A Jewish-Christian marriage ceremony, a Washingtonian article, and a Reflection on Modern Culture

The Rev. Ken Howard, a Jewish Christian and an Episcopal priest, blesses Elena Taube (another Jewish Christian) and Paul Bailey under an improvised huppah at the Washington National Cathedral.

By Ken Howard

Late last year, I performed a Jewish-Christian marriage ceremony at the Washington National Cathedral (that’s me in the kippah and tallit on the right – I’m a Jewish Christian myself). Elena Taube and Paul Bailey, the prospective bride and groom, were a delightful couple. And the service was great fun (especially the part where I snuck a huppah into the Cathedral, disguised as my tallit… Yep, we bad).

Editor’s Note:
In response to those who have asked the difference
between the terms “Jewish Christian” and “Messianic Jew,”
the meanings are roughly equivalent:
a Jewish follower of Jesus Christ (Hebrew: Y’shua ha-Mashiach),
who believes that following Jesus as the Messiah (or Christ)
does not negate his Jewishness.
My preference for the term Jewish Christian
has more to do with clarity than meaning.
More on this topic is available in my two books,
Creating Christian Community Beyond Us and Them

Excommunicating the Faithful:
Jewish Christianity in the Early Church

Earlier this week, Washingtonian Magazine published pictures of the wedding in its “Real Weddings” section. I thought it was great fun seeing the pictures in print. As usual, I posted them on Facebook, where a colleague observed an interesting omission. See if you can pick find it in the list below, copied directly from the original article…

Ceremony: Washington National Cathedral

Cocktail Party Venue: National Cathedral School

Reception Venue: The Mayflower Renaissance Washington, DC Hotel

Photographer: Susie & Becky Photography

Bride’s Gown: Custom designed

Groom’s Tux: Calvin Klein

Hair: Get Gorgeous Hair & Makeup By Zia

Makeup: Pakito Internacional

Event Coordinator: Washington National Cathedral, Schelle Be Done, The Mayflower Renaissance Washington, DC Hotel

Cake: Fluffy Thoughts Cakes

Florist: Washington National Cathedral, Blanca Zelaya, and Bergeron’s Florist

Caterers: Flik International and The Mayflower Renaissance Washington, DC Hotel

Transportation: ABC Limo Service

Videographer: Michael Brazda Films

Music/Entertainment: Washington National Cathedral organist, Violin Dreams, and Night & Day

Did you find it?


Yup! The list included the names of everyone involved in preparing for and carrying out the event, right down to the person who baked the wedding cake (which was beautiful and quite tasty, I must say), with one omission: the officiant who presided over the ceremony…me.

Now, I really don’t crave publicity. What I enjoy is the pre-marital work with the couple, and helping them make choices about which prayers and readings from Scripture best express the their thoughts, prayers, and dreams about their marriage and their future life together as a couple. Seeing the pictures in the Washingtonian was fun, but for me they were the “icing on the cake,” as it were, rather than the main course.

But as I reflected on it, I did think my colleague had a point: not about about the ceremony (which was a profound and joyful event), nor about the couple (Elena and Paul were involved with me in the preparing themselves and the ceremony for the better part of a year), but about the culture. In modern culture, faith is relegated to an afterthought, if thought about at all. Nowhere is this more evident than in modern weddings, where the officiant and the church are often booked last, after the Caribbean island honeymoon reservations and the cruise ship. In that context, it makes a certain upside-down sense, doesn’t it? I mean, who remembers the name of the captain of the cruise ship, right?

It’s also become more and more evident during the marriage ceremony itself. I’ve had wedding coordinators attempt to advise me on which stole I should wear (so as not to clash with the bridal gown). I’ve had photographers kneel in the aisle, stopping the procession, just to get a picture-perfect “here comes the bride photo” and try (unsuccessfully) to step behind me during the vows in an attempt to get an “over-the-shoulder” (my shoulder) shot of the bride and groom exchanging rings [I banished him from working in my church again]. I’ve even had a wedding in which the bride’s mom set up not one, but two video cameras to capture the blessed day “for posterity,” which made the shy bride so anxious that when she walked down the aisle, as she passed her mom, she projectile vomited and fainted (to this day, the couple still watches the video and laughs, having defeated Momzilla’s plans). My point is that, as the culture has shifted, some weddings have developed the “who’s she wearing” feel of the red carpet at the Academy Awards, than a sacramental act.

Oddly, while separation of Church and State is an issue that provokes controversy in almost every other area of public life, weddings seem to be the one public act that gets a pass. Yet over the 20 years I have been ordained I have become more and more theologically uncomfortable with acting as an “agent of the state,” in performing marriages: a role I cannot play in any other area. Another reason my quasi-public official role discomforts me is that is it obscures what for me is the most important role I play in the ceremony: pronouncing God’s blessing upon the marriage. And more importantly, it obscures the real role the couple play in the marriage. Theologically, neither I nor the State perform the sacrament of marriage. Rather, the couple themselves perform the sacrament with their vows.

That’s why more and more, I am suggesting that the couple first go get married at the Justice of the Peace, then come to the church for what we call “the blessing of a civil marriage.” Because then the couple know what real reason they are coming to the Church to receive: the blessing of God and the prayers of their community of faith.

Filed under: Paradoxical Thoughts Tagged: Associated Press, Baroque, Cathedral, Christ, Christianity, Christmas, Competence (law), Dido and Aeneas, Henry Purcell, Jesus, Knut Nystedt, Lincoln Memorial, List of diplomatic missions of Norway, Superior Court of the District of Columbia, Vandalism, Washington National Cathedral