Sometimes a Church Just Doesn’t Feel Right

Our wedding has made life interesting the past few months. Sometimes I feel like a lot of the preparation has been a giant negotiation. We want everyone to feel included, and we want to make sure we cover the important cultural aspects of each of our “traditions,” but we also want to be true to ourselves. Because of this, I feel it has made planning the American wedding (in particular) all the more… “challenging.”

I come from an Irish Catholic family (on both sides), and even though not every one of my relatives is “religious,” they still have church as an important part of their lives (Baptisms, First Communions, Confirmations, weddings and holidays, if not most Sundays).

On the other side I have really struggled with faith (a WHOLE separate and long blog post), and because of this, church has not been an important part of my life. So when it came time to choose where to get married, I was pretty adamant that I didn’t want to get married in a church by a Catholic priest. I have nothing against that choice for others, but it didn’t feel right for me.

This revelation, as one can imagine, was quite upsetting to some of my family members. At least on my father’s side I am the third eldest cousin and several years ago my eldest cousin decided not to get married in a church, and broke that barrier (while her younger sister did marry in the church), on my mother’s side, I think I’m probably the first one in generations (and generations) not to be married in a Catholic church by a Catholic priest.

I think my grandmother doesn’t get it. I think for her and some of my other relatives it is hard to image what a “white wedding” actually is (or means) without a church and a priest. I’m sure they blame my parents—thinking they “did” something to me to make me turn against my faith, or somehow “raised” me wrong (so I can understand the pressure/criticism they have been under/getting, because of my choices). However it has nothing to do with my parents—again religious musings surely deserve its own post—but ultimately I think my relatives probably felt betrayed.

Here I was, claiming that I wanted to make sure both of our cultures were represented—AND I was willing to get married in a Hindu temple by a Hindu priest (blasphemy!) BUT I was throwing one of my family’s main wedding traditions—Catholicism—out the window. In one phone conversation with my aunt, as I reassured her that we were still doing a lot of American traditions: white dress, wedding rings, vows, first dance, cake, wedding party, etc, she said “If you throw out the priest and church, everything else is just cosmetic.” Ouch.

So I feel I have had to tread carefully when deciding on what details are important to include in the American side of our ceremony/reception and what not to. What battles am I really ready to fight for, and what am I willing to concede because the biggest thing of all—not doing it in a church, was finally hard won (although I think my grandmother is worried about my soul and that I might be going to hell, and thus won’t see me in the afterlife).

And not to confuse the situation further, but the third side of this is that I feel I have little control of what happens in the Nepali wedding—sure there are details to iron out like what to serve at the reception, making playlists of music, organizing a program for those unfamiliar with Hindu weddings, but mostly I am just as much along for the ride as some of the guests. It’s really P and his family that have a say in the Nepali wedding—including what I wear that day, and what traditions are followed, so it makes me all the more adamant to make the American ceremony “my own” in terms of personality and flavor. So there is this constant delicate balance between what I truly would love to have and what others expect, and what is a reasonable compromise between the two.

Anyway, this has colored everything from creating invitations (and insisting that even though it was tradition to include an image of Ganesh on Nepali invites, it was probably more politically correct to omit that detail for now), to what I wear (no I cannot put henna on my hands, even  though I think it would be fun and beautiful–technically it isn’t a Nepali tradition anyway, but a newer trend influenced from India and Bollywood– but none-the-less, because it may, according to my mom, “ruin” the “white wedding” photos, I’m not allowed to do it), to ceremony details… and my next topic—to Ring or Not to Ring.

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26 responses to “Sometimes a Church Just Doesn’t Feel Right

  1. Sometimes you have to do things to make the parents happy because this is the last occasion they have something to say regarding you. They are giving you away.

    Don’t worry too much. Plan it so that you and your husband are comfortable, and everyone has fun. It will be over, and you’ll only remember the good things.

    Regarding Nepali vs Indian traditions, you can’t draw a line. I am sure the jewelleries, silk sarees, kurtas, food, decorations, music, dance, etc etc were influenced by Indian traditions, but now is a part of Nepali traditions.

  2. All of these things will fall into place. Did you say before that you were doing a one day event or multiple day? I wish you luck in planning everything, given all the considerations. Weddings have a lot of stressful aspects and no one ever likes to talk about that.

  3. I, too, decided to forego the church wedding (we actually just did a reception in my hometown — for a variety of reasons)…I got some concerned emails/talks from family members who wanted to ensure that God was part of my marriage. And I had little say in the Hindu wedding, but it was complex because A’s mom kept pulling us into plans (we initially thought it would be a surprise for us as much as the guests), then using “but it’s traditional” as a trump card every time we wanted something different from them.

