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This article was published in the January 2001 issue of The Journal.

INTERCHURCH FAMILIES AROUND THE WORLD

AUSTRALIA

Brisbane: A year ago we reported that Pat and Debbie Mullins had become convenors of IFAB. Congratulations to Debra, recently elevated to the Queensland Supreme Court. Pat is Secretary to the (Catholic) Brisbane Archdiocesan Commission for Ecumenism. In summer 2000 the Commission arranged four Halifax-Portal lectures to spread the "good news" of ecumenical dialogue. Elizabeth Harrington, Education Officer with the Brisbane Archdiocesan Liturgical Commission, gave one, entitled What God has joined let no one put asunder – not even the Church!!She spoke as a member of the National Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Uniting Church in Australia, which in 1999 produced a report on interchurch marriages (see Interchurch Families, 8, 1 Jan. 2000 p.13). She concludes: ‘Of course, as with any official ecumenical agreement, the problem of reception remains. The churches must work to ensure that pastors, couples, families and worshipping communities hear about, know about, the "good news" of new possibilities for interchurch marriages and put it into practice.’

Melbourne: Jeff Wild, Executive Secretary of the Commission for Ecumenism of the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne, sent news of the launch of the RCC/UCA report early in 2000 in Melbourne: ‘the speech by a local Catholic Member of the House of Representatives was very affirming’. He and Margie (a minister in the Uniting Church) with another interchurch couple conducted a tutorial on the report at the Melbourne College of Divinity.

Newcastle and Hunter: The group remains small, but Bev Hincks has been involved in a symposium of the New South Wales Ecumenical Council and in a number of workshops on eucharistic sharing. She and Kevin visited Ireland and were present at the NIMMA conference in March 2000 (see below).

Perth: AIF Western Australia met in May and raised the question of an Australian national meeting for interchurch families. David White approached the eastern states to see what the possibilities are.

AUSTRIA

The annual conference of the ARGE-Ökumene was held at Pinkafeld, 26-28 October 2000, on the themes of sin, forgiveness and redemption. John and Vita Jenkins were there from England. The conference moves around Austria; here in Burgenland on the Hungarian border it took place where Catholic and Protestant numbers are more evenly balanced than in most of Austria. In Pinkafeld the Catholic parish has 8,000 members and the Lutheran parish 6,000, and some of the surrounding vallages are almost entirely Lutheran. The Lutheran superintendent and the Catholic Bishop of Burgenland both visited the conference.

CANADA

Across Canada interchurch family groups in Montreal, Saskatoon and Calgary, co-ordinated by Ray Temmerman in Morden, Manitoba, have been preparing for the international conference to be held in Edmonton, Alberta, 1-6 August 2001 (see back cover).

The special Jubilee edition of the Canadian quarterly Our Family, published in May 2000, is of particular interest to interchurch families. Craig Buchanan writes on the life of a ‘dual congregation’ – the Christian Community of St John’s United and St Edward the Confessor, RC. He finds it good for an interchurch family to be where two congregations have been brought together ‘not just because they are under the same roof, but because they are united in Christ and thereby belong to the household of God’s people. We strive to be one family because we are all one in Christ.’ There is an interview on her work with Cathy Harvey, Co-ordinator for the Ecumenical Commission of the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton, and married to David, an Anglican. Cathy is working closely with Ray Temmerman on preparations for the Edmonton conference. Gilles Bourdeau, OFM, one of the presenters at Edmonton, also contributes an article. One by Kathleen O’Connor, Ontario, an Anglican married to Pat, a Roman Catholic, is entitled ‘Love one another’ and deals specifically with interchurch families as a sign of Christian unity. She tells her story movingly – one of a deeply shared faith, a commitment from the beginning to worship together (usually alternately), the almost unbearable hurt of exclusion at the eucharist, especially with growing children. Yet ‘slowly I began to see that God had not imposed a burden on me, but was asking something of Pat and me as a couple. I discovered the Association of Interchurch Families. Discovering that other families shared the same experiences was tremendously supportive and encouraging. I especially appreciated the fact that we could openly express our joys as well as our disappointments, knowing that others truly understood our feelings. My resentment and rebellion melted, and I found that God’s love was able to reach me again through the words and music of the service. Although nothing had changed in the way we worshipped, for the first time I felt part of Pat’s community as well as my own – because I felt that this was God’s will for us. For the first time I felt that as a couple we shared two communities. We had reached yet another stage of our journey together.’

Together in Christ: the Hope and Promise of Christian Marriage (Novalis, Toronto, 2000, 100 pp.) offers Ecumenical Perspectives from the Commission on Faith and Witness of the Canadian Council of Churches. It is a collection of denominational essays that explore the churches’ differences and common understandings of Christian marriage.

ENGLAND

A particularly important initiative in 2000 was the Considering Confirmation weekend held at Shallowford House in Staffordshire, 28-30 May, for interchurch children aged between 12 and 16. Led by Beverley Hollins, Martin Reardon and Mgr Chris Lightbound, it helped the young people to think about the nature of confirmation and to consider the concrete options open to them if they wished to affirm their two-church belonging.

