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Acceptance still poses a problem

SASKATOON

Shirley and Bernie Karstad are one of the original couples of Interchurch Families, an ecumenical group founded six years ago by Rev. Bernard de Margerie while director of the Saskatoon Centre for Ecumenism. They are now the chair couple of the group which continues to meet monthly for fellowship, prayer and discussion.

The group's first project was a study of Double Belonging: Interchurch Families and Christian Unity, by George Kilcourse, an American priest and theologian.

The Karstads are a "double belonging" couple. Shirley is Roman Catholic and Bernie is Lutheran.

They belong to both St. Philip's Roman Catholic and Zion Lutheran churches.

An interchurch couple "comes from two different traditions," Shirley explained. "But having a mixed marriage does not necessarily mean you are an interchurch family."

Interchurch families "belong to both churches and are active in both churches to the extent that you can become active."

Interchurch couples prefer the term "inter-tradition."

"We all belong to the same church, but we come from different traditions," Shirley said.

"We are all Christians," Bernie added. "Inter- tradition is softer," said Shirley, and emphasizes the sharing of common beliefs rather than the differences.

Shirley described some of the difficulties of being an interchurch family. "You still are sometimes made to feel that you don't belong in either the Catholic or the Protestant church. We're so narrow-minded."

"We sit in our pew and we think, 'This is the only road to heaven, whether I'm Lutheran or whether I'm Catholic and this is the only way to go, and anybody else outside of here can never get there. ' "

"You feel that. You feel the cold shoulder. You feel you're not being trusted. You feel that 'it's kind of nice that you're here, but it might be better if you weren't because you ask too many questions.' But if you're active, you ask questions."

Even in their own churches couples are afraid to be known. "You get knocks from the priest, from the ministers, from parishioners, from the extended families," Shirley explained.

"Intercommunion is still the big problem," said Bernie, but an international group is working on some proposed guidelines.

"We know that just because you're Catholic you can receive communion and it doesn't matter what you do," said Shirley. "We know that's not right but it happens all the time."

"And the good practicing Lutheran, or the good practicing Anglican who really is worthy to receive is denied. And that's where the injustice is. This is what hurts most Protestants in the Catholic Church. There's a double standard."

Of course, there are many benefits from an interchurch marriage. "You learn to appreciate the other person's faith," Bernie said.

"I think the most important thing is you appreciate your own faith and your own faith deepens because you ask questions," added Shirley.

Shirley likes the fact that "we go to church as a family so our kids are never split."

"It makes the kids more aware, too," said Bernie. The children also make more friends, and their unique background is a point of discussion for classmates and teachers.

Do they see any hope? "It will come," said Bernie. "It's getting closer all the time."

Interchurch groups in Europe, for example, are communicating. Even in the 10 years that they have been married, the Karstads have seen very positive changes.

Published by The Prairie Messenger, Humboldt, SK Canada

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