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This article was published in the January 1996 issue of The Journal.

A Canadian Association?

For 14 years Fr Thomas Ryan, CSP, has worked at the Canadian Centre for Ecumenism. He is now moving on to be Director of an ecumenical centre for spirituality which opened in Montreal in September 1994. In the June number of Ecumenism, the quarterly publication of the Centre for Ecunenism, he gave an interview assessing his ten years as Director. One section is devoted to interchurch families, and we reproduce it here.

You seem to have reserved a special place in your heart for interchurch couples and families and what they live. How did this come about?

It's true. They have had a special place in my ministry here. The impetus for my taking a particular interest came from the Anglican-Roman Catholic Bishops' national dialogue. After they issued their Pastoral Guidelines for Interchurch Marriages between Anglicans and Roman Catholics in Canada in 1986, they asked the members of the A/RC Canada dialogue if they could undertake some initiative toward opening a consultation with interchurch couples. As I'm on that dialogue, the members asked if the Centre for Ecumenism could initiate something. So we took it on, with the understanding that a concerted effort would be made to open a dialogue with interested interchurch couples from any churches, not just the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches.

So wherever I had an engagement, I started contacting ecumenical commissions or local councils of churches in advance and asking them if they could organise a listening session with interchurch couples during my visit. The first consultations took place in Edmonton, Calgary, Montreal, Halifax, and Toronto in 1990. Others followed in St John's, Newfoundland; Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island; and Guelph and London, Ontario.

As is always the case when you have the opportunity to really listen and enter into the reality of what another is living, compassion and solidarity flow from it. I saw how delighted these couples were to discover others like themselves with whom they could share. I saw how isolated some of them felt, in spite of the fact that there are now more interchurch marriages in most provinces than same-church marriages. I saw how the divisions of our churches lay a heavy burden on their backs and handicap their ability to live an experience of unity in their home and family life, particularly where worship patterns and participation in the sacraments are concerned. I don't think that I have ever interacted with a group of church members who were more grateful that somebody expressed interest in what they were living, and said, "How can we be supportive?"

As a result of these consultations, there are now support groups that meet regularly in Calgary and Montreal. Due to Bernard de Margerie's similar efforts, there are also two groups in Saskatoon. We have devoted two issues of our magazine to the concerns of interchurch couples and families, and contributed articles in other magazines as well. I've led workshops for interchurch couples at the last two Canadian Christian Festivals. The groups are now communicating among themselves, and the Centre helped finance one Montreal couple's participation in an international meeting of delegates from Associations of Interchurch Families held in Ireland last summer. I would love to see more groups spring up, link up with other groups regionally and eventually nationally, to form a Canadian Association of Interchurch Families. If the couples want it to happen, it will. In every country where such an Association exists, it began with the initiative of a few couples. At the Centre we can play a supportive and enabling role and provide some connective tissue for the groups, but the initiative for a Canadian Association must come from the couples themselves.

Thomas Ryan, CSP