The annual conference of the Association of Interchurch Families was held at Swanwick, Derbyshire on the theme of Spirituality in Interchurch Families. The programme, prepared by Brian Dwyer, included a good deal of small-group sharing, following input from Tim and Chantal Evans, an Anglican-Roman Catholic couple now living in Lyon, France. (They brought their four children with them.) There was feedback from Fr Bernard Longley, Secretary of the Christian Unity Committee of the Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference for England and Wales, and Ruth Harvey, Director of the Living Spirituality Network of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland. At the AGM Ruth Reardon, who had retired at the beginning of 2000 as Honorary Secretary, was elected an AIF President.

Responses to the Roman Catholic Bishops’ norms on eucharistic sharing in One Bread One Body have included one from l’Arche UK. Because l’Arche welcomes people with learning disabilities at the heart of its communities, its experience in is many ways similar to that of interchurch couples and their children. How do you explain structured division in the church, made visible in the eucharistic meal of the disciples of Christ, to people with learning disabilities in l’Arche communities and to children if interchurch families? (see ‘Nick and the Eucharist’ in Interchurch Families, 3, 2 Summer 1995, pp.5-6). L’Arche realised that ‘the Bishops’ document hits at the very heart of its ecumenical life … The eucharist is about life, about the everyday and about the ordinary. The life that we share in our houses cannot be separated from the life that we celebrate at the eucharist.’ The National Board of Catholic Women has published a very useful leaflet entitled ‘May my husband (a Christian from another Church) ever receive Holy Communion with me? – How?’. It spells out the possibilities for admission to communion given in One Bread One Body, possibilities that are still unknown to very many interchurch families in England, although other couples of course are saddened that the Bishops have not gone further.

FRANCE

The correspondents of the review Foyers Mixtes meet every two years in Lyon. Melanie Finch from England joined them 11-12 December 1999. In May 2000 Anne Garsed and Martin and Ruth Reardon participated in the third Rencontre des foyers interconfessionnels francophones, held at le Rocheton, Melun, near Paris 6-7 May. This followed Versailles 1995 and Lyon 1997. The theme was ‘In my Father’s house are many rooms: fears and joys of differences’. The Secretary of the French Bishops’ Commission for Christian Unity and the Editor of Réforme both took part. There was more discussion on eucharistic sharing than is usual at interchurch family conferences in France; it seems to be more difficult in some places than it used to be. The fourth francophone conference will probably be held in 2002. The Comité francophone permanent met in Lyon in early November 2000, planned another Lettre aux Amis and began discussions on preparations for the Second World Gathering of Interchurch Families, Rome 2003.

GERMANY

The new network for German interchurch families, launched in 1999 as a ‘supra regional forum’, held its first meeting in Freising, near Munich 29-30 January 2000. Claire Malone-Lee was there from England. The Network is associated with the AOEK, the national Council of Churches in Germany, and the theme of the meeting was ‘Are interchurch families a burden or a hope for the churches?’ The Roman Catholic theologian Professor Peter Neuner focused on the need of the ‘domestic church’ for eucharistic sharing, and the Lutheran Professor Harding Meyer spoke of the involvement of interchurch couples in the ecumenical movement. Beate and Jörg Beyer spoke of their experiences as an interchurch couple and family, and of their pastoral work for interchurch families. The Network now comprises about 120 families and individuals. A second meeting was held in Dornstadt, near Stuttgart, 13-15 October 2000, on the theme ‘From divided to converging churches: our special task.’

IRELAND

Bishop Richard Clarke of the Church of Ireland wrote an interesting response to One Bread One Body – one year on. He noted a rather surprising silence of the Irish Catholic Bishops, who seemed reluctant to defend or even to discuss the document. He observed however since publication a much greater degree of self-consciousness among Roman Catholics about accepting eucharistic hospitality from other churches. Thos who had felt able to receive communion on occasion at a Church of Ireland service now feel conscious that they may be making a statement of disobedience towards their own church. Regrettably, prominent Roman Catholics who still decide to accept hospitality on public occasions attract media attention. ‘But one must sadly suspect that the principal victims in this entire affair have been, as so often, the partners in interchurch marriages. They have been told explicitly (84 ff.) not to take communion at the same altar, but instead to receive a "blessing" in the other’s church.’ But he sees room for movement, and asks that both Catholics and Protestants should ‘lovingly but firmly’ ask the awkward questions in their ecumenical dialogue. ‘Can any of us justify to ourselves, let alone to God, our disgraceful treatment of those in interchurch marriages, reminding ourselves that the concept of "disgraceful" does contain within it a denial of grace that needs to be given its full spiritual connotation?’ But he asks the members of the Church of Ireland to look at themselves honestly. There may be a subconscious relief that the Roman Catholic Church is in fact preventing something that (at a visceral level anyhow) they might not really want.

