A grey wedding?
August 13, 2008 1:50 PM   Subscribe

Anyone ever heard of a wedding that was a cross between an atheist and a Christian ceremony?

So I'm thinking about marriage with my lady. No time soon, but I'm the kind of guy who thinks about these kind of things. Only trouble is, she's a lapsed kind of an Anglican, and I'm a devout if open minded Atheist/Universalist/Whatever.

Now I'm not going to enjoy a Christian ceremony, that would be all kinds of hypocrisy for me. But she's been in the choir of her local church since she was eight, knows the vicar personally etc, and has probably been planning a great white wedding since she was six years old. So there're no easy answers here.

In the normal scheme of things, say I was Hindu and she was a Mormon, we'd probably just have a non-religious wedding and say no more about it. But a non-religious wedding in our case would clearly be me getting what I want, so that's no kind of answer.

Surely this is a problem that has been faced before? I'm guessing in most situations one partner steamrollers the other and a side is chosen (or more likely, one set of parents does the steamrollering), but I'm thinking there must be alternatives. Has anyone ever heard of a half-Christian ceremony? Maybe there would be a mix of biblical and non-biblical readings, some non-committal but vaguely spiritual vows read out? Perhaps the whole thing could be officiated by a vicar, but in a non-official capacity?

The other alternative would be a Unitarian Universalist ceremony, although that would strike both of as pretty weird. Any thoughts? I can't believe I'm the first person to have thought about this, but my google skills have revealed nothing.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (33 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
what Christian denomination? Christianity is a huge umbrella term -- more liberal denominations would be ready to accomodate you, but with mainline Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and many Protestant denominations you're shit out of luck and one of you has to compromise
posted by matteo at 1:59 PM on August 13, 2008

This website could help you (though it's more based on interfaith ceremonies in which one person is Jewish.)

I'm nowhere near getting married, but if it were me (I'm Jewish), my Lutheran boyfriend and I would individually sit down and think about what we're each envisioning, then discuss and come to a compromise as to what is ok and what's not according to the other person. Hope that helps.
posted by LiveToEat at 2:02 PM on August 13, 2008

I don't think this is a question that you're going to be able to figure out without your partner's input. She's going to be the one who knows what her church is like, and she may even be able to talk to the vicar about it and get a sense of how he feels. She might have strong feelings about her church -- or she might prefer to be married outside, or at the courthouse, or any number of possibilities.

I realize you're still thinking a bit hypothetically about this, but I don't think it's possible to do all the compromising without even talking to her about it -- that will be just as much "you getting your own way", because you will have figured out a compromise that works for you without figuring out whether it works for her, too.
posted by cider at 2:06 PM on August 13, 2008

Anglican, matteo.
Paragraph 1, after the jump.
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 2:10 PM on August 13, 2008

that would strike both of as pretty weird
sounds equitable to me.
the unitarians i know are pretty cool. i would go with that.
posted by not sure this is a good idea at 2:14 PM on August 13, 2008

I'm not sure what makes you think you'd be acting hypocritically. Most Christian denominations wouldn't force you to become a member of the church in order to marry her. Even in Catholicism, you basically have to do only three things:
1) Stand or kneel patiently while some scripture is read. You are not expected to proclaim your agreement with it, and you do have input in what is read.
2) Participate in some pre-marriage counseling, which is generally thought to be really pretty good even by non-Catholics (you'll discuss normal, non-religious things like finances)
3) Promise to raise the kids Catholic.

Out of those only 3) seems to be a problem. But if your girlfriend is religious enough to push for a religious wedding she is more than likely going to push for baptism, etc. . So, if you are ready to marry her and have kids, then you are probably going to have to give in on that point anyway and so you're not lying about that point.

Which is to say, that even in fairly strict Christian denominations the non-Christian partner isn't really pressured into compromising their own beliefs.

(Then again, you haven't asked her what she want and so this is a whole lot of worry for nothing.)
posted by oddman at 2:19 PM on August 13, 2008

So you have a problem participating in a ceremony that you think is meaningless , even though it will please the woman with whom you want to spend the rest of your life?

Dude, HALF of being married is doing pointless things to make your wife happy. Get with the program.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 2:23 PM on August 13, 2008 [14 favorites]

BOP is right. Furthermore, as mentioned above, look into the Unitarians. My fiance and I are both lapsed Catholics (as in, agnostic/have no problem with other people's faiths, but do have a problem with organized religion) and went to the Unitarians. Our minister is in the theist tent, and our ceremony refers (once) to a "higher power" but that can mean anything.

I will ask the minister if we can send a copy of our ceremony to you. Even if not, most ministers have a playbook they like to use.
posted by notsnot at 2:27 PM on August 13, 2008

Do you know what an Anglican ceremony entails that would make you unhappy / make you feel like a hypocrite?

