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This article was published in the January 2002 issue of The Journal.

Telling Our Stories

In any gathering of interchurch families, the exchange of family stories plays a large part. At Edmonton we were grateful to two couples who told their stories to the whole conference. Here they are considerably shortened.

Struggles and encouragement in sharing two Christian traditions

Maureen and Darrel are a Catholic-Lutheran couple married for ten years, with three children. Becoming ‘a part of the local, national and international network has helped us to realise that we are not alone. We hope to replace the resentment, anger and loneliness we have experienced with understanding and hope for the future.’

Growing up

Darrel: My mom’s Lutheran family attended church regularly. My dad came from a large Roman Catholic family that attended church when possible. When they married, my dad turned Lutheran. The priest discouraged parishioners and family members from attending the wedding. I remember my parents’ frustration and hurt over the way they were treated by my dad’s family. I was confirmed at fifteen, and received communion for the first time. After high school, I continued to participate in the Lutheran church through music and church council.

Maureen: I was born into a loving Roman Catholic family with ten children. I received First Communion at 7, First Reconciliation at 9 and Confirmation at 13. When I was about ten years old I remember asking my mom what a Catholic person should do if their partner is not Catholic and they wish to get married. My mom explained they would have to wait until their partner agreed to turn Catholic. As a teenager, I attended a special retreat for young Catholics and my relationship deepened with God. The local Lutheran church had a vibrant youth group and a few Catholic teens chose to attend. I asked my parents if I could join. They discouraged me, explaining that Lutherans believe differently.

I moved away to study. I met new people and went on dates. I hoped to find someone who shared the same moral values and attended church regularly. I used a prayer each night from a book: a prayer for a special friend. God sent many friends, but only one truly matched what I had been praying for. Darrel and I met within six months.

When we met

Darrel: That was the start of a friendship that took us to coffee shops, and on long walks, sharing our faith in Christ. We knew we were both strong in our different traditions, but it was not an obstacle in our relationship then. The first discussions around our faith were an investigation of the differences. The more we shared the stronger our friendship became.

Maureen: After a few months Darrel asked if I would like to start dating. I was afraid we would lose our close friendship and decided it was best to remain just friends. Our friendship was unlike any other relationship I had ever had. I could confide in him on many levels. I was drawn to him because he had moral values; he was dedicated to those he cared for; he was compassionate and honest; he knew a lot about the Bible; and he was committed to living a life filled with Christ. I began to realise that the values I was looking for were not found in the men I was dating, though most were Catholic. I felt God was calling me to be with Darrel. A few years had passed. Fortunately, with God’s help, we met again.

Our dating years

Darrel: We started dating. Talking about the differences between our churches took us late into the night. Neither of us was going to leave our church to join the other. I wondered how we could keep our own faith yet worship together. I recalled a pastor’s message: ‘The family that worships together, stays together’. The same pastor said you should not marry a non-Lutheran.

Maureen: We discussed the Pope, reconciliation, purgatory, the saints, intercommunion. We struggled with how we would provide religious education to our children. Priests I talked with insisted that the non-Catholic partner must allow the Catholic to assume responsibility for the children’s religious education, or they would encourage the non-Catholic partner to convert. I was concerned I might set myself up for a confrontation that could involve excluding me from the church.

Darrel: Time passed, and our discussions intensified, often ending in tears. We believed we were meant to be together, but were afraid that the doctrine of our churches had a potential of keeping us apart. We continued to attend church together, the Catholic church on Saturday evenings and the Lutheran on Sunday mornings. We hoped and prayed. At one point, we thought of joining a third denomination, but then realised that our separate traditions shaped the kind of person we had become. If we joined another, we would lose part of ourselves. I remember becoming so frustrated that I gave Maureen an ultimatum: either to agree to raise our children Lutheran or I would end our relationship. It hurt me to do this. She reluctantly agreed to raise our children Lutheran.

We managed to stay together and our love remained strong. We still believed that it was in God’s plan for us to spend our lives together. We made a decision to maintain our separate traditions, and continue attending both churches. We decided to develop a better understanding of each other’s beliefs.

Maureen: We attended RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults). Although most couples attending plan to have one partner convert to Catholicism, it is not only offered for this reason. The priest leading the group seemed very supportive of our relationship. He said that if each tradition took the special things they had to offer and put them together, what a wonderful church we would have. It was refreshing.