    I think you’re doing the best thing you can do — deciding what’s really important to you and fighting for it, then being as flexible as you can on the rest.

  4. word. my DH’s family is catholic to the extent you describe above, I on the other hand and my family is not- and we had that exact same convo with his family about everything else being just ‘cosmetic’. But in truth, we have very good family friends who are Methodist ministers (husband/wife team) (!!!! a woman!!!! yes indeedy!) and my husband was scared about saying that the service was NOT going to be catholic (with good reason, numerous threats of family, even immediate family refusing to come- although in the end, all did) – i ended up saying, the service is *here* and we are only having one service. then the argument switched to getting a priest to come bless the wedding at least, which i didnt mind, but was out of the question for DH since he really is not wanting any of that catholicism practice in his life. in the end, the wedding was done, people can say what they want, but life has gone on. ..next battle – the baptism of our child….*eek!*

    • americanepali

      Agreed— that baptism discussion may come someday, and it won’t be pretty. Good luck to you and glad to hear it ended well!

  5. Do what’s best for you and your future husband, and try very hard to have everyone experience a great occasion. If everyone has fun, it’s the fun they’ll remember. And if they don’t, that’s their problem. Life is what you make of it. Good luck!!!

  6. *SIGH* Well, you know that if there was a reality show on TLC or something called “Wedding Re-Do” I would be the first person in line! (AmericaNepali knows this, but if you, dear reader, don’t, I had a Hindu wedding in India in which I had zero say. It was an exercise in being pushed around and dealing with people’s powertrips. We were turned down for a Catholic wedding by a priest who just said, “You should really just have one ceremony.” As my mom put it, “He probably just meant that when you’re married, you’re married.” Sorry, enough about my crap!). I am a strong believer in having memories and photos of your wedding that don’t make you cringe. If you had two super-traditional ceremonies, you would just have two ceremonies that were about other people.

    I fully support your desire to make your American wedding about you and your husband. That way, you can think of the Nepali wedding as just something you have to do for the family. The other wedding can be more low key and actually about two people making a commitment to each other. Which is what a wedding should be about!

  7. It might sound like I am trying to be devil’s advocate here but that is not my intention. So first of all, the most important thing is that you are getting married and that you and P are making a lifelong commitment, whatever the setting.

    But I can understand the difficulty for your family in getting their heads around you not having a church wedding but having a Hindu wedding. Given your struggle with faith, I can see that some people will say you are being hypocritical when you are “willing to get married in a Hindu temple by a Hindu priest (blasphemy!)” (quoting you) and may argue that by doing so you are tacitly accepting Hinduism as the faith of your relationship and that by going through a Hindu ceremony you are “bowing” to the wishes of your inlaws rather than being true to yourself.

    At the end of the day, most weddings have a few battles that are fought out in the planning stages and all sorts of accusations (and tantrums) get thrown around. I’ve yet to meet a couple that had plain sailing in the planning stages. Because of something that happened in the run-up to my (civil) wedding, I didn’t know until we were on our way to the town hall if we would get married. I wouldn’t wish that experience on my worst enemy (not that I have any enemies) so all in all, remember, deep breathes, remember that it is not about the “event” (or events) but about the two of you marrying each other and whatever makes you both happy is the most important. And the advantage of two weddings is that both families get to have their day in the spotlight (and you get two sets of lovely clothes – oops, that isn’t what it is all about)!

    • oops, that was a very long comment. Sorry!

      • I hear what you are saying, and I think that you hit the nail on the head when you say they feel as if I am “bowing” to Hinduism and his family’s wishes, and tacitly accepting Hinduism as our family faith. I think there is a bit of their own prejudice mixed in– unbelieving that someone who was raised in a monotheistic “true” faith could possibly “go backward” by accepting a polytheistic “untrue” faith (its easier to believe Jesus is real, versus a blue skinned, dreadlocked, pot smoking, loincloth wearing god is). But my trouble is with faith in general, which I think also shakes them up.

    • I’ll supply my response for your devil’s advocate. :) I’m sure it’s not going to fit everyone, but I’ll try to give good background to clarify.

      My family is Christian, my husband’s is Hindu, but neither of us feel a full “fit” with our family’s religions. A still considers himself Hindu, because there is a very wide definition; I do not consider myself Christian anymore, because I do not accept what I consider to be the minimal beliefs to use that term; and we both consider ourselves part of the Unitarian Universalist church (my family’s worried we’re pagan, his family’s worried we’re Christian).

