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Revealing the Holy:
Interchurch Families on the Path to Christian Unity

Reprinted with permission from

INTAMS
review

Review of the INTernational Academy for Marital Spirituality
Vol 6 - No. 2 - 2000

If you wish to distribute this article, please ask permission from
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Thank you.

=============

Revealing the Holy - Revealing the Holy
In love we want to come, revealing the holy one.
 
Enter the shadow - enter though you
May be walking blind.
Enter the night - enter the sign.

Revealing the holy…

In weakness our God is revealed.
The wound must be opened
Before it will heal - let's open our hearts
And open the meal.

Revealing the holy…

At table we"ll break and share bread.
Jesus says "When strangers are welcomed I'm fed."
The humble will lead and the proud shall be led.

Revealing the holy…1

In striving to express our lived reality over the past eight years of married life as an interchurch couple, we want to explore three questions, namely What was? What is? Where do we go from here?

We came together, in love, from two different Christian traditions. We were aware that we shared one baptism, one faith, one Lord, one God who was Father of us all. I was perhaps more aware than Fenella that we had different understandings and expressions of that one faith. Fenella had crossed relatively easily from church to church depending where she happened to be at the time (with the Anglicans in Britain, the Baptists in Romania, the Church of South India in India). The Catholic church was simply another Christian body with which she expected to be in unity, yet another expression of the richness of God. Even with my awareness of differences, however, we didn't really know what those might be, or their impact on our life and marriage.

We are told and experience that in marriage, we leave our fathers and mothers and become one flesh. We are told and experience that unless we eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink of his blood, we shall have no life in him. We sense, however, that the churches that proclaim these truths have not yet come to grips with their practical consequences.

One of the first points of impact was a decision on where to worship. Fenella was joining me in Canada, where I was already actively involved in the life of my Catholic parish. Her Anglican pastor had suggested it was more important that we worship together than she worship in the Anglican church, so we decided that our primary place of worship would be the Catholic parish. A strengthening factor was that the Anglican parish still used the Book of Common Prayer of 1662, something Fenella had not used in 30 years, and which was now as foreign to her as Latin was to me. Both languages were beautifully poetic, but neither was now a language of prayer to a God who walked and talked with us.

While the language of the Catholic liturgy was closer to her own language, however, that didn't mean the liturgy itself was a comfortable experience for her. We often discussed her discomfort with what she saw as strict and impersonal following of the liturgy, and her need for stronger preaching and teaching. I felt personally attacked, and found those times exhausting. It was only as time went on that I began to realize she was not attacking me personally, but trying to discover meaning in what she was experiencing, and in what seemed to have such an impact on my life. Since that time, fortunately, Fenella has come to discover a profound richness in the Catholic liturgy and, as a very visual person, has especially appreciated its use of art, symbol, and ritual, enabling us to communicate with God through all our senses. In turn, I have come to experience much greater need for sound and extended teaching on the Scriptures and their call to and impact on our lives.

Fenella believes that decisions of faith need to be taken in conjunction with the pastor. With what I saw as a high level of naiveté about the relationship between Catholic pastor and people of other Christian traditions who would worship in the Catholic church, she invited our Catholic priest for supper to discuss her involvement in the parish.

We were extremely fortunate, for while he was clear on the 'canonical problems' raised, he chose to approach the issue from a pastoral perspective. The result was a fairly open and warm welcome to participate fully in the faith life of the community for five years, during which she would discern her faith home. It was something we celebrated and enjoyed for some time. I say 'fairly open', because it soon became evident there were different understandings of what full participation might mean. She was not allowed to proclaim the Scriptures, nor serve on parish council, though she was welcome to receive the eucharist and to help lead children's liturgy each Sunday. The seeming capricious selection of what was allowed or not was incredibly difficult, especially as neither pastor nor parish council ever communicated the reasons to her. Still, we were able to live fairly comfortably in the parish, and with a high degree of involvement.

That ended with a change in pastors, a man who made it clear that he would not refuse her eucharist, but preferred she receive only at Christmas and Easter. "You don't understand" he said, "You're not one of us". He was followed two years later by another priest who told me (but never told Fenella) that "your wife is welcome to worship with us, but sacramental participation is not possible". This is something that Fenella in particular has never understood, as her understanding of welcome to the eucharist has come through the liturgy itself. She later developed a knowledge of canon law on the matter, including the possibilities afforded in the explanatory 1993 Directory on Ecumenism. Even so, the exclusion from the eucharist of people who are recognized as children of God and therefore brothers and sisters in Christ remains for her largely incomprehensible and incompatible with our common baptism and our unity in marriage.

