An Interfaith Celebration of Grandparents

Copyright stephaniewilliamsimages.com

Copyright stephaniewilliamsimages.com

When interfaith couples choose to celebrate both family religions, both sets of grandparents can freely share religious traditions with their grandchildren. Nevertheless, grandparents may not understand, at first, the new concept of an interfaith families community. They may worry about whether their religion is being honored and respected, and whether their grandchildren are getting adequate religious education.

So on Grandparents Day, we invite them to see for themselves: to come and experience our interfaith Gathering, and then go with their grandchildren to interfaith Sunday school, or meet in a group with the rabbi and minister to ask questions about the program.

Of course, grandparents are welcome in our community at any time—anyone is welcome at any time. And we have many grandparents who have become regular visitors, or even community members. My interfaith parents love visiting when they are in town. We have at least one interfaith couple who are senior citizens who intermarried later in life, and chose our community as their own. Meanwhile, some of our original members now have grown children, and are becoming grandparents themselves. But also, we have young interfaith couples who have brought along parents who became members.

For instance, we have a Moroccan-born Jewish grandfather who plays doumbek (a Middle-Eastern hand drum) in our house band at each Gathering. I love that his interfaith grandchildren get to see him there each week, and that he adds to the joy for all of us with his drumming.

On the most recent Grandparents Day, Jewish grandparents visiting for the first time may have felt reassured when we began our service with the familiar song “Hine Ma Tov” (“how good it is for people to dwell together in harmony”).  We said the central Jewish prayers: the Shema and the V’ahavta. We sang the Hamotzi (the blessing over bread) in Hebrew and English. And the three and four-year-olds got up to sing a good morning and good night song, showing off the fact that they are learning some conversational Hebrew.

Jewish grandparents, and Christian ones too, were probably also glad to hear our rabbi, lively at 81, reflect on the wisdom that comes with age, and to hear the specific words of wisdom he chose from each of the five books of the Torah.

The Christian grandparents may have felt reassured when we began our Gathering by passing the peace (a Christian tradition of greeting those sitting near you), and that we sang the Shaker song “Simple Gifts.” We also said the Kindness Prayer from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, and the Lord’s Prayer.  A Jewish community member, a young mother with a toddler in her arms, got up to read from the Gospel of Luke. And since the theme of this gathering was “The Treasure of Wisdom,” we also sang along with the band to “Let it Be” by The Beatles. (The song feels Christian for many, since it refers to “mother Mary,” although Paul McCartney has said that it refers to his own mother, named Mary.)

At this Gathering, many of us felt moved as we realized once again that we can do this. We can share our traditions with each other, and we can feel sustained by a partner’s rituals, or a son-in-law’s rituals, even if our theologies and cultures differ. At times, as we sing or clasp hands, we will experience an endorphin rush of pleasure–a specific and electric form of spirituality we experience as interfaith families. And grandparents, and siblings, and friends, can share this pleasure with us.

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8 Comments on “An Interfaith Celebration of Grandparents”

  1. sydsart Says:

    I am one of an interfaith family. I married a catholic man at the age 0f 71 and tho I remained an agnostic, I am part of his large family(southern). Half are Baptist and half are Catholic. (some are nothing). On my side, I have 4 children, 3 sons and an adopted daughter. One of my sons maried a catholic girl but they practice
    both, one married a baptist girl and did not choose to practice any religion and neither do their children, my third son practices native american rites and is married to a girl who is not religious and my daughter is adopted and if she practices anything it is Buddhist Rites and her husband is Lutheran. Some of my husband’s children married children of interrace families. So when we are togther we have a real patchwork and if the world looked like us, it would be a much better place.
    I wish there was a community like yours here because I miss the fellowship. You are lucky to have that.

  2. Jennifer Liebreich Says:

    I felt that old, familiar rush as I read your blog tonight. Thank you. I am deeply grateful for having been a part of IFFP, and I actually recall the first time I felt that rush (1999!)

  3. Ari Saks Says:

    Beautiful piece, Susan. As you indicate, the feeling of “reassurance” for grandparents of a single faith is so important to their acceptance of an interfaith household.


  4. Ari, thank you. The support of grandparents is very valuable. If they understand that many interfaith families are trying to pass on traditions, not abandon them, they are more likely to lend that crucial support.

  5. Ive Says:

    Hi Susan. I am wondering how this day is presented to Grandparents – -especially those who do not support their grandchildren being raised both. For instance, I am wondering if they are invited to opt out of participating in any elements of the day they feel they can’t support, etc. In raising my son both I realize his grandparents will not always like or support how we are bringing the two traditions together and I am interested in ways to present to them that they should always feel free to opt out of saying anything or doing anything they don’t really believe, Thanks for any guidance you have!


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