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British Association of Interchurch Families Report 

1998 – 2003

Fr John Coventry died in 1998, thirty years after he helped to found AIF, and we lost a dear friend and pastor. However, in the same year the international gathering of interchurch families in Geneva was a source of much inspiration for members, including the older children of interchurch families, and AIF’s participation in the padare at the World Council of Churches Assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe, extended our relationships and contacts.

AIF was consulted by the Roman Catholic Bishops of England and Wales when they were preparing ‘One Bread, One Body’, a teaching document on the Eucharist. Its publication was the source of very mixed feelings among interchurch families. We were able to welcome it as the first statement of British and Irish bishops saying that admission to communion for interchurch families was possible, but we regretted its apparent restriction to unique occasions. We have recently been consulted by the Bishops’ Conference again concerning follow up of the document.

Members were also interviewed for a paper on Eucharistic Sharing in interchurch families that contributed to a study of Authority and Governance in the RC Church, and have contributed to a review of marriage and family support funding by a British governmental department.

Members’ work for unity

Members are involved in many churches and church schools, even sometimes those shared by Roman Catholic and other churches, and the membership list includes several clergy and ordinands with RC wives and husbands. Close friendships between families over many years means that family celebrations such as wedding anniversaries, baptisms, first communions, confirmations and funerals are often attended by other interchurch families from around the country, which gives rise to opportunities for requests for eucharistic sharing, and sometimes welcome donations and local publicity.

Our recent members’ Vision Survey revealed that members are extremely involved in ecumenism locally, regionally and nationally, in organisations concerned with marriage and the family, ecumenical spirituality, and on the national Anglican-Roman Catholic and the Methodist–Roman Catholic committees. We try to involve members from all the mainstream churches, and our current Co-Chairs are RC, Anglican and Baptist. 
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Structure and organisation

AIF continues to work from an office in London in a building which it shares with the official ecumenical body Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, which offers valuable opportunities for regular contacts and relationships with people involved widely in the ecumenical movement. For the past few years we have had three paid part-time officers: administrator, executive secretary and youth officer, who all give far more time than their paid hours. The office answers queries and sends out literature, and committee meetings and local contacts’ training days are held in the building. Members and friends receive AIF’s regular publications: the Interchurch Families Journal, and the more informal ‘News & Notes’, we try to keep information packs and leaflets up to date, and we have recently established a web-site. We have a network of local contacts around the country, and a network of pastors, priests and theologians to offer advice and support. We hope to develop further in Scotland and Wales. Local groups of families meet occasionally, but are less active than previously, as members have more and more conflicting demands on their time shared between two church communities, and ecumenical organisations in general.

Conferences and lectures

The annual AIF conference at Swanwick regularly attracts up to 200 people, including many children and young adults. Prayer and worship are an integral part of the weekend and follow a number of different traditions. A parallel programme runs every year for children and young people, who also participate in the main conference where appropriate. In recent years, the children’s group leaders have come from a local Pentecostal church and our mutual relationship with them has grown to enrich us all.

An annual lecture on an ecumenical subject was inaugurated following the death of Fr John Coventry. Speakers have been drawn from national and international ecumenical bodies and have spoken on topics concerning ecumenism in church and family life. The lecture attracts many people from outside AIF.

Children and young people

Since the Geneva gathering, the young adults group of AIF has flourished, guided by our part-time youth leader. Their programme at the Swanwick conference is largely devised and carried out by themselves, as are their annual social weekends. They circulate a publication ‘The Interdependent’ and have established their own website. They are constantly in touch with each other by e-mail and phone, and support each other regularly at family and church-based celebrations such as Confirmation. They have attended Christian camps together during school holidays, and older members are now leading university Christian Unions and other Christian groups and ecumenical organisations. Two ‘Considering Confirmation’ weekends set up by our youth officer have enabled about twenty of our young people to think about the different possibilities of affirming their faith publicly in their two church communities. They make different decisions: some choose to be confirmed in one church, sometimes followed by affirmation or reception into the other; some plan their own liturgies, one of affirmation, others of reception into membership of their churches, separately or as part of a Confirmation celebration. Two young people have been confirmed using the RC rite, but with their Anglican priest (a retired bishop) as sponsor taking a full part in the service. Some choose not to make a formal decision about membership, while continuing to participate in two church communities even when they leave home. Our experience is that many of these young people continue to play a full part in the churches and the wider Christian community, and have a deep understanding of their Christian calling and responsibility.

Recognition

We were enormously proud of Martin and Ruth Reardon when their tireless work for interchurch families was recognised by the award of the Silver Cross of St Augustine by the Archbishop of Canterbury, followed by the papal award Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice. They were invited to speak to the Joint Working Group of the RC Church/World Council of Churches on the ecclesiological significance of interchurch marriage. We are delighted that the Co-moderators of this group plan to come to our Rome Gathering.

Spirituality

Within an interchurch family, the joys, the opportunities, and also the difficulties and tensions of living our Christian vocation need the constant support of shared and individual prayer. The AIF prayer chain helps us to support each other and those we know and love, as well as recognising Christ in our everyday lives and world events as a whole. Prayer and worship at AIF meetings and conferences can enrich us in a way we sometimes miss in our own church communities, especially when we are offered the opportunity to share the eucharist together without tension. Beginning as part of the AIF Vision Survey, an annual AIF Day of Prayer enables decisions to be made in a spiritual context.

The future?

Our founders, Martin and Ruth, although certainly not relinquishing their work for interchurch families, have moved on from formal leadership of AIF while still walking alongside us. AIF is at a sensitive stage of its existence where it has to make difficult decisions about the future. Issues of membership, procedures and funding are under intense discussion and as AIF is a formal registered charitable association they cannot be ignored. We hope and pray that the Association will emerge from this process with a clear vision rooted in prayer and commitment to the one bo