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11th International Interchurch Families Conference

Sharing Our Dream Downunder 
Noah’s on the Beach, 18th – 21st August, 2005
Newcastle, Australia 

CONFERENCE REPORT

The Newcastle Conference far exceeded all the expectations of the organising committee. The three days event was truly a Sharing of Our Dream Downunder with participants together with those who came from Upover.

There was altogether a warm and rich sense of three days in which we experienced the closest thing we have known to real Christian Unity.

The Conference Aims were fulfilled

KEYNOTE PRESENTATIONS AND FOLLOWING SESSIONS

Rev Dr Gerard Kelly, President of the Catholic Institute of Sydney, presented his commentary on the Rome Document Interchurch Marriages and Christian Unity. Dr Ruth Reardon (UK) presented the background on this important document. This document formed the basis for Friday sessions.

This session broke into a discussion on the Rome Document between Anglican Bishop Graeme Rutherford, Rev Dr Chris Budden (UCA), and Roman Catholic Bishop Michael Malone, on their view of this document.

The Lived Experience as Families session which followed was an opportunity for Dr Ruth Reardon to share the effect of the Rome Document on the international scene, for Melanie and Richard Finch to speak on Children and Sacraments, and for couples from Western Australia, Canada and Sydney to speak about their lived positions.

Healing Hurts: The Lived Experience in Some Australian Dioceses was a time for hearing at first hand about the effects of diocesan norms where the bishop has followed the injunction in the Directory for Ecumenism which asked them to provide Diocesan Sacramental Guidelines in countries where the Catholic Bishops’ Conferences have not provided them:

Discussions in small groups gave all present an opportunity to express diverse opinions on the practical implication of the Directory for Ecumenism and Diocesan Norms.

Session Three afforded an opportunity for clergy from different denominations to share they way they perceive hurts may be healed by virtue of the diocesan norms provided in our dioceses:

The input provided a lively experience led by the facilitator Vivienne Llewellyn Most expressed surprise at what they were hearing here, and the level of agreement was a plus for future Christian Unity, if all clergy can become tuned to, and informed about, the messages presented here.

Theological Implications and Practical Outcomes for the day were summarised by Rev Dr Gerard Kelly.

Saturday commenced with a session entitled Towards Realising Our Dreams which explored practical efforts in Australia to further implement norms from DAPNE.

Elizabeth Harrington (Liturgical Officer for the Archdiocese of Brisbane) and Rev Dr Chris Budden (until recently, Executive Secretary of the NSW Synod of the Uniting Church) set the theme for Saturday with their presentations on the report of a dialogue between the Uniting Church in Australia and the Roman Catholic Church published as Interchurch Marriages – Their Ecumenical Significance and Challenge for Our Churches. The report was published in 2001, adopted by the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference and by the Australian Synod of the Uniting Church in Australia.

These presentations were followed by an open facilitated forum entitled Sharing our dreams: Celebrating Interchurch Marriages. Emphasis was on the contribution made by families towards Christian Unity as well as the positive results possible from documents such as this

Celebrating Interchurch Marriages continued with further amplification by Anglican, Roman Catholic, Uniting, Lutheran and Presbyterian clergy.. Of special import were proposals from Chapter 7 from the UCA/RC Document and whether other Churches might adopt this or a similar report.

Couples from Canada, England, New Zealand, Queensland, and Newcastle presented their experience of Celebrating Interchurch Marriages. They dialogued with each other about their first meeting, decisions to marry, failures and successes in areas of family life such as Weddings, Baptisms, First Communion, Confirmation and Funerals. Some sad and happy experiences ensued, a mixture of tears and laughter, as the audience empathised with many of the situations expressed.

Saturday sessions concluded with a power point photo presentation of events so far- an excellent way to draw proceedings to a close. After a Roman Catholic Vigil Mass at sunset, where an Anglican priest was the homilist, the final dinner was an occasion for expressions of thanks to participants. Sunday has been outlined above in the dot points. Monday morning breakfast provided, for those still present, a moving farewell at an extended breakfast table.

The post conference reports of

We thank God for the wisdom and presence of the Spirit throughout the Conference from which many special memories and friendships have been taken away. May these memories and friendships, containing as they do strong signs of how Christian Unity might be, long remain.

Bev Hincks
Belmont

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