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This areticle was published in the January 1999 issue of The Journal.

Geneva 1998

Nearly 200 people from 12 countries came together in Geneva, 23rd – 27th July 1998, for the first-ever bilingual international conference of interchurch families, with simultaneous translation into French and English available at plenary sessions. Quite a number of people participated for whom neither French nor English was their first language, and there was a token effort at German as well. It was a profound experience for the couples, priests and pastors who took part in it. The English-speaking Associations were immensely grateful to the foyers mixtes francophones who hosted and organised this World Gathering; nothing like it had been attempted before, and it was a real tour de force on the part of the French.

A final message

The last morning was devoted to the production of a conference message. Single-language groups of nine were each asked to offer a sentence encapsulating what the group thought to be the most important thing it wished to say. Each had a bilingual contact in a central group, through whom comments and suggestions were relayed between groups. Finally the group statements were woven into a continuous message, which was read to the whole conference, allowing a brief opportunity to make points and suggest amendments. The process was stimulating in encouraging the groups to isolate key issues, but there was insufficient time to get everyone to agree the final message. It should be read in this light. The English translation from the French original was made by Paméla Fiévet, and reviewed by Fr Ernest Falardeau, Melanie Finch and Martin Reardon. 

1 Our spiritual experience

We as interchurch families live day by day a life of love, seeking after unity. We are therefore able to bear witness to our calling to work towards unity, and to our need to work towards a greater openness to, and identification with, those who do not feel truly welcome in the churches. We believe that the Church of Christ is indivisible and that fundamentally we are one, despite our denominational diversity. We ask our churches to recognise this rich diversity as a gift, as we ourselves have experienced the deepening spiritual enrichment of tolerance and mutual recognition within our marriages. We have welcomed and loved our partners because they are different, and through them we love their churches. This is a Gospel experience.

2 Our role in the churches

As interchurch couples we live a Christian marriage across denominational boundaries, suffering from the divisions between the churches. We respect the fact that our churches are trying to help. We are convinced that there is a need for joint pastoral care of our families. We find that at official levels reactions and behaviour often vary, sometimes due to personal attitudes, but mostly due to insufficient knowledge of what is currently agreed to be possible. The need for the joint pastoral care of interchurch families is urgent. We believe that, with our practical experience and reflection, we, as "laboratories of unity", can make a contribution to catechetics, joint prayer, and to the welcome and support of younger couples through our capacity to network.

3 Eucharistic hospitality

Our Lord Jesus Christ urges us to pray daily for spiritual and material bread. When the church began and for centuries afterwards, this bread was shared at the same table. As basic units of the church, inspired by the original churches meeting in homes (ecclesia domestica), we implore our churches to respond to our profound need by a clear invitation to share the Lord’s Supper together, within all our Christian church communities, and thus express the entire church’s hope for unity. Eucharistic hospitality seems to us the only possible way to avoid confusion and the risk of separation from the church (a danger which in continental Europe is often referred to as the "third church", ie neither Catholic nor Protestant).

4 Our children and young people

We strongly urge our churches to trust our children to find their place. They need to have their hopes strengthened and not to be discouraged by not being listened to. They are searching as we are for a more authentic expression of faith. In their own words: We need actions, not just words. We want to be confirmed as Christians, not as members of a specific denomination. As we are all different from one another, we would need to invent a different denomination for each one of us. Our dream is of a church which welcomes all individuals. Let us not fear change; God is on our side. It will be up to our generation to make the decisions of the church of the future.

5 Four specific proposals 

  1. We suggest that a prayer for forgiveness for past divisions and a thanksgiving for unity already achieved be introduced into the acts of worship of all our churches.

  2. We urge our churches, in the theological and pastoral training of their ministers: to remind them constantly that ecumenism is at the heart of mission; to enable them to get to know other denominations better; to inform them more adequately about the agreed statements that have been hammered out between the churches.

  3. We encourage the publication of lists of centres open to ecumenism.

  4. We regret having to address two different ecumenical bodies. We call upon the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity to be housed together under one roof, with a requirement to work together daily.