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

NO BLUEPRINT

We have always said that there is no blueprint for an interchurch family. 

Some of us are even-handed in our church-going, our use of time and talents, our financial contributions to our two churches. Others lean in one direction or the other - either through choice or through particular circumstances. Some partners and families are together most of the time in their church-going; others are apart most of the time. Some of us stick to our local parishes and try to make our witness there, however hard the circumstances; others seek out local church communities where the family will be fed. There are no "right" answers when decisions have to be made. There is no standard pattern to be held up as an "ideal".

We need to remind ourselves of this from time to time. It was a salutary shock to receive a letter which said: "The AIF video is excellent, but left us feeling that AIF was only for those who have achieved 'Double Belonging', which we haven't to a full extent . . ."

In defence of the video, we might say that it couldn't deal with everything in twenty minutes (and in it John Coventry did repeat: "There is no blueprint"!) and also it was trying to make a point in a way which raises sharp questions for our churches, when it showed "double belonging" pushed to its limits in a way which some families have done. It is a point raised very particularly by the older children who are asking for a joint confirmation. But there are plenty of interchurch children who have settled for one church - or seem to have abandoned both -and it isn't the only point to be made. 

No "ideal" two-church family

The letter we received went on to say: "We are both sad that the children are not more committed Christians, but hope this is at present a healthy teenage rejection ... Are others too feeling that the 'successful' Christian two-church family image is taking over too much?"

It is good to be reminded that if we hold up an "ideal" two-church family as a goal to be striven for we shall only reap discouragement and a sense of failure. Two-church families are no more proof against teenage rejection than one-church families - though probably not less so. Two-church families experience separation and divorce like other families - though probably not more so. We have our joys and our sorrows like other families. But there is a common factor in all our stories: the struggle to express the "two-churchness" of the family, although in different degrees and in different ways. In his recent book Double Belonging George Kilcourse describes an interchurch family: 

  1. it joins in marriage two baptized Christians from different traditions, 
  2. each spouse participates actively in his or her particular church, and to various degrees in one another's church, and 
  3. each spouse takes an active, conscientious role in the religious education of his or her children."

A well of experience 

Things work out very differently in different families, but it has always been a great joy and strength for interchurch families to cast their experiences into the common pool, and to draw out whatever is relevant to them from the experience of others. "We drink from our own wells", and the AIF well has been a source of life-giving refreshment to many.

It is as a contribution to that well of experience that we publish two lengthy accounts of the development of two interchurch families in this Journal. For our churches, they raise different pastoral questions from those raised in the video. We see, for example, the sense of loneliness and isolation which can be felt by parents whose children habitually go off to church with the other parent. Pastors need to be aware of this, and to give special attention to the needs of the lone parent. We see too the way in which church communities can be insensitive to the way families want to be together sometimes, making unilateral demands which can be experienced as a threat to the unity of the family. Church communities can learn to grow more sensitive to this kind of situation. But it will only happen if we explain it to them.

There is a mediating role here between couples and church communities which can perhaps best be undertaken by interchurch families who have felt the hurts in their own lives and so can better understand the hurts of others. (Some clergy are very good at it too!)

Good News 

The sooner Associations of Interchurch Families can do themselves out of business the better. But there is still a long way to go yet. It was cheering to hear on the phone a young voice (which had poured out a long story of anxiety in a pre-marriage situation) say: "Oh no, I'm not depressed any longer - not now I know you exist." For the time being, we are called to go on existing, and to go on sharing our stories - with one another, with other mixed and interchurch couples, and with our pastors and church communities.

So long as the existence of Associations of Interchurch Families is experienced as Good News, we are called to continue to play our small part in the great proclamation by the whole Church of the Good News of God in Christ reconciling the whole creation to himself through the Holy Spirit.

Ruth Reardon