DEAR AMY: My partner and I are fortunate to have many wonderful friends of diverse religions and backgrounds. We host dinner parties that may include folks of the Muslim, Jewish, Catholic and Baptist faiths (there may also be a few atheists and agnostics). I was raised Catholic, but consider myself an agnostic. My partner was raised reformed Jewish. I find that asking for a moment of silence/prayer before dinner is a cheap way out of the situation. Guests have asked if they could say grace and have been allowed to do so. Each time they have insulted my partner by breaking one of the commandments (as his faith/background/upbringing sees it). They say the word "God" aloud, instead of offering a silent recognition. It is stressful enough having to deal with the diet requirements for a large group due to allergies and religious beliefs. A proper blessing seems to elude me. Can you suggest a blessing that is all inclusive and non-insulting? Do we hold hands around the table? Is it OK to sit, or should we stand? Dinner next week will include an Episcopalian, a few Southern Baptists, a couple of Catholics, my Jewish partner and a few other friends.

-- Bill

DEAR BILL: If people are determined to be insulted, they will find a way to be insulted.

Your partner, for instance.

Because he is so spiritually sensitive, perhaps he should provide a blessing for your group meals.

Otherwise, given the wide variety of faiths and non-faiths represented in your circle, you might do best to offer a more general greeting to your guests and an expression of gratitude to all of the unknown people who grew and harvested your food and helped get it to your table.

This should be done just after all of your guests are seated and before the food is presented. Please -- no hand-holding.

DEAR AMY: "Loving Mom" wrote to you about her son, whose marriage was brief. The father was insisting that the son repay money he had given to the couple as a wedding gift. Why should the son pay back money that was a gift? If it is to be given back, then the son should return half and let his ex-wife return the other half. This father needs to stay out of this couple's business.

-- Alberta

DEAR ALBERTA: I suggested repaying the money as a point of pride -- but I agree that a gift need not be repaid. Your suggestion that the repayment be shared by the couple is excellent.


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