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We're not religious but my parents are. Help!

By: Maureen Thomson

Marriage One of the stresses that many couples face in planning their wedding ceremony is when their religious beliefs (or lack thereof) conflict with those of their parents or grandparents. Gone are the days when the God-fearing children of God-fearing parents stood complacently through cookie-cutter ceremonies performed at the local church in exactly the same way (and in some cases by the same minister!) as their parents before them.

With more and more couples choosing to marry outside of churches and create innovative ceremonies that reflect their own personal love story, it is often a struggle to balance the more traditional religious beliefs of older family members. Some couples go into total black and white mode-either capitulating to their parent's wishes or adopting an "it's our wedding day and we'll do it any way we please" attitude. Both of these are viable options, but I warn you-the former may have you chastising yourselves for years because the ceremony was not "yours," and the latter might cause you to be filled with regret down the road for not showing the slightest respect for your parent's preferences.

For those of you who prefer a middle ground, there are ways in which you can include a religious presence (or as one bride delicately put it, "a nod to a higher power") without compromising your beliefs. Here are some tips:

1. Use the generic word "God" as opposed to more organized-religion type names (such as Jesus, Yahweh, Jehovah, Heavenly Father, etc,). The term "God" can mean different things to different people, so when you and your spouse-to-be hear it in the ceremony you might interpret it as "the spirit of good within us" and while your grandmother has visions of the fire and brimstone Baptist God or the "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" Catholic God. It's all Go(o)d.

2. Plan a ceremony that is primarily secular, but include a slightly religious final blessing. As a bonus, have one of your religious family members read the blessing. It will be an honor. Plus it comes at the end, so it's what will stick in their minds!

3. Add a prayer of thanks to your parents. The officiant can read it and this is a fitting place to insert a God reference.

4. Have your officiant wear a robe that is ministerial in nature. This will send the subtle message that "God is present" without saying a word.

5. Include a traditional religious component to your ceremony, but give it a secular twist. It will have meaning to both you and your folks. For example, the unity candle is a Christian tradition, yet the symbolism of "two lights coming together to form one united flame" is universally poignant no matter which God one worships-or doesn't. Getting married under the Chuppah will placate many Jewish parents. For you, it can simply be a beautiful arch.

6. Put together a ceremony that is all about you, but when you recite your vows, recite the traditional religious ones with which your parents are familiar. If they are too God-like for your taste, then after the vows are exchanged, have your officiant say "and now John and Mary have prepared some special words that they would like to share with one another". Then you can speak from the heart and be as secular as you like.

7. Insert one biblical reading into your ceremony. It can be a beautifully poignant one about love, which will appeal to you, while your folks will resonate with the religious roots.

8. If a reading doesn't fly with you, then try a religious song. If you feel conflicted about the words, then play the melody softly in the background at some point in your ceremony. Your parents will be touched.

9. If you simply can't abide by any mention of God in your ceremony, then keep it secular and consider adding a prayer or scripture passage on the inside cover of your program.

10. If none of the above work for you, then hope (pray?) that someone sneezes during your ceremony, giving a well-intended relative the chance to save the day by calling out "God Bless you!" Hey! Your folks will take it any way they can get it!

If harmonizing two (or more!) religious beliefs seems daunting, here's a tip to make it easier. When you initially sit down to write your ceremony, ignore the preferences of your family members. Work with your officiant to write it exactly as you want it. Then, go back and implement one or two of the suggestions above. Read it over and see how it feels. Your officiant should allow you to tweak the ceremony until it feels right. (That's why it's important to begin the ceremony-writing process at least two months in advance of your wedding day.)

And from a fairness standpoint, if your parents are helping with wedding expenses, don't expect them to foot the bill for the officiant if the ceremony is not in line with their beliefs. Handle this expense on your own. It will also save you from the guilt trip your parents might be tempted to send you on should they end up paying for something in which they had no input.

Yes, it's your day, but as the generous, loving magnanimous people that you are, you will want everyone to feel at ease on your wedding day. Besides, you don't want your mom to go into the story of the 23 hours of labor she had with you and how it almost killed her, not to mention ruining her figure for life andů

Maureen Thomson is a Wedding Officiant and owner of Lyssabeth's Wedding Officiants, with offices in the Bay Area of California, as well as Denver, Colorado Springs and the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Visit her webssites at www.MemorableCeremoniesBA.com, www.RockyMountainWedding Officiants.com and www.MemorableCeremonies.com.
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