It took a letter to a bishop and a mountain of paperwork to marry my husband. He’s Catholic; I’m Methodist.
Both are Christian religions, so I’m hesitant to even call us an interfaith family, but you would be surprised how different we are. Years ago, I would have had to convert to be married “in the Church” as it’s called. Instead, I went to classes, met with a priest, and—here’s the kicker—agreed to raise my future children Catholic.
In Southwest Virginia, where I was raised, Catholics were a mysterious “other”. I knew Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, and Baptists of all varieties. However, it was more common to find someone who believed in speaking in tongues than the literal transformation of bread and wine to blood and flesh.
I had exactly one self-identifying Catholic classmate. She and her siblings represented my sum knowledge of the entire religion. “She’s Catholic,” people would whisper.
Years later, I had to break the news to my family that I was not only dating a Yankee, but a Catholic. Fortunately, he’s a likable guy, so when he asked my dad for permission to marry me, my father said Okay. (Yes, I know, it’s the 21st century. No, not asking was not an option.)
We planned a wedding that incorporated both our faiths, performed by a Catholic priest (my husband’s uncle) in a Methodist Church. The entire thing was fraught with confusion.
“Why don’t you get married outside?” my mom asked.
“Because you have to perform the ceremony in a church,” I answered. “Sacred ground or something.”
“The outdoors—made by God—isn’t sacred enough?”
At the rehearsal, the priest told the bridesmaids to reverence the cross. They looked at him blankly. When he learned there were no chairs for the bride and groom to sit in during the ceremony, he looked like we were speaking in tongues. “Do you plan to stand the entire time?” he asked.
“It usually only takes twenty minutes,” I said. My bridesmaids nodded.
“My homily is that long,” he said. “I guess I can cut it down.” and we survived the wedding just fine!
When The Children Came
We breezed along just fine as an interfaith couple—mostly because we spent very little of our 20s attending any church. But when our children arrived, the slight differences in our faiths became more and more pronounced.
My family members could not serve as official godparents to my daughters. Instead, we had to select one Catholic godparent and relegate my family to the role of spiritual advisers. The distinction – though subtle – ruffled me quite a bit.
In an effort to “raise our kids Catholic,” we began attending mass. I became more and more irritated each time I had to stand in the aisle while the rest of my family went up for communion. I attend mass more than most Catholics, but there I was waiting for everyone to walk past me—or worse, climb over me.
Someone eventually realized how alienating this could be, and my local church now allows those not receiving communion to walk forward, cross their arms, place them against their chest, and receive a blessing from the priest.
Young children receive this same blessing before they’re old enough for their First Communion. I’m happy to see some inclusive progress. This year, however, marked the biggest hurdle in our interfaith happiness with my oldest daughter starting Catholic education classes.
It came to me to drive her to church after school every Monday. I had to ensure she completed every homework assignment, the answers to which I sometimes didn’t know. “Ask your father,” I’d say. “I’m not Catholic.”
After asking a question about Penitence or Purgatory, she asked where Jesus was from.
“Bethlehem,” my husband answered.
“Seriously?” I said. “Your parents paid for nine years of private Catholic school and that’s the best you can come up with? Jesus was from Nazareth.”
“Mommy, you don’t believe in Jesus,” my daughter said.
My mouth fell open as various snarky responses flew through my head ! My husband corrected her but the more my daughter learned about Catholicism, the less she seemed to understand me.
I worry what she will think next year when we walk to the front of the church and she receives a communion wafer, and I, like her little sister, wait as the priest makes the sign of the cross on my forehead.
In some ways, my religion is too similar to hers to explain the differences. She will only know this: My mom is not like the rest of us. Will she think I am somehow less? I often worry that if we’re not careful, I may become “the other” in my own family.
My hope though is that being raised in an interfaith household will make my daughters more open minded and accepting of other religions—just as being in an interfaith marriage has helped me embrace differences.