AIF-Ireland

AIFI held its annual day conference on 18th September 1999 at Taney Parish Centre, Dundrum on the topic: ‘Is double belonging confusing?’ The day had been prepared by a questionnaire to interchurch children, and a number of them were present to answer questions and take part in the discussion. One family reported that ‘their friends actually think that they are lucky having a choice of church to attend’. There was a general feeling that double belonging was an advantage to children in giving them a perspective on different churches that children raised in a one-church family did not have. The AGM that followed decided that there were not enough members willing to serve on the AIFI committee to make it possible to continue in the same way. As an alternative a ‘Telephone Committee’ was established, to deal with enquiries and to hold the fort while waiting for new people to get the association up and running again. For the time being the Irish School of Ecumenics is holding the AIFI archives. Subscriptions continue to be received, so that there will be funds in hand when they can be used. Involvement in marriage preparation courses continues; 150 couples were prepared in 1999. The interchurch marriage preparation programme is now distinct from the general marriage preparation of ACCORD; it has been given its own name: EMBRACE.

NIMMA

Congratulations to Anne Odling-Smee of the Northern Ireland Mixed Marriage Association who was awarded the CBE for her contribution in the field of education. In March 2000 NIMMA itself was awarded £16,000 per annum for three years by the Community Relations Council, which allows it to maintain its office and employ part-time staff. At the beginning of July 2000 Philomena McQuillan started work as the new Administrator/Co-ordinator, also responsible for outreach. Philomena previously worked with the Columbanus Community; she is a NIMMA member who has been planning for some time a book about couples who dare to marry ‘across the divide’. Another grant has allowed the purchase of a new computer and the provision of Presentation Skills Training for NIMMA members. The NIMMA annual conference was held 25-26 March at the Derrynoid Conference Centre, Draperstown. Gillian Walsh was there from England. Much time was spent in planning for the future.

SCOTLAND

Following the third international English-speaking conference held at Scottish Churches House in Dunblane, 1984 (organised from England), an independent Scottish AIF was formed, including the existing Scottish members of AIF and other Scots attracted by the international conference. Alastair Haggart, Primus of the Episcopal Church in Scotland, was present at Dunblane and very supportive; he was already a President of AIF and remained so until his death in 1998.

A committee was formed, and between 1985 and 1987 annual day conferences were held at the university chaplaincy at Stirling. A memorable SAIF residential conference was held at Carberry Towers in October 1988, animated by John Bell of the Wild Goose Worship Group of the Iona Community, and addressed by Bishop Mario Conti. In 1989 SAIF met at St Colm’s, Edinburgh, the General Synod offices, and in 1990 held an overnight conference at the Loch Ard youth hostel. A great deal of effort was put into organising the Seventh International Conference of Interchurch Families, held at St Mary’s Redemptorist House on Kinnoul Hill, Perth in May 1992. The English brought a copy of their new video, hot off the reels, and Fr George Kilcourse from the USA brought copies of his recently published book, Double Belonging. Since 1992 however SAIF has not been active as an association, although the secretaries, Avril and Gerald Dobson, have continued to be an information point for interchurch families. With the help of Scottish Churches House they organised three meetings in 1999 and 2000, but the weekend conference planned for September 2000 was cancelled because of lack of support. The Dobsons will continue to be a contact point for Scotland, but there is not enough active help to run SAIF as an organisation. It seems likely, therefore, that the Scots will join with the English again, and AIF in England and Wales will become AIF in Britain once more.

SWITZERLAND

The eighteenth meeting of Swiss foyers mixtes took place at Sapinhaut in the Valais 23-24 September 2000, on the theme of the Trinity. The first conference was held in 1974, when Fr René Beaupère, OP came from Lyon as co-leader with Pastor Richard Ecklin (now over eighty, but present at Sapinhaut). This year too Fr Beaupère was there as one of the speakers, together with Jacques Nicole, pastor of the Reformed church at nearby Martigny, and formerly Director of the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey. Martin and Ruth Reardon were there from England. The Swiss meetings were originally held every eighteen months, now every two years, and they move around the country, prepared by a different group each time. Valais is a Catholic canton, and the local group is almost entirely made up of Catholic husbands and Protestant wives who have come from Protestant cantons to join their husbands. The local parish priest and his curate spent the whole weekend with the group – the first time they had ever both been away from the parish on a Sunday. In two years time the next meeting will be in a Catholic area, prepared by the Fribourg group.

UNITED STATES

In May 2000 Michael Slater, co-chair of the American Association of Interchurch Families manned an AAIF exhibition at the National Workshop on Christian Unity held at Louisville, Kentucky, 15-18 May. This Workshop is for Ecumenical Officers, and in 2000 included a seminar in two parts, on interchurch and on interfaith families. In June Ray Temmerman was present at the annual liturgical gathering sponsored by the University of Notre Dame Center for Pastoral Liturgy; this year’s theme was Eucharist without Walls. He was able to speak of the experience of interchurch families, and the presiding Catholic Bishop Sklba of Milwaukee commented that the church as a whole needed to be informed by this experience. The Spring-Summer 2000 issue of AAIF’s The Ark, introduced the co-chairs Barbara and Michael Slater from California, and vice co-chairs Diane and Lamar Burton of Louisville, following the introduction of Mary Jane Glauber, AAIF secretary, in the Fall-Winter number.