Initially I responded by joining Fenella in not receiving, because I believed then and now that if one half of that 'one' made so by God is not welcome at the Lord's table, then neither is the other half. Unfortunately, the situation grew in intensity Sunday by Sunday, as that priest spoke from the pulpit about those 'outside the Church' not going to heaven, his belief that mixed marriages should be annulled (and preferably forbidden), etc.

Fenella and I had earlier determined that each was responsible for choosing his or her own worship 'home', and the other would faithfully abide by that decision, worshipping together as we went. Following a particularly vehement denunciation, from the pulpit, of "those Anglicans who seek permission of a visiting priest", I finally decided it was no longer healthy for us or for the Catholic community that we continue to worship there, and so decided to take my leave of that parish. Wanting to remain within my Catholic community, however, we began on alternate Sundays to drive many miles (the nearest Catholic church being 30 miles away) to visit family and friends and so join in their communal worship. This pattern continues to this day, though in practice we find ourselves worshipping somewhat more regularly in our Anglican church.

You will notice that even in this exploration, our language has changed. We have moved from 'my' and 'her' church, 'my' and 'her' pastor, to 'our' Anglican church and pastor, 'our' Catholic church and pastor. Fenella and I do not have different pastors. Rather, we both have two pastors, two bishops, two churches, one each of Catholic and Anglican. We have found ourselves, by virtue of the unity of our marriage, becoming inextricably linked to both communions.

This has been a source of great difficulty as well as great joy. We will speak of the difficulties first, for the joy is greater. In speaking of the difficulties, we will draw also on the experiences of others, in particular of those interchurch couples who have children of their own.

II

One of the largest practical difficulties is the enormous energy required to be actively involved in two church communities. Both parishes call on our help for the same community festivals. Then there are two youth groups, two choirs, two calls to be lectors, communion ministers, religious education instructors, and the work of forming relationships with two different church families. It was not unusual to find ourselves scheduled for ministry in both churches on the same weekend. Exhausting times, definitely, but very good.

Things are somewhat easier now, simply because we are no longer involved in our local Catholic parish, and it is impossible to be involved in the remote parishes we visit. As a result, our energies go primarily into the Anglican community. Unfortunately, this 'ease' has come about for all the wrong reasons, reasons of separation and division rather than of openness and understanding.

Other interchurch families often live far more difficult situations. In one case, a couple who worshipped together in both churches went to their Catholic school to enroll their children. They were told that, in the system of point allocation used, their presence together at worship on alternate Sundays wasn't enough for their children to be placed on the list. They then approached their Anglican community, where they also worshipped together on alternate Sundays, thereby actively keeping up their respect for and celebration of both faith traditions. The result was exactly the same. Because of the parents' fidelity to their own and each other's traditions, the children are now attending a public school that the parents see as less desirable.

For another couple, the non-Catholic is not welcome to receive the eucharist in their local Catholic church. The school connected to that church, however, is of excellent quality, and within walking distance. A short five-minute drive away is another Catholic church where both are welcome to receive. Unfortunately, if they choose to worship where both are welcome, their children will no longer be able to attend the Catholic school that has proved to be so beneficial. The parents therefore continue to worship locally, unwelcome as they feel, weekly experiencing the pain of separated churches.

We personally do not face questions of baptism, but know that the experience of interchurch families varies widely in this matter. The pastoral approach to this reality seems no more consistent than it does to eucharist. In some cases, one or other pastor will refuse to participate, with resulting enormous pain for the parents and families. In others, couples are overjoyed to hear that both pastors and communities will be present and participate willingly in the baptism of their child. Unfortunately, a good experience with one pastor in no way assures a repeat with the next, and it's difficult to know in advance what the response will be.

While there have been great strides in recognizing a common baptism, the implications of that common baptism are not yet as readily recognized, with interchurch families often living the painful consequences of the divide between theological statement and experiential reality. Driven by the reality and called by the theology, many parents want to share with their children the richness of the two traditions which have formed them in their faith, and to have their children recognized as being a part of both churches.

As with many interchurch families, it has often been suggested that Fenella become Catholic, or that I become Anglican (though the second is heard far less than the first). This is possible, yet there are good reasons why it does not happen. Perhaps the most important is that neither of us has any sense of being called by God to change religious affiliation. We sense instead that we are called to continue to live in our marriage the sorrows and joys of the path to Christian unity, remaining faithful where God has placed us.

This realization has not come about so much through flashes of inspiration as through concrete experiences. One such was the visit of Fenella's mother from England. A strong and faithful Anglican, she naturally wanted to worship with us on our 'Catholic' Sunday. She fully enjoyed the liturgy, until communion time. As we always did at the time, Fenella and I received, while her mother, aware of Church regulations, stayed in her seat. We returned to join her, to see tears streaming down her cheeks, while the congregation sang "unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink of his blood, you shall not have life within you.". Right then, Fenella determined she would never again subject her family and friends to that pain. We no longer invite them to join us for the Catholic liturgy, but go with them to the Anglican church. What could have been a wonderful ecumenical gift exchange has become an experience of pain and exclusion.