I mean, this is a big event, and you want to solemnize it with some kind of ritual. There being no particular Atheist ritual that I'm aware of for solemnizing weddings, perhaps you should think about how much of the Anglican framework is objectionable and how much you can downplay those elements or work them out of the wedding.

I'm an Atheist, and I got married in a Catholic ceremony. The only part where I really felt like a hypocrite was taking communion. That's not required for the wedding at all, but it would have definitely raised some eyebrows if I'd refrained.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:34 PM on August 13, 2008

We're having our ceremony in a nice hotel. He's a lapsed Christian and I'm a half-assed buddhist. I asked him if he wanted to incorporate Christian elements and he said no, but had he said yes it would have been fairly easy. I'm not any less of a Buddhist if I recite the Lord's Prayer. Go look on theknot.com for standard Christian ceremonies (or non-denominational ones) and come to an agreement on what you want and don't want. Throw out the parts you don't like and she can accept getting rid of. Maybe you can live with the officiant blessing your marriage, but professing your belief in anything would be crossing the line. Only you and your fiancée know what will be acceptable.

Personally, as long as you don't have to profess your undying devotion to Jesus Christ, I would counsel you to make your future wife happy. What are you really giving up? Your atheist friends are going to mock you? You are going to be magically converted? She already knows you're an atheist - she isn't going to think she's being deceived if you agree to a Christian wedding. God won't strike you down with lightning, because you don't believe in him.
posted by desjardins at 2:43 PM on August 13, 2008

Neither my husband or I are Christian, but we had a (United Church of Christ) minister marry us. She had several different services that she uses for different weddings. For us, she chose a very simple one, had us read it and ask if we wanted any changes. I said, I don't mind the references to god, but since we're not Christian, can you leave out the direct Jesus references? She said sure. And she didn't do a sermon. My mom read a Bible passage and my aunt read a poem.

I loved the service she did for us. I'm a total atheist but I'm glad we hired a minister because she had lots of experience and so was very cool and professional about it all. It put me at ease. It wasn't half-Christian, but more like Christian-lite, which sounds like it might be right for you two.

I'd say, if you have any religious but open-minded friends, ask if they'd recommend their clergyperson for something like this.
posted by lampoil at 2:44 PM on August 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

You could have a friend officiate and they could become a priest online. It's kind of easy to do.

Or just have the religious wedding and suck it up. It sounds like this is something important to her, so - being an atheist - do you care? This seems like such a great gift you could give to her....
posted by xammerboy at 2:46 PM on August 13, 2008

Oh, and you're supposed to enjoy the RECEPTION, not the WEDDING. The wedding is the public proclamation of your union and is mainly for the people you invite, not for you. It's a big show with lots of flowers and ribbons and shit. Let her have the wedding and you can have the reception.
posted by desjardins at 2:47 PM on August 13, 2008

When we got married (three years ago this very day!) Mrs ob and I wanted a completely non-Christian ceremony. We got married at a house by a lake where the reception also was, so no church obviously. We weren't sure who we wanted to marry us, but in the end a friend who was a minister performed the ceremony. He at first promised us that it would be non-religious but either forgot, or decided that he had to give a sermon and put in some prayers. We went along with it and it was probably for the best as both sets of parents (apart from one side of my wife's who are dye-in-the-wool atheists) are religious and it would have probably caused some issues if we'd really had a totally non-religious ceremony. We had friends read non-religious texts that they had selected so there was a nice balance. In short, it was fine. We didn't pray along, didn't bow our heads, and we didn't feel like we were being (too!) hypocritical and it made the religious folks happy.
posted by ob at 2:55 PM on August 13, 2008

I'm an atheist, married to a Christian. The only stipulation I had, going into the ceremony, was that I would swear my vows to her, not to God. So, I had the minister give me a copy of the ceremony he planned to use beforehand, and just made sure that things were how I wanted them.

I had to edit the vows ever so slightly, but that was cool with everyone involved.
posted by MagicEightBall at 2:57 PM on August 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

For one thing, you're overthinking this. Until you've spoken to your special ladyfriend, you can't be sure what she'll want, what she'll require, and what she'll tolerate.

For another, there are probably as many angles on mixing religions in weddings as there are mixed-religion marriages. You'll probably be able to find somebody who will accommodate your mutual desires.

