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This article was published in the Summer 1996 issue of The Journal.

First Communions in Our Family: A reflection

It is some years now since Ruth, now J 5, and Matthew, now 13, made their first Holy Communion, but perhaps that makes it a good time to look back and share our experiences with others. These events took place in 1988 and 1990, well before the 1993 Ecumenical Directory was published.

Like other interchurch couples, we were concerned to  make the occasions as meaningful as we could for Ruth, and later for Matthew. We started planning early, some eight months before the event. We have never been very involved in theological or doctrinal ecumenical debate. We have preferred to live as best we can as Christians in a Christian family, involving ourselves in local practical links with other churches and letting that speak for us. However, using the excellent book Sharing Communion, edited by Ruth Reardon and Melanie Finch (Collins, 1983), we spoke first to our assistant parish priest and, with his blessing, wrote to our Roman Catholic bishop requesting that John (an Anglican) should receive communion. In the letter we referred as fully as we could to the four canonical criteria mentioned in the book. The letter itself was a spontaneous request: we made reference to our spiritual need which could not otherwise be met and expressed a shared eucharistic belief. At that time, I don't think we dared to expect the answer we got. Our intention was to make sure that our bishop was aware of the problem and the needs of interchurch couples, and to stimulate thoughts about the issue. We already knew him to be sympathetic to the situation of an interchurch family. We were delighted when, a few weeks later, we received a personal reply in which our bishop suggested that John see it as God's will that he should receive at Ruth's first communion.

The day itself was a joyous occasion for us all, especially as so many of our Roman Catholic friends expressed their delight too. Those less enthusiastic were sensitive and did not let their feelings show. Ruth made her communion with the four of us all together at the rail in our local Roman Catholic church. Matthew received a blessing.

Two years later, we again planned early and made no assumptions that a favourable response would automatically follow. The response was the same, and so Matthew took his communion with all four of us now receiving. We were particularly touched that our parish priest himself gave us communion on this occasion.

There was, of course, the question of what would happen in John's Anglican church. Ruth and Matthew were much younger than, for example, the vicar's son who had not been confirmed. When we talked to the vicar, he spontaneously offered that Ruth, and then later Matthew, should receive, and indeed for each of them he devised a little "admission to Holy Communion" rite in the morning service. We shall long remember Ruth and Matthew replying, "Yes, please," to the question, "Do you want to take communion in this church?" As always, there was quiet, undemonstrative support from the congregation.

What stands out for us now is, first and foremost, the warmth and support we received from priests and friends alike. Because it has been so constant and positive, we almost forgot to mention the love and understanding we have both experienced from both our families. We also gained much from other interchurch families, and wonder if we would have been so fortunate without the information and support they have given. 

We think that if there are any pointers here for others, they are these: 

First, plan well ahead. Talk about the possibilities and sow the seeds, even years in advance. Talk to other interchurch families far and near. Asking at the last minute, or just presenting oneself at the altar rail may be appropriate, but it gives no one time to think about issues which they may not have fully appreciated, or have had to face previously

Second, every situation is unique.Use all the resources within the interchurch family network to make sure you know the range of possibilities, and to help you to pray and decide what is the best approach for your situation.

Third (perhaps underestimated at the time), we believe that a key aspect of our case was that the whole family were fully active members of both communities.Margaret has been involved in events and worship at John's church, and John has helped on RCIA and First Communion programmes as well as flogging "win the bottle" tickets at annual fairs! Ruth and Matthew have been in Sunday School, acted as servers, helped and joined in social events. We are not theologians, but there is a strong sense in which receiving communion reflects and expresses our existing sense of community under God, as well as nurturing and developing our life together.

We have also experienced division at the eucharist. At our wedding, Margaret wanted a mass, and as it was a day of obligation that made sense. Neither of us, nor indeed many of the congregation, has forgotten the hurt of seeing one side of the church all going up to receive while the other, including many practising Christians, were unable to do so. Perhaps that is why we have taken so long to write this down, or perhaps it was that we did not want to embarrass any of those who had supported us so practically, or yet again perhaps it was because we felt almost guilty at being so blessed when many others are still unable to share as we did. Why should we have been so blessed when so many others still have to feel such pain and hurt? We pray that our experience may encourage others to ask and continue to point up the needs of interchurch families -and of course we pray that many more may share the joys which we experienced.

John and Margaret