service; I enjoy singing hymns accompanied by an organ, because I like the sound this creates; I enjoy the sense of community that a village church brings. I love the familiarity of centuries-old words, even if I am not sure that they are true. I love feeling that I am able to question all of this, and come to my own conclusions, even if I do not know what those are yet. I wanted all of this in our wedding. And yet I was quite surprised when A, from a completely different experience and viewpoint said he felt the same way.

2. Family Influence

Although we decided together that a C of E church wedding would be right for us as a couple, half of A’s family has Jewish roots and A’s father is quite protective of his family’s history. Perhaps understandably A was keen to reflect this family history and was interested in trying to incorporate some elements of a Jewish wedding.

I agreed in principle, but I did struggle with this a little. I knew very little about Judaism, and was worried that while we were having a church wedding for us, we were incorporating these extra elements for someone else. It was a balance between family and what we (or do I selfishly mean what I?) were comfortable with. And as our meetings with the Rabbi progressed, I suddenly felt uncomfortably out of my depth, as if these elements had taken on a life of their own – while I was all for reflecting family roots, there suddenly seemed so much that just wasn’t us as a couple.

3. Compromise

We talked – so so important to always talk to each other! A sat down with his father and discussed exactly what might be expected (I haven’t the foggiest why we didn’t think to do this to start with). We’ve stripped out some of the parts we aren’t comfortable with and are having a C of E wedding with a Jewish blessing. And, for a moment of wedding prettiness, who wouldn’t want one of these? [2].

Do I wonder whether the idea of a Jewish blessing would have come up if we’d decided to have a civil ceremony? Of course – and sometimes that does bother me a little. However, I have to accept that just as a church wedding is important to me, keeping his family happy is important to A – so we are doing both.

We are also trying to bear in mind that many of our friends are openly not religious at all, and wonder what they will make of our ceremony. I would like them to join in hymns and relate to the readings (rightly or wrongly, we are keeping to familiar-ish hymns and non-religious readings as far as possible), but if all they want to do is listen to the music and enjoy us getting married, we will be happy.

[1] I fully accept that these churches may not actually be like this in real life…

[2] A ketubah is a type of written marriage contract which talks about how your marriage is going to grow and flourish, promising to build a home emanating love and peace.


Categories: A-Z of Getting Married, Religion
11 interesting thoughts on this

11 Comments

  1. Cheri
    Posted December 19, 2012 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    I may have to be controversial and disagree with you on point one! To me, getting married in Church is all about faith, and should only be about that. As a Christian getting married in front of God and making promises to him about my marriage was the most important thing. Before I was a Christian I couldnt imagine getting married in Church and saying words to someone I didnt believe in. I’m not saying that this describes you, as it so obviously doesnt, you give reasons for your choice, but we see so many people come and go from our Church because they just come to do the time to get married there because its pretty/convenient for the reception/parents will be happy etc and its upsetting to be honest. My faith is so important to me and it makes me feel uncomfortable when people use the Church in such a way (again, by people I dont mean you).

    • Frances
      Posted December 19, 2012 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      Cheri – controversial is fine by me! I completely understand why you feel that being married in Church is all about your belief in God, and I know for a lot of people that will be the case.

      However, I think that there are a lot of people who somehow feel that a church, or other religious, wedding is important despite not having such a strong belief in God, but who have a belief in the values encompassed in such a building, whether that’s quiet contemplation, historical importance or a reflection of their background. I understand your concern that people come to your church to get married simply because it’s pretty (although you should take real pride in that), but for many it is important that their parents are happy with the ceremony and people shouldn’t be turned away for that.

      Perhaps we do have different experiences but the church we are marrying in has made us feel so welcome and wanted that we would be more likely to carry on going after our wedding – I appreciate that both sides do have to make that effort though!

      • Posted December 19, 2012 at 11:06 am | Permalink

        Hi both.

        I’m a Christian and although I agree with Cheri on a lot of things I’m not quite sure about this issue. It’s very personal. For me, yes I want to get married in a Church because I believe in God and having a vicar doing it etc… But it is also important to me to say those words that I’ve heard hundreds of people say, in real life, in films and TV, in the whole consciousness of this country.

        And I don’t think that people who don’t believe in God should miss out on that tradition, history, sense of values and ‘right-ness’ that a lot of people feel in marrying in a church.

        Also, as Christians, I think it’s very important that we are welcoming and encompassing in times of births, deaths and marriages. When these people come to church for that we are providing a sense of service, community and completion. Even if people don’t believe I think it is an important role to play.

