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OUR FAITH JOURNEY

Bernie & Shirley Karstad

Shirley's Story

I was raised a Roman Catholic. My parents were very active in the church. We lived on a farm and attended a small Roman Catholic church. My father served on parish council and dealt with other church business because of the few families that belonged to this rural parish. My mother was also very active in church life and leadership. She led the choir. She helped to keep the church clean as well as doing the church linens. Many Sundays also found her cooking and serving dinner to the parish priests or Bishops who had the service that day. Because of our road conditions in the winter, the commuting priests also spent many a Saturday night staying over so that he could get to church with us in the morning with horse and caboose. Sundays were always special days for us. We rarely, if ever, missed Mass. In the winter it took the whole day just to get to and from Mass with the horses. From the time we were young children we too took part in the church choir. We always prayed as a family. Never a meal was to be had without grace being said before and after it. During the winter months because there was more time spent inside rather than doing outside chores, we said the rosary as a family nightly, as well as our bedtime prayers. During the school year we took catechism by correspondence. In the summer months we invariably had two weeks of catechism classes at the church, taught by the Sisters. At these times we were prepared for the sacraments of Confession, First Holy Communion and Confirmation. We loved these two weeks of classes because we could then play with our church friends.

Although we went to a country public school, all our teachers were Catholic. This was mainly due to the fact that my father was chairman of the schoolboard and besides no kids in our little school were Protestant. Due to this setup every Holy Day of Obligation was a school holiday, because we all went to Mass.

For our high school education we attended a boarding school in the little town close by. Because we had three aunts who were Sisters in a convent in Winnipeg, I chose to go to that boarding school for my high school years. While there I entered that religious order in the hopes of becoming a Sister. After several years in formation I decided that the religious life was not my calling. I felt that God was calling me to serve Him as a lay person. To this day, God has continued to fill my life with challenges. I am grateful for the years I spent in the convent because my spiritual life has certainly been deepened and my faith has been strengthened.

After leaving the convent, I led a normal dating life as a young adult. I dated several young men with different religious backgrounds. But always at the back of my mind I was searching for the right Catholic who may someday be my husband, thinking that a boy with another religious background would possibly only mean trouble. I married a Catholic boy who was also brought up in the traditional Catholic family. He attended a Catholic boy's high school. His father was a Knight of Columbus. His mother was a member of the Catholic Women's League. I was sure that I was making the right decision and had all bases covered and that life would be happy for ever. Well after seven years of marriage and three children later, one five, one three and a baby six weeks old my husband walked out on us for another woman. My whole world fell apart. I was hurt, angry, bitter and frightened. However I knew I had to survive to look after my children. Soon after having been deserted, I turned to my parish priest for spiritual counseling. He was a man of compassion and understanding, and very supportive. He helped to give me the courage and strength I needed to go on. He reaffirmed my faith in knowing that God still loved us very much and would always be there for us when we called on him. At this stage in my life I really learned how to pray, knowing full well that this was the only way to get through this whole mess in my life. I learned to let go and let God.

As a divorced Catholic, I did not receive much support spiritually, emotionally or mentally from my parish community. Somehow I was made to feel that I didn't belong anymore as divorce was totally unacceptable in the church. When I joined a support group for single, widowed and divorced Catholics, I sometimes heard priests tell us how we should continue coming to church, but not receive the sacraments until we had our previous marriages absolved by the church through an annulment. We were told numerous stories about these saintly women who came to church faithfully with their children and took the back pew because they were unworthy to be in the presence of God at this time in their life. They would wait until their annulment was given enabling them to be right within the eyes of the church and then could once again proceed to take part in the sacraments. Knowing this not to be right, I ignored their statements and not only continued to attend church but also received the sacraments. I applied for an annulment, not because I believed in it , but rather because it was one of the church laws. I was granted one after the process taking about a year and a half.