I've been to a wedding officiated over by a Baptist preacher and a Reorganized LDS (long story) priest doing a tag-team thing. I've been to another with an Anglican minister, Catholic priest, and two Pagan priestesses (definitely the weirdest wedding ceremony I've witnessed). My apathetically Jewish sister was married by a rabbi at the suggestion of her Catholic husband's family.
posted by adamrice at 3:05 PM on August 13, 2008

Try some of the following techniques:

Readings/Offerings/Musical Interludes from Family and Friends
Christian Blessing vs. Christian Ceremony
Neutral Venue (Nature? Retreat Center? Hotel? Museum?)
Incorporate Secular Humanist Aspects
Include Silent Prayer
Clergy Participates vs Dominates
posted by cior at 3:11 PM on August 13, 2008

Also, your athiesm doesn't preclude spiritual feelings, your own beliefs and values. How do you want to solemnify this union? What would that look like in the context of a ceremony? Ask your beloved the same question and I think there will be some middle ground to be had.
posted by cior at 3:36 PM on August 13, 2008

I'm getting married in November. We're both agnostics/athiest so we don't have this problem. My experience has been that it is very easy to get an officiant who will do the ceremony exactly as you ask. We are getting married by an ordained minister, but we made it very clear to her that we didn't want any biblical references and she's fine with that.

The two of you will have to come to a (gasp) compromise about the ceremony. That's not such a bad thing because marriage is all about compromise. You could have non-religous and religous readings or you could have one religious officiant and one non-religious officiant. You can do whatever you want, but you just have to agree about it. I wouldn't let one spouse steamroll through with their desires about the ceremony because that's likely to cause resentment.

In terms of planning a non-faith/faith wedding, I highly recommend From Beginning to End, the Rituals of Our Lives by Robert Fulghum. He's a unitarian minister who has done a lot of interfaith ceremonies and he has a lot of good advice about how to plan.
posted by bananafish at 3:47 PM on August 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

have you asked her how she feels about the subject?

even so: don't let the wedding get in the way of your marriage.

you may have to do a civil ceremony and then a church wedding--many mixed-fatih couples do both.or you might be able to find a unitarian or liberal/crunchy christian to do an ecumenical service. you are not the first couple to have this problem--talk to vicars and such and see what possibilities exist.
posted by thinkingwoman at 3:47 PM on August 13, 2008

It's just an hour of a long and happy life together. As someone said to me... you pay taxes right? Do you want to pay taxes? Well, how hard can it be to do something you might not want to in order to make someone you care about really really happy. Was a no brainer really.

I'm athiest as is my wife, so we didn't have this problem. My problem was I couldn't see the point of marriage, at all. What I did want to do was make my wife as happy in life as I possibly could. If she had wanted a church I'd probably have relented and bit my tongue throughout the ceremony.
posted by twistedonion at 4:00 PM on August 13, 2008

When we got married, neither of us wanted a wedding with any church affiliations. At the same time, we both come from families that have them and wanted to celebrate our life together without turning it into sectarian conflict. So we wrote some stuff, did some readings, found a celebrant of like mind and did the whole thing outside just down the hill from the reception site.

One thing we included was an idea that we got from a Quaker friend of ours. In the Friends Society, there's a lot of silent contemplation and thoughtful discourse with the group. Their weddings include a period for this, where everyone sits in silence to think or pray, then chimes in as they are moved to do so. We included this and it became a way for family with stronger religious commitments to say something from the heart but fitting the moment, too. Everyone, from the ardent atheists to the evangelical protestants ended up happy in our case.
posted by el_lupino at 5:24 PM on August 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

BTW, I do get crap from two of my atheist buddies about getting married in a church. I can't really bring myself to care though, as we are still good friends, and if they weren't giving me crap about a church wedding, they'd be giving me crap for something else.
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:33 PM on August 13, 2008

Getting married in her church would be a nice gift for your future wife. I'm atheist and I think I'll probably get married in a church somewhere, a nice old one, maybe out in the country. They're nice buildings, plenty of seating, good place to stand up the front when you do your vows, what's not to love?
posted by The Monkey at 7:34 PM on August 13, 2008

Sometimes compromise IS just letting the other person 'have it their way'.

If it were me, the fact that she has a very definite religious affiliation and I obviously really don't care, a toned down Anglican ceremony would seem totally fair to me.
I'm Atheist, my SO has a very Roman Catholic flavor to him. I've daydreamed about it and come to the conclusion I would participate in the most Catholic ceremony they had to offer if it was important to him (or his family). It would make me happy merely because as his wife, these are the kinds of things I'm prepared to do. (...I'll pick my battles :) you know?) Somehow I just wouldn't feel at all hypocritical demonstrating such things in the presence of his (their) god, if you know what I mean?
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 10:42 PM on August 13, 2008

I'm atheist, and married an Irish Catholic in a Catholic church. We had a good talk with the priest before hand. He was assured I loved Mr. Jane and he was more concerned with there being loving families in the world rather than if I prayed or not.

