Interview with Rev. Laurie Sue Brockway on Interfaith Weddings
Rev. Laurie Sue Brockway is a leading interfaith and non-denominational wedding officiant, and a widely recognized expert on blended marriages and bridal stress. She regularly presides over interfaith, intercultural, and nondenominational weddings and helps couples deal with tricky family and religious challenges.
She specializes in writing wedding ceremonies that are personalized and crafted based on the needs and values of each couple.
She is known for her warm, loving and creative approach to blessing couples of all backgrounds, faiths, and cultures and for guiding them on their journey to the altar and beyond. She helps interfaith couples explore challenges they face, and unites them in marriage while helping them to blend families and cultures.
She has an active wedding ministry in New York City and serves hundreds of couples each year. She is author of Your Interfaith Wedding, Wedding Goddess, Your Hindu-Interfaith Wedding, and Your Perfect Wedding Vows.
Here are excerpts from a radio interview Father Paul Keenan (he of blessed memory) conducted with Rev. Laurie Sue.
What is an interfaith marriage?
People tend to think of "interfaith" as Jewish and Christian but it is actually an umbrella term for many diverse pairings. The combinations are unlimited. When any two people of differing faith and/or cultural backgrounds decide to marry it is considered interfaith. On one end of the spectrum is a Catholic marrying a Lutheran – both are Christians but technically of different faiths. Or it could be a union between a Hindu from Trinidad and an African-American Jehovah's Witness. In that scenario there is a blending of both religions and cultures.
Tell us a little bit about the very interesting couples you've married.
Wow. As an interfaith minister I have had the honor of marrying so many diverse couples, from so many different backgrounds and points of view. I am often called to create ceremonies that weave together different cultures, traditions, faiths, personal values and families. For example, just recently the faith and cultural pairing of some of my couples included:
Christian and Hindu; Hindu and Buddhist-Christian-Jewish groom; American lapsed Catholic and Sri Lankan Buddhist; French Canadian Lebanese and Dominican Republic Catholic; Wiccan and Atheist; Muslin and Hindu; Hindu and Jewish (both from conservative families); Scottish traditional to Church of English British; Catholic of Mexican heritage and religious Jewish; Russian Jewish and Russian Christian; African Christian and American Jewish.
That's quite a range. Out of over 2 million couples who marry each year, how many are interfaith couples?
The numbers now look to be about 25 percent to 37 percent. NBC reported that there are 28 million people in interfaith unions in this country.
Do you think the numbers of interfaith marriages are on the rise? Why?
There are a number of factors:
1. First of all, one of the things that most people want in life is to find true love with a devoted partner. In our global community, and our daily lives -- where we live, work and travel in blended communities -- it is so easy to meet and become attracted to someone who may have a different faith, culture, country, skin color.
2. A lot of people today are open-minded enough to opt for LOVE over the "package" that love comes in and in the process they find the package is quite lovely as well.
3. Many people feel disconnected from the religion of their birth so they don't actively seek a mate by religious standards. A recent study showed us that 16 per cent of all Americans do not consider themselves to be on any faith. And 25 per of Americans "switched" faiths at some point of their lives, and some believe this is in part due to interfaith marriage.
Do people in interfaith marriages have to convert?
There are some faith traditions, families and individuals who feel this is a requirement in order for a marriage to be recognized by a religious body or by the family. I recommend that couples clarify the protocol of their differing faiths as well make peace with their families on this issue whenever possible. But I do not see conversions much in my ministry because I am the officiant people seek out when they are choosing a ceremony created for their unique union and family.
Is there such a thing as "typical" challenge that interfaith couple's face? Or is there a common issue that you see?
The most common challenge I come across is that a bride is worried about appeasing a religious mother, father or grandmother. For example, the family might be having a hard time with the idea that a couple is choosing to get married at a wedding venue rather than in a church.
Or, on some sad occasions, I've dealt with an intolerant parent or two, or the pain a couple was going through because of it. I've had at least two weddings where the father of a bride refused to come to his daughter's wedding because she was marrying an African-American man. I've had a Jewish mom refuse to partake in a non denominational candle lighting that was part of her son's marriage to a beautiful African doctor (what she was really saying was she was not supportive of the marriage).
But overall, when a couple is okay inside themselves about their marriage choices we see more of acceptance from all involved.
With couples so diverse and their wedding needs so wide-ranging how are you able to serve each couple's individual needs? Do you have any religious restrictions or religious protocol that you must adhere to?
I do not have to follow any religious protocol, per see. Although I do have a legal responsibility is to uphold the marriage laws of the state and city. I consult with couples to find out exactly what kind of ceremony they want and I include only the rituals, prayers, blessings and words that they feel will help them honor their families and their relationship while maintaining their personal values. The ceremonies mainly focus on their love for each other. That's the central theme.
Many clergy people refuse to conduct an interfaith marriage ceremony, or at the very least are uncomfortable with the idea. What is your personal philosophy on love and marriage?
My philosophy is that love between two people is their business and their choice. And that it adds a dimension of holiness to our world that cannot be categorized by religion or culture and that a temple can be created wherever there is love. I believe in soul mates, and I feel that the couples who are meant to be together have the ability to see one another through the eyes of the soul. That allows many feelings about "differences" to melt away. I don't feel it is up to me to decide who can or can't marry based on religion, race or culture.
Of course, many people worry about the Children. When your couples seek counsel from you on how to raise their families, what do you suggest?
I personally believe in blending. This is not for everyone; some couples will need to select one faith to follow and stick with it to give their kids a religious identify. If they are choosing to raise their kids in one faith, then they need to really look at what that will mean for both families and family celebrations such as religious holidays. For example, will it be okay with a Catholic dad if his kids celebrate Passover with their Jewish Mom and not Easter, as his family has?
But when couples are unsure, I tell them to look into their own childhood for the rituals and celebrations they most loved from their religions and to make a list of what they would like to give their children from column A and column B. And to factor in ways their children can partake in family celebrations, time with grandparents, visits to house of worship --- all in a way that fit in with their personal beliefs.
What is the one common denominator that you see in all interfaith couples?
The common denominator with all my couples boils down to on thing: LOVE. They love one another, therefore, they willing to rise up against the odds, or ignore them, and build a life together.
And your role in it all?
I am just a facilitator for love. And a cheerleader, perhaps. I make no judgements and I have no rules about who can marry who. If a couple is in love and they committed to building a life together, then I consider it a blessing and privilege to officiate for them. It is an honor to create unique ceremonies to match their unique unions. And to make their wedding experience all it can be.
Do you believe interfaith unions will affect the bigger picture? Can they add to peace on earth?
I do. By virtue of loving one another, each couple brings more love to their circle of friends, their families, and their world. Devoted love of any kind is sacred and when it brings two faiths and cultures together, it expands fellowship between families and communities of different faiths. It doesn't have to be Romeo and Juliet, the Capulets versus the Montagues. Although interfaith couples have dragons to slay - all relationships do. I think overall it is a very positive thing.