      With that background, I can tell you that I’m much more comfortable with Hindu ceremonies than with Christian because Hindu throws a wider net. As it’s been explained to me, the basic theology is that there is one God, who comes to humans in whatever form he/she is needed, and responds to humans in whatever form they reach out to him/her in. This means they leave lots of room for any religion. With Christianity, the basic theology (at least within the circles I grew up in) is that there is one God, in one truthful form, and that humans must accept that God and ask Jesus to intercede for them, or face an eternity of suffering in hell. This means they believe they are the only religion that has things right.

      In our families, we experience a pressure with Christianity that we don’t with Hinduism. When his family asks if I’ve been to a temple, I feel like they want to share their experiences with me; when my family asks if A has started going to church with me (before I “came out” as nonChristian), there’s a pressure of conversion behind it. So we do more with Hinduism than with Christianity because we both feel welcome in Hindu settings, and he frankly doesn’t feel welcome in most Christian settings (nor do I, but I also don’t consider myself part of the group anymore). I think if we’d found the UU church before we were married, we might have chosen to have a church-like ceremony with a UU minister…but then again, we might have still opted for courthouse, Big Fat Indian Wedding, and my hometown reception in a park.

      • I REALLY need to write a post on my feelings about faith. But I think you reflected a lot of my thoughts on the Christianity versus Hinduism discussion. Are you sure we weren’t separated at birth?

        • It’s possible. We could start just cross-posting everything to each other’s blogs. And you can email me with any wedding rants that aren’t blog-worthy (or blog-appropriate). I definitely needed every scrap of support I could gather to make it through mine.

          I’ve also come to realize that I don’t consider A and I to be interfaith, because our faith beliefs are actually quite similar, and compatible where they differ. Instead, it’s more of the cultural pieces of religion that we have to sort through (i.e., deciding what pieces to keep of a wedding and how to celebrate the birth of a child, learning how to participate in a Sunday church service or a trip to the temple), and it’s not much different from other cultural pieces.

          • If your family are very strict in their theological beliefs, than yes, I think the point of “going backwards” prejudice is probaby involved in the mix. I struggled with whether we should have a religious ceremony because my other half has no belief in any religious faith and while it was important to me I also find it hard to accept someone going through a religious ceremony for show – there are plenty of other ways to celebrate a wedding. I’m going to sound quite hypocritical when I say that we had the religious ceremony – for me the religious part of it was important, for him it was just the vehicle through which our marriage was publicly celebrated (and him accepting that it would make things easier to baptise future children – we have an understanding on that, which I won’t go into here) but what was equally important to us was to have a celebrant who openly accepted, and respected, other faiths (I’d say 50% of our guests were not Christian, let alone Catholic) – our celebrant advised us not to have communion as it would exclude non-Catholics and in his words “a wedding is also about the community that will support you during your married life. If they are excluded on the wedding day, the message you give them is that you value their support less than the Catholic members of your community”.
            I think that was the most valuable piece of advice anyone gave me about our wedding – it put a lot of things in perspective. For the Nepalese side, I am guessing that having the wedding in the US is, while not a “concession”, not how they imagined P’s wedding as it means a smaller wedding, getting visas, flights, accommodation etc., etc. and without the full (or as full as it can be in the US) Nepalese ceremony, would they feel valued? Similarly, somehow the American side needs to feel equally important, not more, not less, just equal. Weddings, weddings, weddings – the so-called happiest day of one’s life brings a lot of issues beforehand.

  8. Im sorry to say it, but honestly as hard as it is, a wedding is more about family than you. Theres a saying I heard once. “There Wedding, Our Marrige”. It was in a movie about a intercultural wedding. Mostly when i plan my wedding I think about the stuff that is going to make my family happy, because honestly its just one day. I have the rest of my life to be with my R. But like you, i am planning 2 weddings also, but if it were up to me, we would go to the court house and just have 2 receptions…

  9. OMG this stuff is so difficult isn’t it? I was going through it this time last year so I am really feeling you! Reza and I are both Muslim, so it was taken as a matter of ‘course that we would marry in a mosque! However, I was keen on having a church blessing at least, to make my family feel part of things! I do interfaith work, so easily found a minister willing to do it! only, my family refused to come! Saying “you are Muslim, its not right, and its embarrassing for us!), so when I realised saving face mattered more to them, I decided to suit myself! Well, .., up to a point! Our wedding was in Iran and was very stressful indeed! It was during my first visit; first time meeting the in-laws, first time even coming close to a Persian wedding other than videos on youtube! It wasn’t bad, but it was stressful; and when I watch the video back its like watching some one else’s bash! When Reza comes here, we’ve decided to still have that party! It won’t be in a church; and if I do it in a mosque; it will be too ‘Urdu and Reza won’t get it! so we’re having a picnic in the woods! And inviting all our friends! Beauty is in simplicity I feel! I think the advice above is correct; deep breaths; satisfy the elders, and then do something for yourselves afterwards; if not your own unique wedding party, then at least an amazing totally private honeymoon VERY far away!

