Ask a Skeptic

Dear Skeptic:

How can I politely attend the Episcopal wedding of a close friend’s daughter? The friend and I get along because we don’t talk religion, she knows my facts and I am aware of her beliefs. However, whenever we dine at their house, we are invited to bend our heads and say grace. My husband and I just stare silently at each other.

The wedding will be heavy on God, and my friend has told me I will have to suck it up and take communion. I don’t even know what communion is! I do know I don’t want to take it.

At other church weddings, I’ve sat quietly during prayer time and changed the words to songs, even using “dog” for the mythical one.

I don’t think my quiet protests will go unnoticed at this wedding though. I am also afraid I might shout out something inappropriate or start shushing people. Maybe I should just go to the after-party, where my discomfort is less likely to be noticed.

What would Ann Landers say?

 — Linda in Virginia

P.S. We’re also invited to a Church of England wedding in the U.K. My friend, who is the only religious one in her family, is planning a wonderful party for after the service. She excitedly told me we were on the A-list.

I wondered what she meant until she explained this meant we were invited to both the service and the party. The lucky (in my opinion) B-listers only get invited to the party!


Scott Colson, production editor:

I think it’s more offensive to eat the Jesus cracker because that’s their god, or for Episcopals, a supposedly adequate representation of him. A cracker is better than the scary carving of Jesus with nails and thorns at some of the more graphic churches I’ve seen. Crackers any day.

The reception is more fun and a chance to interact with the lucky couple and their family without the formalities and incense (unless it’s a Baptist reception — then, run).


Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president: 

I vote for the party! There you can truly celebrate the newlyweds, not the religion, without artifice or feeling like a hypocrite. No one is likely to notice your absence at a church wedding, and you can circulate and truly enjoy the reception.

I no longer attend religious weddings (with exception of Unitarian). I vowed “never again” after being a “captive” bridesmaid in my 20s in a Catholic wedding for a friend, as the priest went on for two hours about “sin.”

Even firmer is my resolve not to attend religious (“fill in the blank”) funerals, typically more about “sin” (again) than the loved one.

Funerals, especially with open casket, are a relic of religion. Emotions are too raw, families are too upset and have too much to do to force upon them a burial funeral. A memorial service at most, which can be held when everyone has a chance to make travel arrangements and adapt to grief, is far more humane and civilized.


Joan Reisman-Brill, “The Ethical Dilemma” columnist:

You have to politely but firmly tell your friend you will not suck up anything, whether it’s wine and wafers, or just your own values. If that demotes you to the B-list (or off all lists), so “B” it.

If you were Jewish or Muslim, would she expect you to take communion? Even if you were Episcopal, it’s out of line — and perhaps even a sin in the eyes of the faith — to command anyone to perform a sacred ritual against their own conscience.

It’s fine (even fun) during prayers to keep your head up, eyes open and lips not moving (or moving to alternative words that amuse you). But it would be inappropriate for you to register anything that others read as disrespect or protest.

If you really do fear you might lose control, beg off the ceremony and say how much you want to attend the party. Explain to your friend you just aren’t comfortable at a religious service and don’t want to make anyone else uncomfortable, but you would want to be there to celebrate.

A friend who isn’t willing to accept you on these terms is not a true friend. (If you weren’t such a VIP, you could just show up too late for the vows but in time for the kiss; but that’s not an option in this case.)

You can do the same for the U.K. event. This will make room for someone on the B-list who’s eager to get promoted to your spot on A. And again, if this friend says not to bother coming at all, she’ll have saved you a long expensive trip just for a party, however nice.

Even if your friends dump you in a huff, you would do well to leave the door open. Many lovely ladies turn into Mother-of-the-Bridezillas. It could take time, but maybe they’ll one day see things differently and want to reconnect (and perhaps beg forgiveness), which is easier if at least one of you didn’t do any slamming.


Patrick Elliott, staff attorney:

Weddings are supposed to be enjoyable for those getting married and their guests. If the religious ceremony is too much for you to handle, than it may be best to just attend the reception. The people actually getting married will not worry about whether the bride’s mother’s close friend is at the ceremony. You can let them know you care by giving them a personal card and nice gift. Your friend may not fully grasp why you may not want to attend a church service, but there is not much you can do about that.

On the other hand, attending a wedding ceremony is not the end of the world. As an atheist, I have never declined to attend a wedding service. My curiosity won’t allow it, and I don’t want to miss out on the main event. I stand and sit when told but do not otherwise participate by singing or taking communion.

In the Episcopal Church, only baptized Christians may take communion. That means it is more respectful of the church for you to remain in the pew rather than to take communion as your friend told you.

Finally, so what if people notice that you are not taking communion or singing hymns? My Roman Catholic extended family has never approached me and asked about it even though they know I took the sacraments of first communion and confirmation. It may be noticed, but people are there to see a marriage, not to observe who is eating symbolic human flesh.

Of course, if your blood sugar is running low, there are no gods that will smite you for eating a piece of bread.

Freedom From Religion Foundation