A family searches for a comfortable church home

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[This post is the first in a series on the columnist's search for a church home for her family.]

Written by Love Isn’t Enough columnist Annie Avery

For a long time my partner, who is Jewish, and I were pretty smug about not having conflicts from being an interfaith couple.

Then I got pregnant. We didn’t know the baby’s gender and we had an argument about circumcision. She couldn’t imagine not having a bris if we had a son, and I couldn’t imagine subjecting our child to unnecessary pain. Our compromise: if we had a boy I’d get to decide about circumcision, and she’d get to name the baby.

Fortunately we had a girl.

It was a wake-up call to the fact that we did have issues about being an interfaith couple. Looking back I can see that there were conflicts about religion all along, we just chose not to see them.

When our older daughter was three we tried Unitarian, having heard that a lot of Jewish-Christian couples end up there. We loved that church, but only attended a few times before my partner’s job caused us to leave New York for Chicago. At about the same time we decided to pursue adoption. My partner and I and our older daughter are white and we were likely to be matched with a black or biracial baby, so we began preparing ourselves to be a multiracial family. Aware now of race in a new way, it became another factor in our search for a religious home.

The first church we tried in Chicago (Unitarian) was all white. The next (Congregationalist) had a service that was too long. The next (Unity) asked my partner to take our then-five-month-old baby out of the service because her babbling was interfering with audiotaping the service, plus, they sang “People Who Need People”. The next (Unitarian again, but in a racially diverse neighborhood) was racially mixed but lacked energy. The next (Episcopal, with a reputation for being attended by gay people of color) was vibrant and racially mixed, but had fewer then forty people at the service. On Easter.

As we drove through a west side Chicago neighborhood that Easter we passed churches that, to judge by the crowds, housed large black congregations. I was tempted to try one, but wary of the condemnation black gay and lesbian people have experienced in black churches. Our kids would be embraced for sure. I don’t know how my partner and I would be received.

We went to a liberal synagogue for Family Shabbat: a potluck dinner followed by a family-friendly service. The congregation included a lesbian family, several multiracial families, and other black people. The rabbi welcomed me as warmly as she welcomed my partner, our nine-year-old was drafted for the choir, our four-year-old spent the service on a new friend’s lap, and we felt at home.

But I felt a little envious, so knew I was not ready to give up the search for a church. Besides, as genuinely as our new temple community embraces our four-year-old African American daughter, the road for black Jews is hard (see Rebecca Walker’s book, Black, White, and Jewish). I want to give our kids options.

Next up: a Catholic church in a gay neighborhood, which I’m told is a comfortable place for people of color as well as gay people.

Photo Credit: Weidmaier

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About Tami

Tami Winfrey Harris writes about race, feminism, politics and pop culture at the blog What Tami Said. Her work has also appeared online at The Guardian’s Comment is Free, Ms. Magazine blog, Newsweek, Change.org, Huffington Post and Racialicious. She is a graduate of the Iowa State University Greenlee School of Journalism. She is mom to two awesome stepkids and spends her spare time researching her family history and cultivating a righteous 'fro.
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