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Interchurch Families / Foyers Mixtes

An Evening with the Bishops

After making a presentation to the Canadian Summer Ecumenical Institute, the Association of Interchurch Families of Montreal was asked to make a presentation to the National Anglican-Roman Catholic Bishops' Dialogue, a group who is charged with establishing pastoral guidelines for interchurch families, during their annual 3-day meeting. It was an honour that the Association immediately accepted. Three couples represented the Association before 15 bishops from the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches across Canada. In 1987 this group produced the document entitled "Interchurch Marriages between Anglicans and Roman Catholics in Canada".

We met the bishops on November 29th, 1996 in the peaceful surroundings of le Manoir d'Youville on Ile St Bernard, south west of Montreal, to share our personal experiences and those of other interchurch families and to promote the pastoral concerns of interchurch families. Not having any members in the Montreal Association from the Anglican Church, we contacted close friends in Manitoba, Ray Temmerman, a Catholic and his wife, Fenella who is Anglican. To our great satisfaction they had a wealth of personal testimonies from other Catholic - Anglican couples, testimonies of complete acceptance in some churches and terrible rejection in others.

The message we brought to the bishops is that interchurch families are living active lives in two churches and sharing those church lives with their children. We presented the concept of dual registration of baptism, a practice that is very new in Canada. The bishops had a few questions regarding what the future would hold for the children. In which church would they be communicant members? One bishop felt that if the child's baptism is recorded in the Catholic church then he would consider the child Catholic. Our experience is that they are welcome and active in both churches and the concern over their official membership does not affect their contribution to the life of either community. They asked what would happen when these children get married themselves? Our group has no previous experience regarding interchurch children growing to adulthood.

But what do we know of any child's future? The most that we can do is to raise them in the Christian faith, nurture their young beliefs and love them. If we prepare them as children, we must have confidence that they will make good decisions for themselves when they grow up.

The ninth International conference of the Association of Interchurch Families this past summer brought forward a statement that the most immediate concern for interchurch families was an overwhelming spiritual need to receive communion together, and that this need cries out for a more generous pastoral interpretation of the rules of Eucharistic Sharing. We brought this to the bishops along with personal experiences from across the country. We reported that in one area an Anglican spouse was welcomed with open arms by the Roman Catholic community, invited to the table and given opportunities where she could share her gifts in the liturgy. The same couple, after sharing with a community for several years in communion and the life of the church, was devastated when one day a new priest arrived and opened liturgy with a statement that while all were welcome to be at the liturgy, only those who were Roman Catholics were allowed to receive communion. Such experiences are described as horrible betrayals that cry out for a more pastoral approach to the situation.

The bishops present expressed their own pain of not being able to share communion with each other. They described how they lived this separation; that morning one of the Anglican bishops presided over communion and while the Anglican bishops went forward and received, their Catholic brothers remained seated. The next morning a Catholic bishop would say mass and the Anglicans would remain in their seats.

One of the Anglican bishops shared the story of his daughters. Both daughters were educated in a Catholic school and both followed the normal first communion classes with their classmates. The oldest received her first communion in the Catholic church, but with the second came a change of priest and two days before the communion service she was told that she would not be permitted to receive. For a young child to be denied just days before the celebration after following months of preparation is a very difficult thing to accept. Her pain was deepened knowing that her sister had done this only a couple of years earlier.

How do you explain to a child that she was an exemplary student throughout the formation classes but she would nevertheless fail to experience First Communion with her friends and classmates? How do you explain that she didn't fail, it is the churches that have failed for the last few hundred years? As adults, though we find it hard to accept the scandal of our division, at least we can understand our brokenness. A young child cannot understand our problems.

As interchurch families we meet priests who do not understand or do not want to understand our double-belonging. The bishops admitted that they have similar problems with some of their own confreres. At all levels of the church there are people who continue to see interchurch families as oddities and problems that , if ignored long enough, will hopefully go away. This is perhaps our greatest challenge today.

Our meeting was, I hope, a blessing for both groups. The bishops got a glimpse of what it is like to live an interchurch life and we met in the bishops partners who will walk with us on our journey toward church unity. It allowed us to add a human dimension to the ecumenical movement. With God's grace eucharistic sharing may soon be a reality between the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches.

Craig Buchanan, for the Association of Interchurch Families, Montreal

The following people were in attendance at the meeting:

Roman Catholic Bishops:

Mgr Bertrand Blanchet,
Archevéque de Rimouski
Rimouski, Quebec

Mgr Gilles Cazabon, O.M.I.
Évêque de Timmins
Timmins, Ontario

Most Rev. Brendan O'Brien, S.T.D.,D.D.
Bishop of Pembroke
Pembroke, Ontario

Mgr André Vallée
Évêque de Hearst
Hearst, Ontario

Mgr. James M. Wingle
Éveque de Yarmouth
Yarmouth, NS

Mgr Gilles Ouellet, P.M.É.
Archevèque émérite de Rimouski
Trois-Pistoles, Quebec

Most Rev. John Stephen Knight, D.D.
Auxiliary Bishop of Toronto
Scarborough, Ontario

Most Rev. Cornelius John Pasichny, O.S.B.M.
Eparch of Saskatoon

Most Rev. Neil E. Willard
Auxiliary Bishop of Montreal

Anglican Bishops:

The Most Rev. Barry Curtis
Diocese of Calgary
Calgary, AB

The Rt Rev John Hannen
Diocese of Caledonia
Prince Rupert, BC

The RT REV George Lemmon
Diocese of Fredericton

The Rt. Rev John Baycroft
Diocese of Ottawa

The Most Rev. Michael Peers
Toronto, On

The Rt. Rev James Cruikshank
Diocese of Cariboo

The Rt. Rev. Peter Mason
Diocese of Ontario
Kingston, Ontario

The Rt. Rev Bruce Stavert
Diocese of Quebec

The Rt. Rev Anthony Burton
Diocese of Saskatchewan

plus

  • Rev. Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan, Director
    O ffice of Faith, Worship and Ministry, 
    Anglican Church of Canada.
    Toronto, Ontario

Members of AIF Montreal:

  • Edouard Bedard
    Diane Gushue
    Patrick Gushue
    Michèle Buchanan
    Craig Buchanan
    and Rachel Buchanan (9 months old)