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This article was published in the Summer 1999 issue of The Journal.

Padare at Harare

Padare is a Shona word for meeting-place. A new element in the Harare Assembly, never tried by the World Council before, was the invitation to interested groups to put on displays and presentations for the delegates and visitors. Such groups were asked to be ready to explain their work and its relevance to the business of the Assembly. When he came to address the Geneva World Gathering of Interchurch Families in July 1998, the WCC General Secretary, Dr Konrad Raiser, had expressed his hope that interchurch families would have something to contribute. We were there – ready and willing. The Padare was divided into six "streams" – we were in the church unity stream.

By our presence at Harare we wanted to reinforce one of the recommendations of the outgoing Joint Working Group between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches. The JWG’s 1998 report recommended as specific priorities for the next period of its mandate four priorities under the title "Issues affecting koinonia", and four under the title "Common concerns facing the WCC and the RCC". The second of the four priorities given in the first group of issues read:

The ecumenical role of interchurch marriages. The ecclesiological implications of the sacrament of marriage between Christians of different churches and in their family life.

From England came Ruth and Martin Reardon together with Elaine and Les Leach, who had lived in Harare over twenty years earlier; from Australia came Bev Hincks. But interchurch families from all parts of the world were present at Harare in the display which had been painstakingly prepared by Martin in the weeks beforehand -–there was a map of the world surrounded by interchurch family photographs, each linked by a thread to its country of origin. Family photographs illustrated, too, the themes of the display: what are interchurch families? – a problem for the churches – a challenge to the churches – an opportunity for the churches – an example for the churches …

The five of us tried to be with the exhibition on a rota basis for the whole week of the Padare – the middle week of the Assembly.

Visitors to the exhibition

People came and went all week. They included:

  • the General Secretary of the Council of Churches of Malaysia. He studied theology in Germany and met and married a Catholic from an entirely Catholic village there. Her parents were horrified at her wanting to marry someone from Malaysia but also a Methodist, which they thought of as an extreme Protestant sect. Now however his mother-in-law cuts out ecumenical news from the papers and sends it to him …

  • a retired pastor from German-speaking Switzerland who as a young minister was given the task of researching mixed marriages for his Synod in 1964. He discovered that 80% of his church’s members were married to Catholics – this led to a change of church policy, once it was realised that cutting them off from church life led to a great loss of numbers. So they worked out a more positive approach.

  • a sister who is currently the Ecumenical Officer of the Archdiocese of Brisbane. She confirmed that the Brisbane guidelines on admission to communion are working well, and there is no question of withdrawing them, as some people in England have been suggesting.

  • a Waldensian pastor from Italy who knew about interchurch families from the Marchesellis.

  • a Church of Christ pastor from Congo who said joint celebrations of marriage are common.

  • Three small Zimbabwean boys from the Children’s Padare, two Salvation Army, one Catholic, who were fascinated by the AIF poster and imagining one of the couple being Salvation Army and the other Catholic and staying that way when they were married. (Their experience was that a wife takes on her husband’s church identity, whether she wants to or not.)

  • a Swedish Lutheran Archbishop who has worked on a document on mixed marriages with a Catholic Bishop; it is soon to be published.

  • the RC Ecumenical Officer from the Sydney diocese who is trying to get some interchurch couples together there.

  • a Bulgarian professor who already receives Foyers Mixtes, wants to get Interchurch Families and hopes to get something going in Bulgaria.

  • a South African theology professor from Pretoria who did a video interview with Martin Reardon which he said would be useful for his students.

  • a Canadian who teaches at a theological college in Winnipeg who had "never heard of such a thing" as interchurch families and hoped to contact the Temmermans to enlighten his students … and lots of others.

Padare presentations

We did two presentations which were sparsely attended but worthwhile. Bishop Mario Conti of Aberdeen, who headed up the Catholic team of delegated observers at the Assembly very kindly agreed to chair the first, and Professor Brian Gaybba from Rhodes University, Grahamstown, who helped draw up the Southern African Bishops’ presentation of the Ecumenical Directory, which included their guidelines on eucharistic sharing, took part. Bishop Conti is the Scottish bishop who joined the English team working on One Bread One Body. It was interesting to have them both together! Also present was a secretary from the university’s Sociology Department – nothing to do with the Assembly, but fascinated by our exhibition; she brought her father-in-law to the presentation, and enthusiastically offered to spread the word about interchurch families in Zimbabwe.

The second presentation was at a time when the official delegates were not free to attend, but a larger number of people came, including the outstanding Japanese theologian Kosuke Koyama, invited to Harare to address the Assembly. He was particularly attracted, like many of the Africans, by our interchurch families picture, with its vivid symbolism. In our first presentation we had stressed that we hoped the new RC-WCC Joint Working Group would take up the recommended priority for future work of particular interest to us: the ecclesiological significance of interchurch families. Only delegates could influence this, so our second presentation was more informal, starting with selections from the AIF video (the children at the end were a success as usual) and leaving lots of time for questions and discussion.

Two mentions in plenary

The first mention of interchurch families in plenary Assembly was a surprise to us – and to the speaker. Fr Tom Stransky CP, a staff member of the Vatican Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity in the 1960’s, and a Roman Catholic observer at every WCC Assembly from Uppsala 1968 onwards, now Rector of Tantur in Jerusalem, was one of a panel commenting on the "Common Understanding and Vision" document which was important in the Assembly’s agenda. Interchurch families are "an ecclesiological challenge to the Roman Catholic Church", he said and commented afterwards: "You must have been praying for me; that wasn’t in my written text; I added it as I went along."

Alas, on the Assembly’s final day we discovered that two priorities had been identified by the committee responsible for guiding the future work of the RC/WCC Joint Working Group, and the ecclesiological significance of interchurch families got no mention. Could anything be done? The group had "endorsed the priorities identified by the Joint Working Group". So Baroness Kathleen Richardson, leader of the British Methodist delegation, a member of AIF’s Panel of Reference, moved an amendment to add an endorsement of "all" the priorities of the report, saying that her particular concern was that work on interchurch families should be included in the Joint Working Group’s future agenda. The amendment was passed easily; the reason for it may or may not be remembered …

Ruth Reardon