We wrote our own vows, picked our own readings, etc. I left in everything I thought was a nice thought, and left out everything referring to god. I did not promise to obey Mr. Jane, or raise catholic children. I DID vow to laugh with him, cry with him, and share each step of his life.

Mr. Jane wanted to take communion at his wedding - I did not. Easy enough - Mr. Jane and the Catholics in the house had communion, I simply took the cup in my hands for the photographer to get a pretty picture, then passed it back to the priest.

If you want, I might be able to dig out a copy of our booklet thingy to find what readings and such we used. MeFi mail me if you'd like.
posted by InfinateJane at 2:46 AM on August 14, 2008

My first answer would be "ask her", because you may find out that what she wants in a wedding is not what you're imagining.

Also, I don't know much about the Anglican Church so I don't know if they would be cool with this, but it may be that she's more interested in the church community than in the religious part. Maybe her vicar would be willing to do a service where religious aspects were toned down or removed, and then she could still have him there performing the service, but not in a way that makes you uncomfortable. He might even let you do this in the church building - who knows?
posted by srah at 5:49 AM on August 14, 2008

Nevermind. I was full of shit in my previous answers, and I found out the hard way. The same day this question was posted, my "lapsed Christian" fiancé (who is not a mefite) suddenly decided he wanted some religious song in the ceremony and I pretty much flipped. I don't hate Christianity, etc, but I felt like that song was representing us and that it was a statement of what we believe, when it's NOT what I believe. I can't stand up there while someone sings stuff like "I will follow God all the days of my life" without feeling incredibly awkward. Buddhist != atheism, but there's no God to "follow" in Buddhism.

I really thought I'd be cool with whatever. I really did. But when the shit hit the fan, I freaked. So I completely get where you're coming from now.

Anyway, he read the look of pained anguish on my face as I whispered, "Well, if it's REALLY important to you, honey..." and he backed off. We decided on some sappy love song instead and all is well. I feel a twinge of guilt, but not as bad as if I'd had to stand up there and listen to that damned song, knowing I was being a complete phony.
posted by desjardins at 7:39 AM on August 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Dude, HALF of being married is doing pointless things to make your wife happy.

That's a really sad and dim view of marriage. Marriage is about compromise, for sure, but not "pointless things to make someone happy." That sounds like a recipe for resentment and contempt to me. What you want and what she wants should both be in consideration.

I agree that you need to talk to your partner about this. It's totally ok to bring this up as in, "If we got married some day, what kind of ceremony would you like? I was daydreaming the other day about it but it was hard to picture the details for me cause I don't know what you'd be into."

I'm all for building your own ceremony as much as you can. No one needs a cookie-cutter ceremony, and I'm sure with a combination of readings and officiant passages, you could combine a really meaningful ceremony that wouldn't take away from either of your beliefs. It doesn't have to be either/or - after all, you're joining together - I think the ceremony could be appropriately mixed.

Good luck to you!
posted by agregoli at 10:36 AM on August 14, 2008

You think she's probably been planning a great white wedding since she was eight, but you don't know? That means you haven't even raised the possibility of a wedding to her! Dude, as far as you know, she may be set on a huge Anglican 'do with all the trimmings, she may want to get married in the town park with no one there but the commissioner and two witnesses, or she may want nothing more than to run away to Vegas and get married by Elvis. Ask her how she feels about all this, and then if there is a conflict, come back and AskMefi. Good luck, ;)
posted by arcticwoman at 10:37 AM on August 14, 2008

You could have a friend officiate and they could become a priest online. It's kind of easy to do.

It is, but it's unfortunately not legal in all states.
posted by agregoli at 10:37 AM on August 14, 2008

First, talk to her. You most certainly can craft a wedding for the both of you. It will just take a lot of discussion and some compromise for both parties.

Some very good friends of mine had a lovely Methodist/atheist wedding. They had two officiants - one being the open-minded Methodist minster, the other being a close friend of the couple who got himself officiated. They had a lovely ritual involving pouring water - saved from several significant places (to them) - and readings by their friends. It was held in a lovely park, with music played by the wife's friends.

I know the wife's Methodist side of the family was really apprehensive that she wouldn't have any religious elements in there, and there was definitely some tension over the course of the planning of the wedding, but it was quite beautiful and honored them both.
posted by canine epigram at 12:32 PM on August 14, 2008

say I was Hindu and she was a Mormon, we'd probably just have a non-religious wedding and say no more about it.

I think it would be more likely that you'd find a compromise that honored both of your beliefs. If you love her (Christianity and all) and she loves you (Atheism and all), then surely the two of you can find a compromise that makes your both feel welcome at your nuptials.

Actually, that your problem. You've got a shared problem that only one of you is working to resolve. Marriage is team sport; let your partner help.
posted by 26.2 at 11:06 AM on August 15, 2008

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