The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Wedding, made to order

Washington, July 2: Catholic priests are performing half as many marriages today as in 1970, the year Cynthia Gonzalez was born. And she is part of the reason.

Gonzalez is a sales manager who lives in Columbia Heights. She grew up Catholic. But when the time came to marry, she chose a ceremony that reconciled her faith to that of her fiance, Vasu Muthyala, an Indian American federal prosecutor.

The wedding, held on the grounds of Glenview Mansion in Rockville, became a mostly Hindu affair with sprinklings of American nuptial tradition ' bridesmaids and groomsmen wedding costumes cut to western tastes from Indian fabrics. Daddy walked her down the aisle, following her custom. The groom rode in on a horse, following his.

“My family has been amazing,” Gonzalez said, speaking a few days before the ceremony. “They’re kind of rolling with the punches, wearing outfits that they wouldn’t otherwise wear, sitting through a ceremony in Sanskrit that they won’t understand.”

While clergy still perform most weddings, the ceremonies are straying ever farther from tradition, reflecting a “do-it-yourself” attitude toward religious nuptials. The minister may be an old friend, a professor or Dad, ordained online for the occasion. The setting may be a picturesque church chosen purely for aesthetics, a beach on the eastern shore or a mountaintop. The religious heritage may be the bride’s, the groom’s or some interfaith stew cooked up by both families.

John Zielke and Jessica Briddle of Alexandria asked the groom’s father to read the vows at their wedding, held on June 24 at Top of the Town in Arlington. Like many couples today, they are only vaguely religious.

“I think he’s a Lutheran, and I’m a Baptist, technically,” Briddle said before the ceremony. “We don’t attend church, so we don’t have a minister, and we didn’t want to be married by someone who wasn’t connected to us in some way.”

Because the groom’s father is neither a minister nor a justice of the peace, the couple plans to visit a magistrate at some point, in their jeans, to make it legal.

They chose a ceremony without religious content. But they arranged for an uncle to bless the food at the reception.

Decades of statistics point to a societal retreat from the church wedding. Catholic marriage ceremonies have been in decline for 35 years ' from 426,000 marriages nationwide in 1970 to 212,456 in 2005, according to church data ' even as the number of Catholics continues to grow.

Many US states, including Maryland and Virginia, have tracked a shift from religious to civil marriages. And a growing network of interfaith and non-denominational ministers offers couples the freedom to wed on their own terms.

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