Our engagement and wedding

Darrel: I asked Maureen to marry me; her reply was ‘Yes’, and we went to tell my parents. I knew inside they were not happy that Maureen was Catholic. We followed marriage preparation classes at both churches; they focused on our compatibility as individuals. Interchurch relationships were not discussed.

Maureen: During a private meeting with the priest, to set our wedding date, he asked what our plans were for the religious education of our children. I explained we wanted to share both traditions with our children. I felt obligated to provide him with an explanation to justify my decision. I told him how much the hardship that Darrel’s family had endured affected him, how I did not feel comfortable pressuring him or his family to deal with another Catholic situation. The priest seemed to understand. When the priest met my parents for the first time, he asked me again what we planned to do with children. I felt awkward with my parents near. I remembered the agreement I had made with Darrel in raising the children Lutheran, but in my heart I was not comfortable with it. I felt guilty and struggled inside. I knew that if I pressured Darrel about raising our children Catholic, it would strain our relationship. I did not feel I had a good reason to go against Darrel’s request. All I could tell the priest was that we both knew what each other wanted and we would try to do what was best for our children. I did not speak about our agreement. I hoped that, in time, Darrel and I could find an answer, and Darrel would feel comfortable sharing both traditions with our children. The priest did not ask anymore.

Darrel: We were married in the Catholic church we attended on Saturday nights, and the Lutheran pastor took part and gave the homily. We knew we could not have communion, though we would have liked this on our wedding day. The ceremony was important to us because it was the beginning of our interchurch life together. We knew we had struggles ahead, but we intended to embrace them and journey together in faith.

Maureen: After we married, we attended a course to learn more about the Lutheran Church. We found more similarities between our traditions. I felt pressure to join the Lutheran Church from the pastors facilitating the course. Darrel and I knew that was not my intention, and we explained this. I am not sure they agreed with our interchurch relationship.

Sharing communion

I struggled with the idea of intercommunion. I felt that if you take communion in another church, you are saying you agree with everything that church represents. At the time, I felt I was showing my support for Darrel by allowing him to remain Lutheran, and attending church with him. I chose not to receive communion in his church.

After an experience at Darrel’s grandmother’s funeral, I had a change of heart. The priest allowed non-Catholic family members to receive communion. It was the first time I had seen Darrel receive communion in a Catholic Church. As I watched him, I was filled with an overwhelming sense of happiness. I felt more connected to him. The feelings I had took me by surprise. I realised that being able to commune together was meaningful for us, as a couple. From this point on, I decided to receive communion in the Lutheran Church, as a sign of oneness with Darrel. I feel that my decision is right, but I still have feelings of guilt. I wonder how I will be judged. I don’t completely understand the Catholic Church’s view.

Darrel: For the past few years, I have received communion in both churches. You may wonder how is this possible in the Catholic Church when I am not a confirmed Catholic? I believe that if I were to seek permission through the bishop the answer would be ‘no’. I came to my decision by seeking approval from the local priest. Maureen and I invited him to our house to talk about communion. He was not your traditional priest. He understood our situation and that my belief in Christ was the same as his. We both believe that through a mystery the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. Sadly, he died a few years ago. I will never forget him. He lifted a heavy stone off my back by allowing me to commune at the Lord’s table. Today I know he is watching and supporting me. I have not approached the current parish priest. I am afraid he will not see me in the same light and refuse communion. I feel that in my heart I am doing nothing wrong and for this reason I am continuing to commune in the Catholic Church.

Where we are now

Maureen: Over the years, Darrel and I have created a ‘comfort zone’ around the way we deal with the difference in our traditions. We have settled into it to protect us from having difficult discussions with family, clergy, friends and other Christians. It is hard to talk about our interchurch relationship or re-live past experiences. It is easier to keep our story to ourselves instead if stirring up controversy or initiating a confrontation. It is difficult for Darrel and I to discuss, between ourselves, the issues that don’t have black and white answers. We sometimes hesitate to bring up issues with each other because we do not want to upset the life we have created as an interchurch family.

After our first child was born we changed our initial agreement, and decided that I would take the responsibility for the religious education of our children. I have more time to work with them in home instruction. They were baptised in the Lutheran Church, and take instruction from the Catholic Church for First Communion and Reconciliation. We have not made a decision regarding Confirmation. We alternate Sundays between churches. We try to maintain a balance as an interchurch family by allowing the children to take part in both churches. They attend Sunday School at the Lutheran church and Children’s Liturgy at the Catholic church. We choose not to discuss the difficulties we have experienced with our children. We hope to discourage them from having animosity towards other Christian traditions. We emphasise that it is their belief in Christ that matters most.