I share with you this history of my life only to emphasize how strong Catholicism was instilled into me as a child and as an adult. Although Protestants may well have been wonderful people, marrying one would only bring problems to myself as well as to my extended family. These were very deep feelings and thoughts of my own.

I remained a single parent for several years raising my children on my own. I once began to date again, with much fear and caution. The Protestant men in my life were nice, but I never gave any serious thought of ever marrying one of them because I in my narrow-mindedness could only foresee problems. Several years later I remarried a Catholic widower, who also was a active practicing Catholic, as well as a recovering alcoholic. Needless to say the romance ended almost immediately on our wedding day as he took scripture literally thinking that he was head of the household and all the rest of us were to be his servants. I was not going to let this marriage end and so walked several extra miles in my life to make it work. After years of verbal, emotional, sexual and physical abuse it was time to get help. With the help of a counselor and the courage and understanding I had gained from the Al-anon program, I came to see that the only way to maintain my safety and the safety of the children was to leave this marriage. Although this was very painful, emotionally and physically, I was forced to do what was best for the children and myself. Needless to say my self-image was once again almost nil and I would have to start rebuilding my life all over again. Being divorced twice in the eyes of the Catholic church and some of my immediate family members was no easy matter. Most expected us to stay in the situation, continue to take the abuse and work through it. But from the Al-anon program I had learned a very valuable lesson. I did not cause the disease of alcoholism, I couldn't control it , nor could I cure it. The only life I could have control over was my very own.

I turned to my parish priest and the church I was actively involved in as a reader, usher, Eucharist minister and participant for support and understanding. I was very disappointed with the compassion we received. In all honesty I was very bitter and angry with the response.

Although alone, we were not alone. The children and myself received a lot of support, understanding, compassion and tangible help from my al-anon friends, non-church-goers , and my son's cub leader, a Lutheran who is now my husband. God was truly with us. At this point in my life, I met Him face to face. My experience and hurt from two failed marriages was not an experience of isolation or in any way had a negative effect on my life. Rather these led me to grow psychologically and spiritually. I did not realize it then, but the emotional and psychological pain was to become perhaps the most powerful force in molding the course of my life. I was fortunate as a child to have been introduced to God, by my parents. The seeds of faith were planted back then. Now it was up to me to cultivate the soil and help them grow. My God became very real. I sensed that Jesus heard my every cry and plea and that He was near by to give me the strength I would need to continue following Him. Although I saw myself as a failure and sinner I knew deep down in my heart that Jesus did not view me as unworthy of His love. God was calling me to deeper intimacy with Himself. My spirituality began feebly but grew more confident along the way. I now recognized the need for God in my life. I had to place myself in his hands with complete trust, confident of His tenderness and love for me. Daily I learned to turn my life over to His care. I learned to meet Him daily in the people I met who touched my life. I took off my Catholic blinders as I call them. I came to the realization that some of us so good Catholics, myself included, are too busy following the rules and not the spirit of the rules in our churches. We hide inside the structure of the church, behind stained-glass windows, too busy with surface and pious practices to have the time for the Mary Magdelines, tax collectors and sinners that sit right next to us. Somehow we've learned to be judges rather than servants. Yes in all humility for the first time in my life I began to see people as they really were, not for what I wanted or thought they should be. It didn't matter if they didn't go to church, or weren't Catholic. They were good people who knew God and lived with and for Him. Yes Lord I am grateful for my past mistakes in life and my sinfulness because through your love and forgiveness, I now can truly call You Father.

The last six years of my life have been filled with peace and joy. I dated and married my son's cub leader, a Lutheran. He is a man who loves me, respects me, supports me, and prays with me. He also makes a wonderful father for my children and a man they can certainly look to as an example of a loving and concerned dad. Our life, my life is still filled with the challenges of everyday living and raising a family. But what a joy to face each day together, praying together that God will help and guide us to become the parents He wants us to be.

