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Asking the Clergy: How does your faith prepare couples for marriage?

From left, Rabbi Ben Herman of Jericho Jewish

From left, Rabbi Ben Herman of Jericho Jewish Center, the Rev. Mark Bigelow of The Congregational Church of Huntington and Mahmood Kauser of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, with mosques in Amityville, Queens and Brooklyn. Photo Credit: Ellen Dubin Photography; Chris Bausch; Mahmood Kauser (Kauser)

September and October have overtaken May and June as the most popular wedding months, according to Brides online magazine. For couples planning a fall wedding, that leaves plenty of time to meet with spiritual counselors to develop a deeper understanding of the bonds of matrimony. This week’s clergy discuss how they counsel couples for a lifetime of love and commitment.

Rabbi Ben Herman

Jericho Jewish Center

In Judaism we prepare couples for marriage by teaching about loyalty and fidelity between partners. We teach that we are supposed to love other people with all their flaws and that everyone is made in God’s image.

In premarital counseling, I teach about the value that couples place on one another and the need for each member to support the other. I teach that in the first year of marriage, a couple gets to put honey on their challah and live with sweetness. I also teach that marriage is full of its share of ups and downs, excitement and challenges, and that the couple needs to be united, working together as a team against adversity.

Marriage is viewed as a contractual bond commanded by God in which two people come together to create a relationship in which God is directly involved. The ketubah is the marriage contract in which both partners are expected to provide for the needs of the other. Marriage is understood to mean that the partners are merging into a single soul, no longer individuals but a unit.

The Rev. Mark Bigelow

Pastor, The Congregational Church of Huntington, United Church of Christ

A wedding is possibly the most celebrated day in a couple’s life, but it is only the beginning of a lifetime in creating a marriage.

We at The Congregational Church of Huntington rejoice in the power of marriage for all couples, regardless of sexual orientation. To prepare for the wedding itself, I meet with a couple several times to plan their service and to explore the hopes and dreams of their marriage.

Our denomination does not require premarital counseling. We respect the couple’s decision about their marriage and do not feel it is beneficial to require counseling. I do, though, encourage such counseling to help strengthen their understanding of their relationship and their hopes for the future. If a couple desires premarital counseling, I meet with them in three or four sessions to discuss their plans for the future, their relationship styles, goals for a family and the place of faith in their lives. Most couples do not have any revelatory moments during the sessions, but they agree that it is fruitful to pause before the wedding to reflect on their future together. The pastoral counseling becomes a welcome place to focus on what is most important about their wedding.

Mahmood Kauser

Regional imam, Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, with mosques in Amityville, Queens and Brooklyn

"Till death do us apart" is a phrase heard during wedding ceremonies, yet nearly 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce. prophet Muhammad enjoined Muslims to prepare for marriage by looking at compatibility in four areas: wealth, family, beauty and religious and moral standards. He added that the most weight should be given to religious and moral conduct because these remain forever while all other qualities are temporary.

We often fall prey to mesmerizing beauty, wealth or family status while our main focus should be our future spouse’s moral conduct. Islam speaks about husna (beauty) and ihsan (favors) as the two factors that incline us to love one another.

But while the initial beauty we see in a person is often short-lived, their true beauty often emerges in the favors they provide and their moral conduct. This is where attraction transforms into love. That's why you found your 80-year-old elementary teacher to be a beautiful person. Similarly, it's why you find elderly couples still madly in love with one another. And this is also why you don’t like a co-worker who is undoubtedly attractive, but whose poor conduct has obscured that surface beauty. Therefore, the best way to prepare couples for marriage is to help them make a lasting connection that goes beyond lust and blind infatuation, to a lasting passion and love that only grows, through hardships, to commitment, compromise and understanding.

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