At times, we have experienced pressure from our families. We realise as each year passes, that it is our responsibility to make choices for our children. We have become stronger in facing these challenges. The most difficult times for me have been dealing with the feelings of abandonment by my family, and Darrel’s family. I wish I had more support from them because it is important be able to count on family when you are going through struggles in life.

The lack of support I feel I have received from the Catholic Church, in general, and some clergy has left me feeling angry. I have been frustrated with negative interactions I have had with Lutheran pastors. At times I sit in church with tears in my eyes at the thought of our struggle. I don’t understand why what we are striving for should cause such pain. Many couples choose to become one tradition but don’t attend church regularly. Darrel and I have a hard time understanding why two people who choose to attend church regularly and share two traditions should experience such hardship. In times of real struggle, we ask ourselves: ‘How can something so good be so wrong?’

Over the past year, we have re-connected with the priest who facilitated our RCIA classes, and who joined us in marriage. He is now very involved in our recently-formed interchurch family group. We have shared with him about our life thus far. I expected this would be difficult to do, but it was not.

Darrel: Today, we are excited about the journey ahead. It is encouraging to see how much we have grown, individually, and as a couple. The challenge of writing this presentation has motivated us to continue working for interchurch families. Our hope and dream is that one day all Christian churches will forgive each other, and the hurt they brought upon each other.

Darrel & Maureen

 

Ourselves and our children

Michele and Craig Buchanan explained how their experiences differ from those of their children. They focused particularly on communion in church and eucharist.

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Before we married, Michele, who is Roman Catholic, had to promise, in front of the priest and myself, that she would do her best to raise our children in the Catholic Church. When she formally did so, in response I promised to do my best to raise our children in my church. Luckily for us, we had an understanding priest. After 19 years and four children, we have both kept our promises. We attend each other’s church services regularly and our children are active in both communities. Our church situation makes this lifestyle a little easier, because our United Church is also home to a Roman Catholic congregation. These two churches share the same worship space, the same baptismal font, and the same altar. They have developed their relationship to the point that the sign by the church door now reads ‘The Christian Community of St John’s United and St Edward the Confessor’ – ‘community’ in the singular. The sign is not meant to be a theological statement but more the feeling of the people.

The churches have a lot of wounds to heal and differences to resolve. But at local and micro level churches are coming together. Our house church, the church within our home, is living in the unity of Christ daily, Catholic and Protestant under the same roof. It is not a perfect unity, but it is a visible unity. The Christian unity within our family has led my oldest daughter to see herself not just as Catholic or Protestant, but as Christian.

As husband and wife we are one in our marriage. But as the Protestant half of this ‘oneness’, and despite that fact that I attend Mass almost as often as my wife, and certainly more often than many Catholics I know, I still feel like an outsider in the Catholic Church. My wife will never feel completely a part of the United Church. We each have our roots in our own churches. But our children have been raised in both, for them both churches are theirs. Their roots grow out of both. Catholic meets Protestant in literally one body. It is no longer a symbolic image of two becoming one, husband and wife joining together in marriage. Our children have both churches within them.

The Catholic Church in Canada permits the Anglican or Protestant partner in an interchurch marriage to receive communion on occasions of ecclesial or familial significance. I restrict my sharing of the eucharist to significant moments in my faith journey or for members of my family. The last time I had communion in the Catholic Church was at the Catholic confirmation of my third daughter in the spring. I feel that this makes these special times more significant for me. That may be partly because the United Church only has communion four or five times a year. That does not mean that I don’t feel the pain of our disunity every time the rest of my family goes to receive communion. The hurt is there every week. My wife chooses not to take communion in the United Church.

Our children have experienced two Christian traditions since birth and feel truly part of both. After receiving First Communion in the Catholic Church, they all began to take communion in both churches. First Communion is celebrated at eight years old and at that age I don’t think we need to burden them with the doctrinal differences that separate us at the Lord’s table. As they get older this pattern of participating in both communions continues to be normal for them. They are indeed the ones who can claim double belonging, and in the end I think they are in an even better position to challenge the churches.

Michele & Craig

These articles were published in The Journal, January 2002, Volume 1.