    • Is your family Christian? If so, they may have thought that it would be a mockery of their beliefs to have a blessing from their faith without belonging to it? I grew up Christian and still feel connected to the rituals, but avoid things like communion because I don’t want to offend anyone by participating in rituals that would mean something different to me than it’s intended to mean.

  10. Well my family are Christians; (half of them are Baptists; that’s normal! The other half belong to a mad sect; and I just won’t go in to that here!). Maybe they did feel offended or mocked; I actually never thought of it in that way at all! I’m quite fluid when it comes to religion; I chose Islam, because it made the most sense to me; but I didn’t throw the rest out with the bath water! I have attended church if invited by family or friends. I still attend the Hindu temple that I attended during my teenage years! I’m interested in religion generally and will attend different places of worship if I am welcome! To me, God is God! We just express our devotions in different ways; and that is fine! I grew up Christian, and Islam was born out of Christian doctrine in many ways; so for me the 2 were connected! But you make an interesting point Sara; maybe its all too much, too fast for them!

    • I’ve definitely been part of Christian groups that sharply defined what was “Christian God” and what was “pagan god,” and that definition can get mighty narrow…as I described in another comment on this post. :) Glad that my comment was potentially helpful in understanding the reaction…

  11. Jjan Ahmed (Jamily5)

    (i hate typing a long comment and it not showing up in the comment box and having to type it over).
    sometimes families and/or those who are close to us who are steeped in their religions have a hard time seeing anything else as “normal” or “acceptable.” I bet those same christians would feel quite out of place and probably deem Israeli weddings “during the time of christ” “unchristian.” Imagine that! We always think that we have the most pure and most accurate ways of celebrating our traditions and expressing our religions.
    Is it possible for you to relegate your family to the roles of participant and spectator as opposed to those roles which assist in the planning? Maybe you can make a list of all of the catholic traditions and all of the nepali traditions. then, mark out whichever ones YOU, personally, have a problem with and go from there. sometimes, family needs to see the compromises broken down on paper to realize that you are not being jack knifed into “his family wedding traditions,” while giving no regard to your own. It is hard to keep the boundaries when both families want control of the celebrations and think that they know best. Good luck!

  12. Maybe it is also a good idea to remind your family of those traditions that you would eliminate “regardless of your fiancee’s religion/culture.”

  13. I find it interesting that a thoughtful person like you – who is conflicted about faith would easily toss out the Catholic portion but easily embrace the Hindu version. If you really did research on what the Hindu priests are saying as they chant their mantras over you and dedicate you to their different gods you would be very surprised by what you learn. If you thought you were conflicted about the Catholic faith, study up on the Hindu religion (not the Westernized version that everyone seems to embrace). I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

    • americanepali

      Hi Shreeman,

      I think you make a good point, and I’ve been conflicted about that too– why am I so bothered by taking holy communion, but feel okay taking prasad or tikka? I think part of it is that I don’t fully understand a lot of Hindu ideology. I definitely know more than average, but I know there is so much more to know. I need to explore these thoughts more…

  14. To add to Shreeman’s point some parts of the Hindu wedding ceremony as it is practiced in India are quite regressive from a gender equality perspective. I only know a little bit about Nepalese weddings but North Indian Hindu weddings include several rituals that made me cringe.
    For e.g. The ceremony begins with the father of the bride symbolically washing the groom’s feet, followed by the Kanyadan, where he gives away the bride to the groom (most argue that it’s similar to the Christian ceremony but that doesn’t make it better in my opinion). There is also a symbolic dowry giving ritual, a gotra exchange where the bride becomes part of the groom’s gotra etc. Also various blessings regarding many sons vs. daughters etc. And then there is the one in Nepalese weddings where the bride touches the groom’s feet.
    So a lot of food for thought there.

  15. Hi there,
    I’m marrying a Hindu man next winter and I’m a grad student at Harvard Divinity School. I’m taking a class on “Theology and the Everyday” and focusing my research on families where one partner was raised in a Christian context and the other was raised in a Hindu context. I would LOVE to be able to chat with you a bit. (Or anyone else on here that is in that situation.)
    You can email me at: multifaithfamilies@gmail.com
    I will be giving awesome $25 gift certificates to Amazon to those who are willing to chat with me a bit.

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