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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. 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.
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? .
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.
 I fully accept that these churches may not actually be like this in real life…
 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.