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This article was published in the January 2000 issue of The Journal.

What do we mean by interchurch families? 
Who are they?

You will find a number of different definitions and different views in this number of the Interchurch Families journal. We would not want to claim a monopoly for any one of them, but each time we say "interchurch families" we do need to be clear what sort of interchurch families we are talking about.

First, we have some testimonies: from a couple preparing for marriage, of life in a "domestic church", of the celebration of baptism for an interchurch child, from an interchurch child coming to confirmation. These are from couples and families where both partners and the family members are committed to life within two church communities, which in all cases span the Reformation divide. These would tend to represent the activists in associations or groupings of interchurch families.

The Roman Catholic/Uniting Church report from Australia envisages this kind of family, but also those where the spouses do not feel involved in one another’s church communities, where only one of the partners is practising, or where neither appear committed to the church in which they were brought up. However, given wise pastoral care and encouragement, it judges some of these to be "potential interchurch marriages" – as against those it calls "mixed". I am reminded of a Protestant pastor in France, shaking his head as he looked at the gathering of Catholic-Reformed couples in front of him, eagerly discussing the difficulties of double belonging. "I’m not worried about your problems", he said: "What worries me is all those couples who don’t even know that they are foyers mixtes."

Professor Lawler’s report on interchurch marriages ranges even wider. He is dealing with all kinds of marriages where two denominations were involved in some way when the couple met – not necessarily Roman Catholic/other, and not necessarily couples who have remained two-church during their marriage. His concern is also for the provision of better pastoral care.

"Interchurch families" are thus of many different kinds; each sort requires marriage preparation and support adapted to its special needs. And within each group, each couple is unique, and true pastoral care will treat them as such.

The interchurch family triptych (the picture described in the final article) expresses the vision of interchurch couples and families who feel called to live in their "domestic church", as far as they possibly can, as a sign and an anticipation of the unity in Christ which is both a gift and a call to the churches. They are seeking – in however imperfect and partial a way – to express in their daily lives the unity that will finally be given to all when the marriage supper of the Lamb is celebrated in our Father’s house.

Ruth Reardon