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Interchurch families anticipate Christian unity

By Fiona Haynes

SASKATOON, 1998

A group of interchurch couples is a working model of Christian unity today. Now in its sixth year, Interchurch Families gathers regularly at the Saskatoon Centre for Ecumenism.

The chair couple is Shirley and Bernie Karstad, who together belong to St. Philip's Roman Catholic and Zion Lutheran churches.

While members gather for discussion and support, their chief concerns are education and outreach.

Last year, the group gave presentations to pastoral workers and congregations of all denominations in both the city and rural areas.

International information is also gathered and distributed among group members.

Interchurch Families also meet with church leaders so they will "become aware of the needs of the people sitting in the pews," said Shirley.

Each year a potluck supper is held where "we put the issues to (the church leaders), and it's quite interesting to watch them lock horns," said Shirley. Nevertheless, "it's always been very positive."

The Karstads also receive referrals from their pastor and priest. "Right now we have three couples, three Lutherans marrying three Catholics. We know (them) because we are active in the church."

But they would like to see Interchurch Families become more formally involved with the established marriage preparation courses.

Interchurch marriages can pose problems when raising children. Confirmation is particularly difficult.

Shirley feels "the biggest problem is with the individual leader or priest. If he's not ecumenical, and if he's traditional, then you can bang your head against the wall".

There are cases in England where the children will not be confirmed because they do not want to have to choose between .their mother's or their father's church - they belong to both.

Bernie, however, tried to make the best of their situation. He volunteered to assist with the preparation of his daughter's confirmation class at St. Philip's.

Of course, he said, laughing, "they made sure I didn't give the talk on eucharist," but he did give the talk about thanksgiving.

Ironically, he is so active in the parish that "you still get asked to be a Knight of Columbus," his daughter reminded him.

Nevertheless, "you really feel the hurt when one goes to communion and one doesn't," said Shirley, "when you only see the mum and the kids in church or the dad and the kids in church, when children of these couples make first communion or confirmation and the parent sits back. You know the kid is asking why."

The Karstads believe that "children need both parents to witness and to set the example. It's better if each person has a background that they're coming from so that they learn to work together."

Ironically, the most painful experience was at an international gathering of Associations of Interchurch Families in Virginia.

The closing celebration was held in a church which had been constructed for the Episcopalian and Catholic churches, with the sanction and blessing of both bishops.

The congregations joined in singing the Kyrie and Gloria and listened to the readings and sermon. But at the consecration, they split.

There were two altars, Catholics gathered round one altar while the Episcopalians invited any baptized Christian to come to their table.

At that point, Shirley said, "We have to make a choice. So Bernie goes to one side because the Catholics haven't invited him, and the kids and I went to the other side. Consecration (was) done simultaneously. Do you want to talk about pain?"

"Is this what (Jesus) did at the last supper? How can we do this? To be there and see the split - it was hell."

In spite of their experience, Bernie feels that "we just have to keep working at this level and keep talking. It has to come from us people."

"Any priest or minister will tell you that 60 to 70 per cent of their marriages are mixed."

The Karstads, together with Nick Jesson, director of the Saskatoon Centre for Ecumenism, have produced a pamphlet, "How to make your mixed marriage succeed."

It gives several points for success, but the most important one is communication.

The Karstads' advice for the interchurch couple: "Realize that each comes from a different tradition and each tradition is equally important. I'm not more important as a Catholic than you are as a Lutheran. We have to learn to respect each other's tradition."

Published by The Prairie Messenger, Humboldt, SK, Canada,

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