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A RESPONSE to ANTELIAS

 
from INTERCHURCH FAMILIES AROUND the WORLD May 2004

Interchurch families were very pleased to be invited by the Revd Dr Konrad Raiser, in December 2003, to respond to the paper ‘From Antelias with Love’ on the future shape of the ecumenical movement. We are glad to respond to this request, because the promotion of Christian unity has been one of the aims of all groups of interchurch families.

1 A response on behalf of an international interchurch family network
The groups and associations listed below represent marriages in most of which one partner is a Roman Catholic and the other Reformed, Lutheran, Anglican, Methodist, Pentecostal, community/new church, Waldensian, United, Baptist, or another kind of Protestant. We have a few Orthodox within our membership, but not many. There are large numbers of mixed Christian marriages within our countries. We represent those mixed Christian families who feel called to work for Christian unity. We have held two multi-lingual World Gatherings of Interchurch Families, the first at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva in July 1998, and the second near Rome in July 2003. This second World Gathering endorsed a paper entitled Interchurch Families and Christian Unity (the Rome 2003 paper), which we append to this response. It is available in English, French, German and Italian.

We represent long-standing interchurch family groups in the following countries:
Australia: There are formally-constituted associations of interchurch families in different parts of Australia (Western Australia and Brisbane were the first in the early 1990s). They are working together to prepare for an international English-speaking conference of interchurch families to be held in Newcastle, NSW, in August 2005.
Austria: Interchurch family groups in Austria were formed in the late 1960s. In 1991 the local groups came together in an Arbeitsgemeinschaft konfessionsverschiedener Ehen. It is now called, significantly, the Arbeitsgemeinschaft konfessionsverbindender Familien (ARGE Ökumene).
Britain: The Association of Interchurch Families (AIF) dates from 1968. Since 1990 it has been a ‘body in association’ with Churches Together in England and Churches Together in Britain and Ireland. It arranges an annual conference and other meetings, and publishes information and reflections. 
Canada: Groups were set up in various parts of Canada from the early 1990s; the strongest being in Montreal, Saskatoon and Calgary. After working together to prepare an international English-speaking conference at Edmonton in 2001, they formed a loose Canadian Association of Interchurch Families (CAIF). The international website is run from Canada.
France: Groups of foyers mixtes or foyers interconfessionnels were formed in France (beginning in Lyon) in the early 1960s. In 1995 regular meetings of all foyers mixtes francophones began, and a comité francophone permanent was established in 1998. This was replaced in 2004 by a formal French association: Association Fran?aise des Foyers Mixtes Interconfessionnels Chrétiens (AFFMIC). 
Germany: Local groups met for many years (for example a group that met at Neresheim Abbey celebrated 30 years of annual meetings in 1999). In 1999 a national network was formed under the umbrella of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Ökumenischer Kreis; it is called Netzwerk Ökumene: konfessionsverbindende Paare und Familien.
Ireland: The Northern Ireland Mixed Marriage Association (NIMMA) was formed in 1974 to provide information and support to couples in a very divided society. It holds an annual conference and its work is valued as part of the Northern Ireland cross community development initiatives. In 1973 an Association began in the Irish Republic, but is not now very active. 
Italy: Famiglie miste interconfessionali have met together in Northern Italy, centred on the Pinerolo area, since the late 1960s. Their initial inspiration came from Lyon, and they have met together every few years with French representatives of foyers mixtes. 
Switzerland: Francophone Swiss foyers mixtes were in contact with the French in the late 1960s, and since 1974 groups in Switzerland have organised conferences in turn every 18 months or so. In late 2003 a formal Swiss association was established: the Association des Foyers Interconfessionnels de Suisse (AFI-CH). 
United States of America: The American Association of Interchurch Families (AAIF) was launched at Louisville in 1988, and re-constituted on a wider basis following an English-speaking international conference held in Virginia in 1996.
We are also in contact with interchurch families in Belgium, Croatia, Hungary, New Zealand, and Scandinavia.


2 We would like any re-configuration of the ecumenical movement to include the Roman Catholic Church as a member alongside others
This is very important for us. The ecumenical make-up of most of our marriages is that of a Roman Catholic in equal partnership with a Christian of another communion. Thus it seems essential to us that any process of reflection and dialogue about the future shape of the ecumenical movement takes seriously the fact of the Roman Catholic Church as a full partner with others, not as in some sense ‘over against’ the others. It is important to remember that the term ‘the ecumenical movement’ is not synonymous with the World Council of Churches.

We do not want to undervalue bilateral relationships between churches, but we also want to stress the importance of multilateral relationships, and the value of Roman Catholic participation in them as a member alongside others. In our countries some of us have the experience of Roman Catholic membership of multilateral ecumenical bodies, and we value this. For example, in England the Roman Catholic Church has been a member of Churches Together in England since 1990, and the same is true for the ecumenical bodies in Scotland and Wales. The Association of Interchurch Families is happy to be a ‘body in association’ both with Churches Together in England and with Churches Together in Britain and Ireland. In Germany the Catholic Episcopal Conference joined the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Christlicher Kirchen as a full member in 1974. In Australia the Roman Catholic Church is a member of the six State Councils of Churches, and has been a member of the National Council of Churches in Australia since its inception in the early 1990’s. In some cases older ecumenical bodies have come to an end in order to allow new ones – with full Roman Catholic membership – to come into being.

We would like to see serious consideration of this possibility at world level. We are glad, of course, that the Roman Catholic Church is already a full member of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches.

3 From our own perspective, we would like to stress the value of multilateral consideration of marriages between Christians of different denominations
We would like a clear commitment, by the churches working together, to a common pastoral approach that would focus on what is good for interchurch families. We would like to see joint work on how the churches can learn from one another’s different approaches, and without necessarily agreeing with one another’s perspectives can come to respect them, and find a way to work together to lessen some of the tensions between separated churches, tensions that have unnecessary and deleterious effects upon interchurch family life. We would like to see the churches searching for a practical way of working together for the pastoral good of those Christians who marry across denominational boundaries, and want to be faithful to their own church tradition as well as to share in that of their spouse.

This means a re-configuration of the ecumenical movement that links the theological work of dialogue more closely with practical pastoral questions, including interchurch families – relating Faith and Order activities more closely to ‘Life and Work’ concerns. One way to help this might be to allow for some kind of on-going relationship between voluntary ecumenical bodies like Associations of Interchurch Families and multilateral church structures (rather like the ‘bodies in association’ in the UK).

As ‘domestic church’ every interchurch family has to struggle with the questions that face the churches as they move forward in the ecumenical movement, but on a family’s scale and within a family’s time-frame. We would like to have some forum at world level within which we could share our unique experience with our churches, and in doing so make a small contribution to their growth towards visible unity. We believe that strengthening the position of interchurch families in ecumenical bodies would in itself contribute to the reconfiguration of the ecumenical movement.