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From an article contributed to the parish magazine of St Bart's Roman Catholic Church, published in the January 1994 issue of The Journal.

My Other Parish

When the parish family gathered for the 30th Anniversary Mass on 27 September 1992, Fr Robert kindly included those of us in an interchurch situation who regularly attend St Bart's and a parish of another denomination too. Mike and I are in this situation, and for the last ten years St Bart's has therefore been "my other parish" with St Mary's Anglican church in Marshalswick . 

In practice, this "double belonging" may require considerable energy! The weekend of Fr Robert's sermon was not untypical: Friday afternoon and evening saw us sorting and manning tables at St Mary's jumble sale, and Saturday afternoon visiting the Flower Festival at St Bart's, with Family Mass there on Sunday morning. We are fortunate in having two such active parishes, but the essential thing for us was that we were together at all these events as a Christian family and not operating separately with denominational barriers between us. 

It is not unusual for the "conversion" of one partner to be suggested as a way of solving some of the perceived difficulties, both theological and practical, of a situation such as ours. For many interchurch couples, however, this seems inappropriate; as they are both baptised into the one Christ, there is no necessity to "convert" to Christianity. To change to be "in full communion" with the other church might be an option, but it seems to many that this would be reinforcing denominational barriers and perhaps denying one partner's deep faith tradition. Interchurch families hope that their experiences will contribute to the spiritual journeys that the denominations are going through, until the churches themselves are brought to full unity in Christ. Our special circumstances were mentioned publicly by Pope John Paul II during his pastoral visit to England and it is perhaps gratifying that it now seems to be possible for many churches to view interchurch families as a "pastoral opportunity" rather than a "pastoral problem" 

In our situation there is a natural impatience, however, and inevitably interchurch families on the whole move ahead of their churches in their actions. This may be untidy and uncomfortable at times, but it is surely right. The churches have forever to find unity! Interchurch families have one one or two decades in which together to nurture their children in faith. They are very conscious of doctrinal disagreements and the need for sensitivity, and yet the week­by­week experience of "the other parish" can be deeply enriching. If a couple who perhaps started off suspicious and defensive about one another's church affiliation can come to experience a deep and growing unity in Christ, and feel at home in two different church traditions, surely there is a wider message there? 

On a personal note, I have to admit finding it hard that I cannot be "in full communion" in "my other parish". We read widely on these matters (most interchurch couples do this) and try to understand and empathise with the issues involved. My intellectual understanding, however, conflicts with what I actually experience, and I have become over the years more and more convinced that this is not the way things are meant to be. I pray that, guided by the Spirit, together we can persevere in our search for the unity that is surely there. Our task must be to find it. Meanwhile, there are two Harvest Festivals to attend to . . .! 

Pam McElroy

Pam was in deep distress at the time of First Communions at St Bart's in 1993, even though her own daughter was not involved. She and Mike talked to Susan about her First Communion in 1994. They explained the situation as well as they could, and why it might not be possible for Pam to receive communion with her daughter. "That's not a very good rule," was Susan's reaction, "because it doesn't keep families together." 

This article is from the January 1994 issue of The Journal, published by the British Association of Interchurch Families.