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Address at morning worship in the Ecumenical Centre,
Geneva, 27 July 1998

Greetings and gratitude to you who work here at the Ecumenical Centre from Associations of Interchurch Families/Foyers Interconfessionnels from countries as far apart as Australia and Austria, as different as Canada, Northern Ireland and Croatia! Gratitude to you for allowing us to meet here - gratitude also for all you do to promote Christian unity. We are nearly two hundred people from marriages where one partner is a Roman Catholic and the other a Christian from another confession.

Most of you who work in this building chose to come here because you were committed to the ecumenical movement. We fell in love with one another and found, whether we liked it or not, that we were part of the ecumenical movement. As Pope John Paul II has said: "You live in your marriages the hopes and difficulties of the path to Christian unity."

I think you and we can help one another. You help us because there is no solution to our difficulties until our churches are united. We can help you by reminding you and our churches that Christian relationships (God's love for us, our love for God, and our love for one another in Christ) are at the heart of the ecumenical movement - just as love is at the heart of marriage and family life. Faith and Order is important, Life and Work is important, Solidarity with the poor and the marginalised is important; yes, even institutional unity and church mergers are important - but without love all these are nothing.

This is the message of the two readings we have just heard:

"As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love. What I command you is to love one another. " (John 15:9-17)

"Bear with one another, forgive each other as soon as a quarrel begins. The Lord has forgiven you;now you must do the same... Teach each other, and advise each other, in all wisdom. With gratitude in your hearts sing psalms and hymns and inspired songs to God; and never say or do anything except in the name of the Lord Jesus. " (Colossians 3:12-17)

If love is to flourish it needs a stable and growing relationship. That is what the marriage covenant provides. In the Old and New Testament God provides such a covenant with his people. In the O!d Testament this has its source in the constant loving-kindness of God towards his people, and the Law is laid down to guide his people's response. Jesus establishes the new covenant in his blood, showing God's love for us, calling forth our response of love for God and our love for one another in him.

Fifty years ago the member churches of the World Council of Churches entered into a covenant with one another to "stay together". Six years later at Evanston they said they intended to "grow together". Ten years later still the Roman Catholic Church committed itself to the ecumenical movement, though not through full membership of the World Council of Churches. We are deeply grateful for the remarkable progress towards Christian unity during the last fifty years.

And yet when we compare the experience of a good marriage with the relationship between the churches, it raises questions. Where would our marriages be if we did not live together under the same roof; if we did not share all our goods and finances with one another; if we did not eat together day by day; if we did not share together in the education of our children? We are told that marriages where commitment, communication and cohesion are lacking are liable to end in divorce. We want to share our experience of all these wonderful things with our churches, because we fear that if our churches do not follow our example, the ecumenical movement could end in divorce.

Interchurch families/Foyers Interconfessionnels are not separate from the churches; we are part of the churches, and we want the churches to listen to our experience and the experience of our children.

When we began to bring up our children in the life of our two churches, many people in our churches said that we would confuse them. It was an anxious time for many of us - could the critics be right? However, as our children grew older they overheard these criticisms, and the reply of many of them is devastating. "We are not confused," they say to the churches, 'because there is only one God and one Jesus Christ who called us into one flock. It is not we who are confused. It is those of you who continue to believe that there can be separated churches belonging to one God and to one Jesus!"

Martin Reardon

Rev. Martin Reardon, a priest of the Church of England, together with his wife Dr. Ruth Reardon, a member of the Roman Catholic church, were instrumental in founding the Association of Interchurch Families in England more than 25 years ago.



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