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This article was originally published in the January 1993 issue of The Journal.

The AIF Video: A bishop's view


Bishop Vincent Nichols, now Bishop in North London, was until the heginning of 1992 Secretary to the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales. He is the moderator of the steering committee of the Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland, and history was made when all the Presidents of the CCBI took part in the intercessions at his ordination mass in Westminster Cathedral. We were therefore particularly pleased to have him present at the AIF Swanwick Conference in September 1992. Here are his reactions to and reflections on the AIF video.

The video is sensitively made and therefore very moving. I appreciate its positive approach to the situation of interchurch families; I should not have liked to be battered by painful narratives.

The reference to historical perspectives is helpful; there is a clear recognition that there has been real change since the older couples were married.

It is very positive to see connections made between an interchurch family and the life of the local churches. I like the exploration of the structural links created by the couple who worship in a shared building. I like the way in which the question of parents sharing communion at their child's First Communion is related to particular children. We could see that this is not a static question; it is part of a dynamic, living, ongoing process.

The beginning and ending of the video are good. It starts with a couple separated at communion. It ends with the views of the children of interchurch families, which I found very powerful and provocative. The final words "which I am" takes us to the core of the issue. [The last teenager says: "I'm lucky because both my churches were involved with my baptism and First Communion. However, it looks as though my Confirmation is a long way off, because the churches can't agree on how I can be a member of both - which I am."]

Sharing communion
On the question of the admission of the non-Catholic partner to communion, there is a realisation in the video of the pressure which this puts on bishops. I can say that this pressure is felt as much by the bishops who feel obliged to say "No" as by those who say "Yes".

In the meantime, we must see the significance of the invitation to receive a blessing which is now given to other Christians present at Mass, and the reciprocal willingness of Catholics to receive a blessing ourselves. This is real progress, as giving a sign of the partial communion which we realise we share.

We recognise your pain in the present situation. There is a role for the interchurch family and the Association as "pathfinders". What part of your experience is of immediate relevance to the churches? It is important for us all to understand and to learn from the way you handle the on-going pain and frustration, when so many people in our churches are losing heart over ecumenical progress. It seems to me that your endurance is fuelled by love; this is vital for us all. So your determination and your dedication are of crucial importance for the churches.

Double commitment
"Why can't I be a member of both churches?" is a very important question. At present there are essential differences in the ways in which churches take decisions and express their beliefs. But how can your double commitment contribute to the churches?

The great question is whether you further or hinder the project of faith in our contemporary Britain. Is faith possible today') This is the real question which faces us all in society today.

Can you make a contribution here? It may be that by bringing together two-church resources, feeding off each other and supporting each other, you come to a quality of faith which is both more explicit and more profound. If so, you have a great opportunity to get this across.

A faith which can cope with difficulties is not simply of ecclesial value; it is something which reaches out to the world. This is what ecumenism is all about; and ecumenism has to become really and deeply and fully part of church life.

This article was originally published in the January 1993 issue of The Journal.