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The following article was published in "Ecumenism", No. 151, September 2003, pp 25-27. "Ecumenism" is published quarterly by the

Canadian Centre for Ecumenism 
2065 Sherbrooke St. W. 
Montreal, QC HH 1G6 
Tel: (514) 937-9176 
Fax: (514) 937-2684 
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Reprinted with permission.

Full of faith, full of life, full of call, full of gift

The heat and humidity of Rome was oppressive, but nothing could quell the excitement of the people arriving for the 2nd World Gathering of Interchurch Families, held there in July 2003.

Along with 3 other Canadian families and Fr. Luis Melo, Director of the Office of Ecumenical Affairs of the Archdiocese of St. Boniface in Manitoba, we joined some 300 participants from 3 continents, 11 countries, and at least 7 different denominations.

Like almost 50% of couples in Canada and the USA, we live in interchurch marriages, i.e. where the spouses are from two different Christian traditions, often with one spouse being Roman Catholic. We are all part of the same Church of Christ, though we entered that Church through the different doors of our respective churches.

Participants included young couples married only a few months to a few years, young families, and couples who are now grandparents and great grandparents. One-third of the participants (99) were children and youth, whose vitality of faith stood as a clear sign that the commitment of their parents, exercising a joint responsibility under God for the religious and spiritual upbringing of their children, teaching by word and example to appreciate both their Christian traditions, was all worthwhile. Priests and ministers also participated, walking with us in the ecumenical journey.

Together, we shared experiences of joy and sorrow on the journey to Christian unity, and explored ways we are called to be gift to our churches for the healing of church division. Together we reflected on the document, “United in Baptism and Marriage”, prepared for the conference by representatives of associations, networks, and groups of interchurch families in various countries. This document speaks of interchurch families as having a significant and unique contribution to make to our churches’ growth in visible unity, of forming a connective tissue helping in a small way to bring our churches together in the one Body of Christ.

Over the course of the conference, through keynote addresses, workshops, and general conversation, several themes arose which proved common to all participants. One of these was the question of reception of the documents produced by our various churches. As Professor Daniele Garrone, Professor of Theology in the Waldensian church in Italy, stressed in his response to the preparatory document, it was disastrous for interchurch families and their churches if these texts were not known or not applied. By way of example of the result of such lack of knowledge or application, he indicated there were many interchurch marriages being celebrated in Protestant churches in Italy, often because of fear that the Roman Catholic church would simply disregard the non-Catholic spouse. Such a situation is one all churches need to be deeply aware of, and respond to.

Another theme mentioned by many was the pain that results when interchurch couples, united in baptism and marriage, are called, as a general rule, to divide at the Eucharist. While not all partners in interchurch marriages wish to share communion in each other’s churches, many not only wish to, but feel a deep spiritual need to do so.

Their call to receive the Eucharist together was not a rejection of church teaching. On the contrary, couples repeatedly expressed recognition of the values undergirding the present guidelines on Eucharistic sharing, yet insisted we must see beyond those guidelines, must continue saying to our bishops, “We are suffering (because of the lack of official, visible unity). You must find a way through.”

These themes and others were carried forward in various workshops. Participants explored how our marriages were both sign and sacrament of the visible unity for which Christ prayed; how our churches could be prophetically called and responsibly helped to live out the consequences of that sacramental unity; and ways forward, further steps to advance the cause of unity. Each workshop was invited to contribute a wish, a prayer, and a phrase. These were incorporated into the closing conference celebration.

The youth, too, had a very full program. While their parents carry two traditions within their marriages, these children and youth carry those same two traditions within one body. Their participation, conducting an all-night prayer vigil for peace, taking their turn leading the community in prayer (including drama, and dancing a message of love to rap music), and in general simply being fully present throughout, demonstrated vividly that they do so with grace and joy. We have much to learn from them.

During the conference, we received messages of welcome and encouragement from Msgr Chiaretti, ecumenical officer of the Italian Bishops' Conference; from IARCCUM, the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity and Mission; from the Rt Reverend Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury; and from Roman Catholic Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. This last was particularly significant, as it invited continuing dialogue with interchurch families.

Representing the various countries present, 50 participants were received at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, where they presented the theological document prepared for the conference, and requested response from the Council in due course. A number also visited the Anglican Centre in Rome. 
Many participants went to Castel Gondolfo on the Sunday to pray the Angelus with Pope John Paul II. In his papal greetings, he welcomed interchurch families, wishing them to draw from the Lord’s Word the strength they need for their daily journey. 
But what of the families themselves? Clearly, there is no blueprint for the way interchurch families live their faith lives. Their stories are as many and varied as the couples, be they living in predominantly Catholic Italy; in the troubles of Northern Ireland; or in the denominational explosion of North America. Some lived their two-church reality consciously from the day they were wed. Others began by worshipping together in one church, going back to both churches after discovering the need for different styles of worship or, worse, after being rebuffed by the church in which they were worshipping.

When these couples married, they may have suspected the division of the churches would impact their marriages and families. Still they committed themselves to each other in love before God, to live in their marriages the joys and difficulties of the path to Christian unity. Generally, they were unaware of how important recognizing and celebrating the gifts of their spouse’s Christian tradition would be to the unity and stability of their marriages.

What they could never have anticipated was how the Eucharist would become to them so central over the years, so needed as nurturer of their common baptism and marriage, and as both sign and maker of unity, be it in their marriages or in their churches.

Repeatedly, it was here that the scandalous disunity of their churches made itself evident most strongly and most painfully. Spouses sought to receive together as the ‘one’ made so by God in marriage. All too often, they found, the documents of their churches were not known, not interpreted, or not applied as generously and pastorally as they might be. The result? Living a division forced on them by others unable to see or accept the unity which exists, unable to respond to the spiritual needs of the couple and family.

Our churches teach a common baptism and the unity of marriage. Such teaching has concrete, personal consequences. The experience of interchurch families indicates that the churches have yet to incorporate this teaching adequately.

Despite these difficulties, the interchurch families present in Rome expressed their joys and experiences in terms which showed them to be full of faith, full of life, full of call, and full of gift. Their faith is deep, nurtured over the years in their commitment to God, to each other, and to their churches. They are life-filled, in joys and difficulties, involved in their respective churches, and in their communities around the world. They are full of call, in that the unity of churches which they live calls and challenges their churches to see beyond the divisions, beyond the obstacles, and to commit themselves to unity just as the couples had committed themselves to each other, without knowing every step of the way, or dotting every ‘i’ and crossing every ‘t’ before living the consequences of their commitment. Such a prophetic call is not always easy to hear, and in fact can become an uncomfortable challenge to the hearer, be that an individual or a church. But, the call comes from people full of gift, already living in their lives (even if imperfectly) the unity sought by all, and willing to share that gift with the churches of which they are members, and which they love.

We came away from the conference, aware that our gift is admittedly small, perhaps no more than five loaves and two fish stuffed into a well-worn haversack, yet giving glory to God, whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.

For more information on interchurch families, contact 
Ray and Fenella Temmerman
879 Dorchester Ave.
Winnipeg MB R3M 0P7;
Tel: (204) 284-1147
Email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.