A Place of Rest: Embracing Differences
By Deborah Arca Mooney
When Carol Hovis, Executive Director for the Marin Interfaith Council, met Chris Highland, a writer, teacher, and chaplain/activist for the homeless community, both were Presbyterian ministers. During the course of their growing relationship, Chris grew away from the Christian tradition and eventually gave up his ordination. A year ago, they were married in an extraordinary interfaith wedding at a Zen Buddhist temple, officiated by a Christian minister, a Jewish rabbi, and a Buddhist priest. A Wiccan woman led a post-ceremony dance out of the temple. There were more than a dozen different faith traditions represented by their guests.
Carol and Chris agreed to share a bit of their story with us and their insights on finding interfaith harmony in their marriage.
Tell us how you met and if there were initial concerns about dating someone of a different faith.
Carol: We met at a Presbyterian Good Friday Service, April 1999, at First Presbyterian Church, San Rafael. We were co-participants. I had heard about Chris and his work with the homeless community in Marin County but had not met him in person. At the time we started dating in the late summer of 2000, we were both Presbyterian ministers, thus, both Christian. Instead, our "interfaith" relationship grew over the years as Chris grew away from the Christian tradition and embraced more of a nature spirituality. This has never posed major concerns or problems for me; I have always been clear with myself that ultimately I cannot change or "save" anyone, especially when it comes to another person's religious beliefs or values.
Chris: It made sense that we would meet in a church, though my chaplaincy work was primarily on the outside or fringes of the church and we really connected at our work places. We were getting to know each other during my "exit" time from my ordained years. I did have concerns that I would still have to have connections within the church, yet I knew that Carol was open to my struggles and subsequent liberation from the institution.
How did your families respond? What/if any concerns did your parents or family members have?
Carol: In the beginning, since we were both Christian at the time, my parents/family did not have any concerns. Since they have known Chris all of these years, they too do not have too much concern about his evolving beliefs. I guess I could say that my mom sometimes tries to "reword" some of Chris' words or ideas to sound more Christian because I think it makes her feel better. But it's more about my mom wanting to change Christianity, not Chris.
Chris: My family is not very close but my sister is a conservative Christian. She has more concern for me than for Carol in religious areas, but has learned not to push too hard. My parents were both churchgoers (Presbyterian), but they showed more by the example of being good, ethical people than by making faith central at home. They taught me to think for myself and stand for what I believe, or do not believe.
Deborah Arca is the former Director of Content at Patheos. Prior to joining Patheos, Deborah managed the Programs in Christian Spirituality at the San Francisco Theological Seminary, including the Program's renowned spiritual direction program and the nationally-renowned Lilly-funded Youth Ministry & Spirituality Project. Deborah has also been a youth minister, a director of music and theatre programs for children and teens, and a music minister. Deborah belongs to a progressive United Church of Christ church in Englewood, CO.