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Canadian Report to "Living the Path to Unity"

International Association for Interchurch Families
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, August, 2001

A Word about Our Canadian identity:

Since the advent of e-mail and internet services, we may actually be discovering a Canadian identity. The Edmonton conference has largely been planned by use of electronic media and telephone. Local arrangements, of course, were the responsibility of the group that had the "hands on" work to do, although each of the Centres across the country have spent time and energy finding funding, telling their story and creating poetry, song and banners. Thanks especially to Cathy Harvey and the Edmonton team who did the local arrangements, and to Ray and Fenella Temmerman who were initiators and the main planners. This Conference is bringing us together like nothing else might do! God works in mysterious ways.

Prior to the conference there were our young people and family vacations. Interchurch families have welcomed other families’ kids who were away from home going to school, doing French immersion, or travelling. Ellen, a 17-year-old from England travelled across Canada in 1995, visiting various interchurch families. Single handedly she linked people across this country. Vacation time has been an opportunity for families to meet face-to face as they crossed portions of Canada, spending time with each other on the way. Over 3700 kilometres separate the groups in Montreal and Calgary (and that’s not coast-to-coast!). Interchurch Families have a special bond that draws them together in a unique and God centred way.

A History Lesson:

1990 was the year the first two groups were formed: Montreal and Calgary. Father Tom Ryan, then Director of the Canadian Centre for Ecumenism, organized a consultation from which the Montreal group was birthed. In like manner, two years later, Father Bernard de Margerie, then Director of the Saskatoon Centre for Ecumenism, was mid-wife at the birth of the Saskatoon group. At some point during the mid-90’s a group met for a couple of years in Regina. As of the fall of 2000, it has gained new life, and it was Sister Anne Keffer, present Director for the Prairie (formerly Saskatoon) Centre for Ecumenism who initiated its resurrection. Those whose hearts are enlivened by the ministry of ecumenism find Interchurch Families to be vital in their ministry. Interchurch families are the cutting-edge of ecumenical involvement and action.

What are these groups doing now?

Montreal, Quebec:

"From the start, we involved ourselves in prayer, discussion and study. Our goal was to develop a shared sense of ourselves as interchurch families, our needs, and what we might, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit accomplish together. All gatherings have included the children.

At an early stage, we studied the World Council of Churches’ report on "Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry". We became more knowledgeable about the ecumenical movement, its history and progress. We also familiarized ourselves with the activities of Interchurch Families Associations in the U.K., France and the recently formed one in the U.S.A.

From this background, we became more active in making the existence of the Association known as a support group for other families in the community. We wanted to be "bridge builders", i.e. "agents of reconciliation" between Christian traditions within the Body of Christ. We spoke to local congregations, clergy, bishops, Canadian Council of Churches, Canadian Council of Catholic Bishops and with national church offices. We wrote articles for the periodical "Ecumenism" and for local newspaper and church publications.

One of the unique things about us is that one partner of three of the four families in the founding group were members of either the Roman Catholic parish or the United Church congregation which shared the same building. Four children of these families have been baptized with both minister and priest officiating, two being registered in both Roman Catholic and United Church records.

At present, the Montreal Association comprises only three active families, (one with children), all of them part of the founding group. At various times, six or seven other interchurch families have been part of the group but due to transfers or lack of time or commitment, they have chosen other lifestyles. However, the small group continues to be strengthened in its modest endeavours by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Fresh vitality is being experienced in planning the Edmonton Conference."

Morden, Manitoba:

Ray and Fenella Temmerman are the Interchurch Families "group". Their commitment to Interchurch Families is intense, and comes from a history of pain, joy and struggle. They write:

"Life has been a paradox over the last few years. On a personal level, we have found ourselves growing closer together as we live in solidarity with each other’s churches. We have developed an increasingly diverse range of contacts through Interchurch Families around the world, especially with this Edmonton conference. The web site continues to grow, with some thousands of people per month connecting with it. Because of it we receive inquiries from around the world on many related topics.

However, we have found ourselves unwelcome in our local Catholic parish, hearing sermons that state mixed marriages should be annulled, that all Protestants must become Catholic. Because we live in a rural area, there isn’t another parish with whom we could easily connect. Attempts to communicate with the bishop over the past 5 years have been refused. He died some 18 months ago and a new bishop has not been appointed. We feel exiled and unable to communicate with our diocese at any level.

So, we have become more and more active in our Anglican parish where we serve in Sunday School, as lay readers, on vestry and the liturgy committee. We have become increasingly aware of the richness of the Anglican tradition.

While there are many good things happening for us, life as an interchurch family right now is not necessarily a wonderful reality."