Bernie's Story

I was born Sept. 21 1939 on the family farm at Atwater, Sask. My parents were of Norwegian decent, Mom born and raised at Atwater, Dad born in Minnesota and raised at Atwater. It was a mixed farming area and just over the "dirty thirties". Mom and Dad were married in 1935.

I have two sisters, Bernice born in 1941, Beatrice born in 1944, and one brother Bertram 1953-1973.

Being of Norwegian decent made me a "cradle Lutheran". The people of our area were of mixed nationalities, English, Welsh, Hungarian, Jewish and a mixture of the above.

Church was an important part of our families lives. Dad and Mom were active in church activities through there entire lives. It was to church and Sunday School every Sunday, parochial school in the summer. Except on rare occasions, there was no work on Sunday, only normal farm duties.

I guess my first recall of other traditions and faiths was at home on the farm. My Grandmother on my Dad's side talked about her brother (and she wasn't happy) being a Jehovah Witness. The storekeeper in Atwater was Jewish. The farmers whom we worked with and helped were Norwegian, Hungarian, or English but this didn't seem to matter. Work had to be done regardless. I was a pall bearer at the United Church for a neighbor girl when I was 10 or 11. I guess people respected others faiths and traditions and never seemed to question (at least to my recollection). I still remember standing at center ice, at a hockey game, in the rink at Esterhazy banging on the boards with Fr. Burns. There was a Catholic hospital in Esterhazy and Dad had his share of health problems so we were well aquatinted with the Sisters at St. Anthony's. The Sisters looked after the sick as the were called to do and they respected other peoples traditions.

After finishing grade 10 in Atwater I went to the Lutheran Collegiate Bible Institute in Outlook, Sask. It is a Lutheran High School, but not restricted to Lutherans. We had chapel every morning, bible study twice a week, and Sunday worship at the Lutheran Church downtown.

After high school we as a family moved to Saskatoon and joined Zion Lutheran Church. Some of the friends I chummed around with went to other churches so as a group we did the circuit on Sundays. I can remember Dad stating he thought I should be going to Zion Lutheran only, but he did not forbid going to the other churches.

Dating started and I began going with a Catholic girl. We went to Zion, and eventually got married at Zion. Some of her family went to church, her mother (Catholic) went to church, oldest sister (Lutheran) went to church, next sister (Swedish Covenant) although not going to church the kids went to Sunday School, the rest (1) United, (2) Catholic, marriage only no regular worship.

My first wife joined the Lutheran church while we were in Toronto. There were no problems. One thing I can remember is that when there was a reference to the Catholic church, I used to cringe. This thank goodness has come to a halt, through the works of Ecumenism. We worshipped regularly regardless of where we were. After a couple of years in Toronto we moved back to Atwater. I can remember one of the older Norwegian Lutheran ladies at the church in Atwater stating that she didn't think she could worship in the church we went to in Toronto. The church there in Toronto was a Danish Lutheran and there was a real mixture of people worshipping there. My first wife died in 1982 and was buried from Zion Lutheran Church.

A second lady in my life. She was Presbyterian. The dating did not last long but we did "interchurch", not knowing at the time about "interchurch couples".

Then came along Shirley, a good Catholic, looking for a good Lutheran so we could be an "interchurch" family. We started "interchurching" before we were married (in the Lutheran Church) and have been an interchurch family ever since.

As I said earlier church was a great part of our lives as children growing up at home. Grandma Karstad read her Bible daily and sang Christian songs to us children.

As a family we said grace at meals but for family devotions I don't remember this happening. I guess it was more of going to church, being active in the church, doing things right, being an honest citizen was our families way.

In the winter we would have Sunday School after school; this was to accommodate the kids that had a greater distance to travel. I can also remember some discussion among the parents - religion in school - but this was after school and Dad was chairman of the local School Board, and they thought he was extending his authority.

Parochial school in the summer was fun. There would be someone new from Saskatoon or elsewhere to teach us. They stayed at our place so it was a real treat. We would learn new songs and games.

