How to Plan an Interfaith Wedding

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Susanna Macomb

Susanna Macomb Robin Gentile/Fireside Books hide caption

itoggle caption Robin Gentile/Fireside Books

Interfaith marriages have been on the rise for years, but that doesn't mean they've gotten easier. Interfaith couples still face a range of challenges both before and after they say their vows. The Rev. Susanna Stefanachi Macomb, a New York-based interfaith minister and author of Joining Hands and Hearts, explains her approach.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.

The numbers of people who marry someone from another faith have been rising for years. But interfaith couples still face hurdles from friends, family even communities. Continuing our religion series, we've got Reverend Susanna Stefanachi Macomb. She's a New York-based ordained interfaith minister and the author of "Joining Hands and Hearts." Welcome.

Reverend SUSANNA STEFANACHI MACOMB (Author, "Joining Hands and Hearts"): It's wonderful to be here.

CHIDEYA: So describe what interfaith actually means.

Rev. MACOMB: Well, interfaith is not a religion. It walks among the religions. It begins when we create a bridge between one set of beliefs and traditions and another. It's no you versus me, no us versus them. It's rooted in love and the spiritual principles that unite all of us. You know, the foundations, the basis of interfaith is rooted in respect, tolerance and understanding. But to build the bridge, you need love. In the words of Martin Luther King: Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.

CHIDEYA: Take me into a moment when you have performed an interfaith ceremony and what were some of the things you did to make it work?

Rev. MACOMB: Well first, you have to begin with a lot of sensitivity. You have to get to know the couple, the families. You're not just dealing with the couple and their issues, it's the families that's often the greatest concern -obstacle. I need to find out what they believe, what their desires, what their wishes are. What are the sensitive issues between them and their families? And you have to be a little creative. I mean, for example, I did this Jewish - American-Jewish African-American Baptist wedding and we had the huppah, and underneath we did the tasting of spices. But we incorporated some horseradish in reminiscence of Passover.

CHIDEYA: Now let's slow that down a little bit. I have been to Jewish weddings. The huppah is a sort of tent. It is a part…

Rev. MACOMB: It is a wedding canopy.

CHIDEYA: Yeah.

Rev. MACOMB: And it's sacred. So we've honored the…

CHIDEYA: And what's the tasting of the spices?

Rev. MACOMB: Well, this couple - she was raised Baptist, but she was practicing Jewish. She came to me and she said, you know I'm practicing my - I'm leaning towards my African tradition. So I said, you're Rubin(ph) and she said, yes. I said, well, we could do that. We can do some of the African tasting of the spices and there are various spices. And often that you wouldn't (unintelligible) we feed them with a spoon but what I encourage is they feed each other.

So, there's water for purity. Coal and that's for strength, there's salt, and in the end if they endure all these things, there's honey for sweetness. So, we added horseradish instead of Cayenne pepper. Reminiscing a Passover which commemorates the, you know, the freedom of bondage, and which, sadly, is relevant to both traditions. Then they jump the broom and on to a glass.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: Now, that's sounds, both interfaith and athletic.

Rev. STEFANACHI MACOMB: And difficult. It was. It was. I kept saying you sure you can do this?

CHIDEYA: Judaism, jumping the - I mean excuse me, jumping the broom African-American. Judaism…

Rev. STEFANACHI MACOMB: African-American, Judaism breaking the breaking glass.

CHIDEYA: Glass.

Rev. STEFANACHI MACOMB: They key in interfaith - intercultural union as I explain what it means. Often, if it's just one tradition you just do it and, you know, it's assumed that everybody knows what it is. But, for example - and also language has to be adapted. Like for example in Judaism, the breaking of glass - if you go to a conservative temple, they will tell you that it commemorates the destruction of the temple of Israel.

I give my couples several interpretations based on conservative tradition over foreign tradition they choose. And one that my couples like very much is that this - the breaking of the glass signifies that marriage is a transformative experience, leaving the couple forever changed and forever united. And the glass is broken with implied prayer, may you stay together until all the broken pieces come back together again.

CHIDEYA: How does creating a good ceremony lead to the start of a good marriage?

Rev. STEFANACHI MACOMB: Well, weddings (unintelligible) ever gotten married, you realized emotions are heightened to begin with. I tell these couples, whatever you love about your family will be heightened 10 times if not 100 times, and whatever you don't like about your family is going to come out 10 times or 100 times.

So, what you are giving your families and the world is a message of how you're going to portray this union to the rest of the world. So I tell them, this is the birthday of your marriage. So, how you - you know, are you just going to have one clergy member do it? Both clergy member? Sometimes is not possible. For example, if you have a Jewish-Muslim, you know, that's very difficulty sometimes, you can't find an officiant. Are you have an interfaith minister? Are you going to have a humanist minister? Are you going to have a judge? Is it religious, non-religious?

In an interfaith ceremony, I find the best is to focus on the spiritual principles that unite all of us. Language has to be adapted very often, so that no one winces, no feels uncomfortable, in fact, everyone is united. And for example, we include both sides of the family. If you're doing the Christian unity candle, have both sides of the families do it. If you're standing on the hoop of both sides of the family, when we jump the broom, both sides of the -you know, both grandmothers come and put the broom to the ground.

CHIDEYA: But reverend, finally, what if some people just don't want to play ball, and they're like this is terrible, you know, our kids can't marry cross faiths. What do you do then?

Rev. STEFANACHI MACOMB: I do a lot of counseling before and I often meet with the parents and even grandparents. But I will tell you, sadly, tragically, I've helped many person or even both sides that been disowned by their family. But we've prevented a lot of that as well.

I had one couple, she was from the deep debutante south. He was an African-American northerner from a middle class family. After talking with the families - at first, they weren't going to come wedding, they came. Then he wasn't going to walk her down the aisle, they did. And now they're very accepting, and that's the gift of my job. When that happens, it's so much - there's so much joy.

CHIDEYA: Well, reverend, thank you so much.

Rev. STEFANACHI MACOMB: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: That's the Reverend Susanna Stefanachi Macomb. She's a New York based ordained interfaith minister and the author of "Joining Hands and Hearts: Interfaith, Intercultural Wedding Celebrations - A Practical Guide for Couples."

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