For Some Interfaith Families, 'Pick One' Is Not an Option

Parents' groups are joining forces to provide formal interfaith religious education for the kids

Reprinted with permission of the Dallas Morning News.

Today, the memory makes her only slightly wistful.

Eileen O'Farrell Smith was sitting in a Catholic church watching a priest bathe the forehead of her best friend's white-gowned baby when a pain shot through her heart--would there ever be a similar baptism ceremony for her own daughter, Liliana, born the same day?

"There was this sense of loss, and I just could not tolerate that grief," Mrs. Smith said of that day, eight years ago. "That is when the conversation started."

That conversation--between Eileen, raised a Catholic, and her husband, Stephen, raised an Orthodox Jew--led the Chicago couple and their three children to a group of other interfaith families like their own. But what began as a discussion forum for the adults has now branched out to include a Sunday school for their children that is neither Christian nor Jewish, but is built on a curriculum with a footing in both faiths.

"This is not something that is 'his' or 'hers,' " Mrs. Smith said. "This is ours, as a family. There is no 'pick one.' 'Pick one' is not an option."


As intermarriage rates skyrocket, more families like the Smiths are finding their way into interfaith groups. And where these groups once existed largely for the benefit of couples navigating the choppy waters of interfaith marriage, several groups around the country are taking the next logical step--establishing formal interfaith religious education for their children.

At a convention of interfaith families hosted in June by the Dovetail Institute, a nonprofit interfaith family service organization, groups from Palo Alto, Calif., Washington, D.C., and Memphis, Tenn., expressed interest in forming their own Sunday schools. Mrs. Smith, who for the last five years has studied the faith formation of interfaith children under a grant from the Lilly Foundation, estimates there may be as many as 30 such groups in various stages of maturity nationwide.

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