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This article was published in the January 1993 issue of The Journal.

In Dublin’s Fair City

The context is different, but the hopes and commitment of interchurch families are just the same wherever they are. That was our feeling when we returned from the Irish AIF's annual conference in Dublin at the end of September.

About forty adults (and lots of children) gathered in a newly built Church of Ireland parish centre to the south of Dublin. In spite of the impressive surroundings. we picked up the feel of a large dominant Roman Catholic Church, with the Church of Ireland and other Protestant churches in the "also ran" category.

It isn't an easy situation in which to practise "double belonging", and much pain was expressed, but perhaps it is all the more important for interchurch partners there to stress that in marriage they are equals; that they share responsibility for the spiritual health of their marriage and for the Christian upbringing of their children. There was too a recognition that things are changing; that possibilities are opening up for interchurch families that would not have been there even recently.

The church today

But why haven't things moved more quickly? Here we found the talk given by Fr Gabriel Daly, O.S.A., particularly helpful, as he analysed the major conflict within the Roman Catholic Church today.

In the '60s the Second Vatican Council opened up the Roman Catholic Church to the modern secularised world, and tried to relate the christian tradition to it. The reforms of the '60s breached a walled city; some rejoiced, others were dismayed. There was no reversal under Paul VI, although he agonised over what he recognised as a very complicated situation.

But today there is a strong 'restoration' movement. A confident Pope John Paul II sees the church as an army of light in a dark world. (Some Protestant groups feel the same way.) Life is a battlefield, and the church has to go into action. The corollary is that priests who leave are "deserters"; ecumenism with its pluralistic basis is too much to cope with; the "elite" troops (groups like Opus Dei) become "the real church"; the church is more aggressive and authoritarian. (Archbishop Weakland of Milwaukee said that when he was at the Second Vatican Council in 1964 the Catholic Church was a humble church, but now it is a "green beret" church - the green berets were the US shock troops in Vietnam.) This historical perspective is important.

The church of the future

In sketching his idea of a church for the future, Fr Daly stressed that the notion of participation is vital. We cannot rely on coercion and social pressure. People have to decide to be Christians. Evangelisation will involve us in becoming more aware of the presence and action of the church in unchurched places and persons, in listening to the unchurched and marginally churched in a humble and non-imperialistic way. The church will be more decentralised and pluralistic - but we shall struggle to hold the new diversity in unity. The ecumenical church of the future will not see itself as an answer. but as part of the problem.

Interchurch families

Structures for participation are not yet in place, but pressure from the base will get through to the top, Fr Daly assured us. Only we must be realistic about the situation we are in at present. Interchurch families are in the van of the ecumenical movement, so inevitably they face many practical difficulties. We can aim at changing the rules, but we mustn't expect approval; we can't have conscientious action which conflicts with the rules and church approval.

What matters is that we hold firm to our hope in the God of surprises; that we do not allow ourselves to be discouraged; that we cultivate a judicious mixture of patience and impatience.

What matters is ecumenical conversion. (ARCIC documents were written by people who had been converted to ecumenism; they go over cold when read by people who haven't been through the conversion process.) An interchurch marriage can be an occasion for ecumenical conversion. A mixed marriage can become an interchurch marriage. ("I reserve the term interchurch marriage," said Fr Daly, "for people who accept the full challenge of asking; what is the mind of Christ? and: what are we going to do about it?')

Marriage preparation

The AGM which followed included a report from the pre-marriage co-ordinators. We in England have much to learn from the Irish experience here. In the Dublin area 6-week (or weekend) marriage preparation courses for mixed couples are sponsored by a committee representing the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Ireland, Methodists and Presbyterians. Most of the input is from the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council, with clergy taking one evening, and interchurch couples another - the interchurch couples also host the whole course, so there is a considerable time commitment involved.

There was a good discussion; how to get the term "inter-faith" banned when interchurch marriage was in question; how to redress an imbalance perhaps by using Relate counsellors as well as CMAC; how to improve the standard of the AIF input so that it ranged more widely than one couple's personal story. (Perhaps our new video will help here though it was felt to be "very English" by those who saw it in Dublin!)

We personally gained a great deal from our two days with our Irish sister-association; we were very grateful for their warm hospitality, and hope they will send representatives to our Swanwick conference next year.

Ruth Reardon and Gill Walsh