        Finally I’d like to say I completely respect people who don’t want a religious ceremony because they feel it is hypocritical. I think the ceremony has to feel right and binding and important to you.

        xx

        • Cheri
          Posted December 19, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

          I agree that we need to be welcoming, and we are, always. But then people disappear, and it feels a little sad. I hold onto the hope that they will be back someday, for a Christening maybe, and we’ll keep them for longer!! :-)

  2. Emma
    Posted December 19, 2012 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    A very interesting post. We too had the church vs civil ceremony dilemma to contend with. Neither of us is overtly religious. D doesn’t really believe at all and I rarely, if ever, discuss my personal viewpoint on religion because it differs from the normal “faith” of the christian church.

    We did however eventually make the decision to marry in church based on the feeling that it meant more to me, therefore D said it meant more to him for me to be happy with our ceremony. I felt it was important to make the same promises and say the same vows as our parents and granfparents had made. I also wanted to be married in a familiar church, one that meant something to me, so we travelled 200 miles to get married in the church that was associated with my primary school and that we had lived in the parish of for 18 years previously. A lot of people thought we were marrying in church for the convenience and tradition, no one but me knows how much it means to me spiritually.

    I understand why people get married in church because it is pretty or because its what their parents want. I don’t feel that is necessarily wrong, those people obviously have the right to marry in a parish church. I do feel that for every one person who is doing it for the above reasons there might be another person who actually does quietly believe. You never know what their very deep down personal feelings are on it, because they might never share their faith with anybody else.

    • Frances
      Posted December 19, 2012 at 10:55 am | Permalink

      Thanks Emma. I am intrigued as to whether D was comfortable with marrying in a church (particularly one from your primary school days) or whether it was simply that it was more important to him that you were happy? Having said that, I agree that for many people, you may not know what exactly their personal feelings are on the subject and they may find that difficult to express.

      • Emma
        Posted December 19, 2012 at 11:04 am | Permalink

        You raise an interesting point. D isn’t really a church goer or lover but will go if I want to. He always accompanies me to evensong on christmas eve, or communion on easter sunday (two of the rare occassions I attend church) He will even take a blessing if I do. I think it partly stems from his childhood, his mum has similar views to me on church, and also from his time as a scout when he went to church because of that. He says he doesn’t mind going to church but he wouldn’t actively choose to go. Of the wedding he said he didn’t mind what vows he said or where he said them as long as it meant he married me. He did also have his own small onnection to the church we married in, but it was mostly for my sake. I think mostly he is just ambivalent about it.

  3. Posted December 19, 2012 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    I really enjoyed the discussions we had around faith as we tried to decide where to get married and what kind of ceremony to have. We have ended up having a Unitarian minister marry us at our venue. After reading about them they match what we believe very well (spiritually agnostic?) and allows us to have some of the religious elements that some family members want without making others feel uncomfortable.

    Since choosing them we have been to their services a few times and I really enjoy the hour of calm, and thoughtfulness on a Sunday morning, I think once we are married we will continue to pop in once in a while for it. In the end the discussions and exploration have been really good for us. xox

    • Frances
      Posted December 19, 2012 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      I agree, the discussions about what was right for us have been really useful and have enhanced our journey into marriage. I think this is also true if you have those same discussions and plump for a civil ceremony, it’s part of understanding each other and what you are more comfortable with.

  4. Katie
    Posted December 19, 2012 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Really interesting discussion. For us we were always going to have a church wedding as although I’m atheist, my fiance is Christian and it’s very important to him to be married in church. Unfortunately as he’s been out of the country, it’s been me having to go to church (it’s the next parish along, despite being only 10 minutes walk) on my own for the past 6 months in order to qualify to get married there. I’ve felt really hypocritical and tense about doing it, as despite the fact that the church community has been very welcoming it doesn’t feel right to be participating in the Nicene Creed and hymns and prayers when I’m not a member of that faith community, and I worry about offending people of strong faith.

  5. Peridot
    Posted December 19, 2012 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    I’m resolutely atheist, as is my husband, so it was an easy choice for us. I can see how it might be really difficult if one of you has more faith than the other – or different faiths in different degrees!

    Personally I’ve always been slightly scornful of people who get married in churches but are not religious, nor have much faith. But recently I’ve come to realise that the appeal might be about more than a pretty building for photos – it’s about rooting yourself in a tradition. And I can really understand that. I also think churches should be available to anyone – as a symbol of love and community. They might even catch a few converts! It also can’t hurt the church funds…

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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