As we got older we went to Bible Camp in the summer at Nelson Lake (about 90 miles north of Yorkton). This was also a fun time. Away from home, doing crafts, swimming, but probably away from farm chores was the best.

High school at Outlook was "heavy" on church. There were kids who rebelled but as a group of teens we needed all the help we could get and here it was, from people who can guide us along that narrow path.

Church was something I do not remember rebelling. It was something I grew up with and it formed an important part of my life. Family, faith, and friends have been my motto for years. I know there were highs and lows in my church life but I did not completely drift away.

Whether in Toronto, Atwater, Esterhazy, Deep River or Saskatoon I always had my membership transferred and took an active part in the congregation.

"Death" brought me closer to God, physically and spiritually, than ever before (whether my parents, brother, or wife). When things look bleak and are "at that time anyway" I looked to God for help. I did not blame God but prayed that His will be done.

Interchurch has also brought me closer to God. With the world as it is today, TV, movies, and people, we need help from above. People are more diverse today and worshipping God is A MUST. As Pastor Hugh Farmer said on a recent Insight program, I paraphrase 'We seem to get cluttered up on earth on how to get to heaven but we all can get there even if on different roads'. Pastor Roger Haugen said "Christianity is not a "spectator sport" but is a "participating" one.

Scouting excites me and still does but Interchurch Families also sparks me up. I see it being very important that we can all worship our God together regardless of tradition. It is for this reason our energies are being focused in this way. It is our way of promoting and living Ecumenism.

Bernie

We are a double-belonging interchurch family. We live and practice our faith lives daily with much joy.

When we began dating, we realized that our lives were no longer solely our own, being as we each had children from our previous marriages. Our children's welfare and happiness were a top priority on our discussion list. Our first commitment to each other was to take into account the religious upbringing of our children. We each took seriously the commitment we had made when we had our children baptized, my son into the Lutheran church and Shirley's children into the Catholic church. In no way did we want to railroad our children into a church where they did not feel that they belonged. We wanted to allow them the freedom to continue worshipping in the churches into which they were baptized. Up until this time Shirley's children had not been inside a Protestant church except for on the one occasion when they attended a service during Scout-Guide week in a United church. She remembers vividly one son saying that they should not go into this church as he thought the people didn't worship the same God as they did. She assured him that this was not so and that they could attend this service. Much to his amazement the service was O.K.

Shirley

Because having a church involvement was very important to both of us, and choosing not to alienate our children in any way, we decided to attend each other's church together to see if this was an option we could consider if we decided to get married. At first it was a very scary experience almost giving us a guilt feeling of betraying our religious upbringing. But as time went on and we could see very little difference between the worship and beliefs of our individual churches we became more comfortable in each other's church. We decided that we could accept each other's differences and learn to respect them if we continued to let God be our guide. Our uneasiness with this practice was now only in our acceptance by our fellow church members. Several had given us warnings that this may be very unfair to our children. Feeling confident within our own commitment to each other we decided to invite our children to worship with us in the two respective churches. We were pleased and blessed when they felt perfectly at home in both churches. And so began our alternate worshipping in both churches on alternate Sundays. The older children when still dependent upon us worshipped with us in both churches. Once reaching their independence they were free to worship in the church of their choice. They chose to worship in the church into which they were baptized and confirmed. At festive times of the year such as Christmas and Easter we try to worship together as a family in either church. During Holy Week from Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday we alternate services between the two churches. In our daily prayer life our table grace is R.C. at breakfast and supper and at lunch time we say the Lutheran form of grace . Our evening prayers are normally taken from the Lutheran devotions booklet because we find the stories so fitting to our daily living. However during the Advent and Lenten seasons we usually use the readings from the Our Family magazine as we find these devotions following the daily church readings for the season. Some of our prayers are traditional such as the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be, but on occasion we are also moved to spontaneity. We Catholics continue to make the sign of the cross and use holy water to bless ourselves.

