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Ray's presentation
- Award for Ecumenical Leadership

It was the mid 60s. Vatican II had drawn to a close. During its life it had produced documents which signalled a significant change in the Roman Catholic church’s understanding of itself, and of religious liberty.

While few if any of the practical changes which would occur had yet been implemented, there was an air of excitement around, with people beginning to expend energy in anticipation of a new paradigm of church life. What had been seen as unthinkable had now become not only thinkable but perhaps, just perhaps, even possible.

The reality of interchurch families was no exception. In interchurch families, the couples are from different Christian traditions, most often where one spouse is a Roman Catholic, with the couple seeking to worship together in both churches. Once clearly forbidden, there now appeared an openness, and possibilities, limited though they might yet be. It was in that spirit of possibilities that interchurch couples began to gather more than 30 years ago in France, in Germany, and shortly thereafter in England, to talk together, to support each other, and to delve the possibilities.

Today, interchurch families around the world, in Australia, Canada, Kenya, Pakistan, and the USA, to name but a few, are benefiting from the work done by those courageous people of faith.

The American Association of Interchurch Families was started by a priest, Fr. George Kilcourse of Louisville Kentucky, some 15 years ago, though the Association experienced a rebirth with the International Conference being held in Virginia Beach in 1996. It was at that conference that the Canadian Association began its existence, in the informal pattern it continues with to this day.

Fenella and I had the opportunity to take part in that conference, having just been introduced to the British Association. I can remember hearing the wonderful stories of work being done, then standing at the front of the room, tears running down my cheeks, and saying "It’s good to hear, but we’re new to this. We’re just trying to survive."

Shortly thereafter, knowing we were miles from any kind of support structure, I decided I needed to learn something about the internet, and use it as a way to maintain contact with people on a broad scale. What began as a very small and halting means of finding and being with other people has become a labour of love, a web site of about 350 articles, documents, and stories, and an email listserv. The web site now entertains thousands of ‘hits’ per month., with the listserv having some 80 subscribers from around the world entering into very lively discussions. A member of the Anglican Theological Commission has maintained it is one of the few listservs she subscribes to, because its subscribers are a constant source of ecumenical information, from around the world, with a broad range of churches and perspectives.

The various groups and Associations around the world have held some very substantial gatherings as well. There have been regular international English-speaking conferences, with the most recent being the conference in Edmonton in 2001, hosted by the Canadian Association, and which Fenella and I co-chaired.  Imagine trying to organize a conference with a committee which consists of a group in Calgary, a couple in Edmonton, a group in Saskatoon, ourselves in Morden, and another small group in Edmonton.  Add to that people who are in other countries thousands of miles away, and you have some idea of the complexity.  We broke new ground with that conference, in that the majority of preparatory work was done meeting via email and chat line.

In addition, there was a major ‘World Gathering’ at the World Council of Churches headquarters in Geneva in 1998, supported by English, French, Italian, and German-speaking groups. The next such multi-lingual world gathering is now in preparation, to be held in Rome in 2003.

As part of the preparation, a group of interchurch families and friends from around the world have established a ‘Theological Preparation Group". Instead of producing a statement FROM the conference, this group is preparing a theological position paper on interchurch marriages, and inviting keynote and other speakers to speak to the issues it contains.

It’s very exciting to see interchurch families growing in faith as they begin to discover that living and worshipping faithfully in both their churches is not only possible, but life-giving and rich. It’s also exciting to see them then very quietly but confidently take their place within their churches.

Through their active participation in the lives of the churches of both spouses, they are calling their churches to different ways of thinking and acting, and offering examples and possibilities for the ecumenical endeavour. In so doing, they are becoming gifts to the churches for the healing of disunity.

We don’t know where this will lead, or what unity will look like when it is eventually discovered. What we do know is that the Spirit has a capacity to take us where we never thought it was possible to go. For this, we give thanks.