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan:

"We began with Father Bernard studying the book Double Belonging by George Kilcourse. We intended to study it for a couple of meetings, and ended by making it the project for our whole first year. The discussions and pain and bonding were a good foundation for us. We developed a brochure, a logo and set our objectives. Right from the beginning it seems, we have focused on three things: being a support group, reaching out to pastors and priests with information about Interchurch Families, and connecting with couples in marriage preparation courses.

We have had a number of couples join the group and then become inactive over time. It seems that a support group is like that sometimes – people come for a while then leave when the need is not there. We like to think that those of us who have stayed on continue to offer a ministry when it is needed.

We meet annually with the pastors and priests with whom we are connected, and have often had the Roman Catholic Bishop come to a meeting to explain or to listen. Our annual potluck suppers have been a way for us to express our gratitude to those who walk with us.

Finally, in 2000, after a year of practicing our story-telling abilities, after studying the various understandings of marriage held by different denominations, and after 7 or more years of ‘knocking on the doors’, we are being asked to participate in Marriage Preparation courses put on by Catholic Family Services and by a couple of Protestant pastors. We take turns and one or two couples go to tell their story, invite questions, share insights. We always leave them with information and phone numbers. Now to connect with the Roman Catholic parishes and other denominational marriage prep opportunities…"

Regina, Saskatchewan:

"It seems we are the "baby" of the family in Canada. We started only a year ago, so are in the uncomfortable and exciting time of discovering who we are and who we will become. We usually have the children at each meeting, and have often met around the supper table, potluck style. We are a lively group: we have 5-7 families involved. We have tried a variety of programs and are in the process of developing objectives and a brochure. We see ourselves as a support group and a social gathering for families. We want to help couples and their children embrace each faith tradition represented in their home. The denominations represented in our group are Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Christian Reformed. We are connected to the Regina Council of Churches, the Prairie Centre for Ecumenism and the Roman Catholic diocesan ecumenical office. We value these supports."

Calgary, Alberta:

"We are currently four families who meet monthly to discuss and provide support on issues affecting our inter-church lives. We are involved in the community through participation in the Calgary Roman Catholic Ecumenical Commission and marriage preparation courses in the Catholic and Presbyterian churches. We also hold two social events each year. We were able to make a presentation to the Catholic Diocese of Calgary priests’ study days in 1999, when their topic was ecumenism. As a result, the Bishop made a positive statement on a non Roman Catholic partaking of the Eucharist (in a Roman Catholic Church) on a non-recurring basis.

Several of us attend the same Catholic and United Churches; without immediate families in Calgary we provide that kind of support and care for one another. We have been blessed by our interchurch experiences and the highlights have included three ecumenical weddings and six ecumenical baptisms. Our group is comprises members of the Roman Catholic, United, Lutheran and Presbyterian Churches.

Edmonton, Alberta:

We hope that the work we have done together to prepare for "Living the Path to Christian Unity" will result in an active group here in Edmonton!

Yes we do have a Canadian IDENTITY!!

Canadian Association for Interchurch Families:

As a national group we were born sometime early morning, July 8th, 1996 in Virginia Beach, USA! Families from across Canada gathered together at the International Conference and decided we would become an entity. Now only five years later we are bouncing with energy and excitement because we will meet again as a national group, among all the other families and groups from around the world!

In Conclusion:

It seems there are common threads running through our individual and corporate history. One is definitely the importance of international conferences for Interchurch Families. Montreal notes enthusiastically that such conferences "brought a broadened perspective and a gradual change in our focus as we integrated more into an expanding network of groups in Europe and the U.S. as well as in Canada."

Another valued thread is the importance of our witness as interchurch families to the whole ministry of ecumenism. As the Regina group states: "Interchurch families are well placed to become leaders in the ecumenical movement: acknowledging differences in tradition yet working with mutual love and respect to resolve any conflicts encountered." Montreal comments on the inspiration they received by the challenge given by Rev. Konrad Raiser, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches. "He pointed out that ‘the experience of an interchurch family is therefore not only the place where the separation and dividedness of the churches is painfully manifested, but it could – in many cases does – become the ground where a new reality is being shaped, where ecumenical space is being opened up.’" The image of the family table describes the hope and the pain we share. "The table in most cultures is a symbol of community. A family or a community sharing the same house gather around the table for their common meal. One extends the table when guests are expected and additional space is needed. While sharing together in fellowship at the Lord’s Table remains the hope inspiring the ecumenical movement, it points at the same time to the contradictions in our present ecumenical reality. This table is still divided and broken." (Montreal quote, paraphrased, from Raiser at the last International Interchurch Families conference.)