Bernie

In September of 1992, Father Bernard de Margerie introduced us to the concept of Interchurch Families. Belonging to this group gave us renewed strength and enthusiasm, confirming that worshipping and actively participating in two different church traditions is O.K. In our situation both our priests and pastors have been very supportive of our active roles in both churches. Our faith and prayer life has been strengthened because of the richness the two different churches have to offer us in our faith journey. As a result of double belonging we have deepened our personal understanding of the traditions and practices in our own church. No longer is it good enough just to say we do a particular thing just because. We have been forced to take a more active role in the church, beyond our own personal church in that we publicly and openly confess to our friends and church members that we worship in two churches. We have also spoken to our bishops, priests, pastors and fellow church members about being a double-belonging family. We feel more a part of the whole ecumenical movement in our city and community by actively practicing ecumenism on a daily basis. Our children are not confused about attending two different churches; rather, they are blessed by the richness in services each church has to offer. They feel very comfortable in any church we worship in, participating fully and freely. In the Lutheran church they participate in the children's chat, Pioneer clubs, and other children activities. In the Catholic church they are altar servers, participate in the Christmas pageants, children's literature, and prepare for the sacraments with other children their own age. They make no distinction between a priest and pastor. Both are very important to them and equal in their service of carrying out God's ministry. Many times they refer to the pastors as Father, and equally share their hugs with all of them. They are very pleased when our priests and pastors visit our home for a meal, or spend time with us at a campsite.

Some of the concerns we experience as an interchurch family are as follows;

Shirley

1. we are not being totally accepted by our extended families. Some family members still feel that we are being unfaithful to the traditions into which we have been baptized. They also think our children will be confused and that we most certainly are confused.

Bernie

2. on occasions we are forced to chose which church we will worship in due to extenuating circumstances, i.e. religious training classes; special events--speakers; church involvement; family visitors. At times like these we may have to miss being in our own church several Sundays in sequence.

Shirley

3. as our children get older and plan to marry, the communion issue arises, because the Catholic church will not permit us to partake of communion in an other church i.e. When our oldest son got married this fall we suggested that communion only be given to the bride and groom so that the Catholic family would not feel out of place. This was done and it was O.K. even though we had wished it could have been done differently.

Bernie

4. funerals; we wish to have an ecumenical service for our funerals. We wonder how our priests and pastors will meet our needs. At the present time we know we would have no difficulties with our present shepherds, but what about the next one? How will our families accept that prayers may be in the Lutheran church and the funeral in the Catholic church or vise versa?

Shirley

We are truly grateful to be introduced to and belong to this interchurch family group. This family has given us support and understanding. It's a consolation to know that other couples and families walk the same walk as we do, experiencing similar pains and possibilities, confess our faith and reinforce within ourselves and others that church life and active participation are a very important part in one's life. The option of being an Interchurch Family can be a challenging and rewarding experience.

As we walk this journey slowly, we know that deep in our hearts we will all be one someday as Christ wants us to be. This is our daily hope and prayer.

Pros and Cons of being an interchurch family!!

POSITIVE:

1. Couples take a greater interest in their respective Christian traditions because they feel they have to represent them to their partners and children.

2. Interchurch families take a more active role in promoting Christian unity.

3. Interchurch families have a greater appreciation and respect for Christians of different traditions.

NEGATIVES:

1. Spouses do not feel totally accepted in their spouse's church.

2. Couples are confused about when and where to have their children baptized.

3. Protestants feel the greatest pain is being discouraged from receiving Holy Communion.

4. Obstacles are being placed on couples who wish to be married in the church i.e. which church should they choose, who will marry them, can they receive communion at the marriage.

5. Funerals. Can our funeral service be ecumenical and can the services be shared by both churches? Some Protestants feel uncomfortable attending funeral prayers or a funeral in a Catholic Church.

Bernie & Shirley Karstad