How can Fenella join my church, with all that she experiences of its richness, then tell her family and friends (the community that has engendered and nurtured her deep faith life) that they are not truly welcome? Such a move may satisfy the scribes and pharisees, but it would not bring joy to our domestic church, nor would it bring the churches closer to unity.

III

We have concerns about the work toward unity, even as we celebrate that work. We are concerned that our churches in most cases appear not yet ready to love each other first, and only then to work out how that love is to be expressed. Instead, we see churches insisting that every "i" be dotted, every "t" crossed before commitments to unity are made. We suspect that, were marriage to be approached in the same manner, we would have very few marriages, and the 'domestic church' would become merely a fine archaeological specimen.

To use another metaphor, while we appreciate the churches acting as parents to their children, and coming together at key family events such as baptisms and marriages, we see nothing in the parental model that brings those parents together on an ongoing basis. We suggest it is not the model of solicitous parents which must be the 'type' for the church, but the life of the couple passionately committed to loving each other, and to discovering in the act of loving just how that love is to be worked out and expressed.

In the midst of difficulties, however, there have been signs of great joy. Fenella's family and friends had experienced only the 'separate Catholic church'. My family knew Anglicans only as 'separated brethren'. Through our 'domestic church', our families have discovered in each other a deep shared faith, and wonder why the churches remain separate.

Our involvement in both churches, and the fact I have been welcomed as a Catholic within the Anglican church, has been a source of great joy. The change in sense of pain within the Catholic church is also welcome. For years, Catholic awareness of the pain of separation has appeared to be fairly limited to awareness that the 'non-Catholic' experiences the pain of separation. Slowly but surely we are discovering an increasing awareness among Catholics that the pain of division exists within the body of which they are a part. This growing pain is a sign of great hope, as we believe that unless and until Catholics experience the pain of separation as their own, there will be little desire and energy generated to do the work needed to heal the pain.

The pain of knowing that we are still not welcome in our local Catholic parish remains very great. This pain is reflected in the experiences of numerous interchurch families with whom we have been privileged to come into contact around the world. In many cases, families have finally dealt with that pain by choosing membership in a single church, or by not worshipping at all. In some cases this has resulted in living with the hidden pain of turning their backs on their own traditions and communities. In other cases, it has brought a great sense of peace. For ourselves, we suspect the former would have applied, had we not been introduced to the Association of Interchurch Families, and found there a great deal of understanding and support.

The divide between theology and practice remains, but we live with it more easily. Part of this is due to the liturgy itself. We find there warmth, openness, compassion and welcome that are truly awesome, without diluting the significance of the reality being celebrated. We come more and more to believe that if our churches would truly listen to their liturgies, much of this divide would melt away.

We have found that the hunger which comes from being excluded from the eucharist has become a driving force in our lives. In some indefinable way, God has nourished us in the hunger, and that nourishment has in turn increased our hunger, and our energy. We have also found our relationship with each other deepening as we share together not only in the exclusion and misunderstanding, but especially in the gift of richness and diversity with which God has blessed us as an interchurch couple. We have come to recognize that we would not have it any other way.

We are coming more and more to believe that the unity we seek already exists, not in some platonic world of ideals, but in the pre-existence of God. We believe that as individuals and as church, our ecumenical work is not about forging unity. It is about developing the capacity to see and recognize the profound unity that exists, and the tools to roll away the stones in our hearts and in our churches which keep us separated from that unity in Christ.

Where do we go from here? How can we know? When we began our journey, we had no idea we would be brought here. We can only continue to respond to God's call. We believe that interchurch families have much to offer that the churches desperately need: examples of mutuality, of trust, of dialogue, and above all of love. We invite the churches, their pastors, and their members to look on interchurch families as opportunities for growth in unity rather than as problems of disunity. We invite our church leaders and members to dialogue with us, and to learn from our experiences, that together as Church we may walk the path to Christian unity.

1 The title "Revealing the Holy" is inspired by the title song of a CD written by John Coleman and Ian Bartle of "Beni-Abbes", one of the L'Arche communities in Australia, and published by Willow Connection. © Used with permission.

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Ray & Fenella Temmerman are a Catholic and Anglican interchurch couple living in Canada. Members of the Canadian Association of Interchurch Families, they are active in ecumenical endeavors, including operating a web site and email listservice for the Association. They can be reached by mail at

879 Dorchester Ave.
Winnipeg, MB R3M 0P7
Canada
By phone at: 001 (204) 284-1147
By fax at: 001 (775) 402-9668
By email at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Web site: www.interchurchfamilies.org