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Interchurch Marriages and Families as Domestic Church
Summary of ARGE Conference, Pinkafeld, 23-25 October 2009
by Klemens & Elisabeth Betz

Interchurch families as Domestic Church – is this idea surprising, unusual, presumptuous, exaggerated, appropriate, an expression of our deepest feelings?

* Unusual
In that the term Domestic Church might be used for interchurch marriages and families at all, since these kinds of union did not exist in the early church.

* Surprising
The idea of the Domestic Church has been in existence since the very beginning of Christianity and appears already in NT texts.

The model of celebrating faith in God in a small group is the original practice, which was only later developed in order to keep the church alive.

The family is regarded as the smallest unit (of church) which has to provide priestly vocations, and therefore there is presumably some overreaction if the term is applied to unions which include a non-Catholic partner. 

* Expressing our deepest feelings
It enables us to live Church within the family.  The idea of Domestic Church allows us to choose our own way and to serve and worship God within the family.

In many regions in Austria, the Protestant tradition has only survived because it has been lived as a sort of “secret” Protestantism within families.  This is still the case in countries where Christians are persecuted.

Congregations without priests are in danger of disappearing.  The family has a vital role to play here, just as in the early church. 

The practice of merging parishes into large pastoral units reinforces the tendency to worship within the family.  In many parishes there is a growth in a Liturgy of the Word with the distribution of Communion, which only emulates the Eucharistic celebration.

What does the Domestic Church have which is lacking in the (larger) church?

* The Domestic Church has an individual spirituality.  It has its own forms of celebrating, and leaves room for spontaneity and the expression of emotions.  
* The Domestic Church has no hierarchy.  Everybody participates according to his or her abilities.  Each member is an actor, and not just a consumer.
* The Domestic Church does not excommunicate.  Each person remains a family member, independently of his or her attitudes or actions.  Communal celebration has priority over disciplinary actions.  A spirit of reconciliation should prevail.
* The Domestic Church enforces honesty.  “Unchristian” behaviour will come to light.  Sincerity and a readiness to forgive are expected.  Trusting the other is a basic principle.
* The Domestic Church provides a spiritual education and enables spiritual accompaniment and development for children which is appropriate at every age and stage of development.  Faith can be experienced through the example of parents.

How, when and where do we experience unity and community in personal partnerships, marriage, family, family circles etc.?

* In everyday family life even if there are different opinions.
* Whenever we act together: go to church, do the shopping, go out for the day, etc.
* Whenever we face problems: when somebody is sick, gets hurt or has difficulties.  In these cases, we all together take care of the family member who is in need.
* At events, parties, family celebrations etc.
* Whenever we make plans together, e.g. to go on holiday
* When the extended family is gathered
* In Bible Study groups or house groups 
* As a couple, particularly in older age when one partner needs the other progressively more
* When the Protestant mother prepares her child together with other children for First Communion or Confirmation
* Whenever we have time for each other and do something together
* Whenever we spend time together with our children
* When it happens that my partner tells me: “that is exactly what I was going to say or to do”
* When we come to agreements despite having different opinions and needs
* When we realize that we are in close agreement with each other in spite of our different Christian traditions
* Whenever I experience the other church as enriching.

How can the lived unity in the interchurch family have its impact on the Church as a whole?

A successful interchurch family can be a model for the separated churches.  Interchurch families offer added value.  They live out new forms of consideration for others.

* It is enriching whenever children grow up in an interchurch family.  Our children experience ecumenism and this widens their horizon.
* There are priests who deliberately make contact with interchurch couples and families and who accommodate them (not at a higher level).
* If the churches would meet each other on an existential level as intensively as interchurch families do, the unity of Christians would be much closer.
* For the churches to see each other as enriching, just as we as interchurch partners do in our families, they should not only talk to each other, but live with each other.
* The churches ought to learn that the truth is not owned by just one partner, but that the other’s opinion also counts.
* The churches need to develop a mutual understanding just as family members have to do every day if they want to live together.
* Unfortunately, the churches do not regard interchurch families as Domestic Churches.  Not much can be expected in this regard.  The question then arises, however, what will be the consequences if our experiences are permanently ignored by the churches?
* In the present situation (large pastoral units, foreign priests) the church is no longer experienced as a home.  The domestic church will become ever more important.
* A concrete example in the RC parish of Axams: parents have brought their family celebrations with young children on to the parish level; every Sunday there is now a child-friendly celebration by and for families with young children in the parish hall.

Concerning the notion of “Church” with regard to the spiritual household:

* Church is perceived in different ways.  On the one hand it is a celebrating community consisting of people who know each other and who meet each other in daily life, beyond the church.  In this case, church would be an extension of the Domestic Church.  But today this is only the case in small villages.  As a rule, church attendance has become anonymous.  Church goers do not know each other, and often they even do not know the priest either.
* On the other hand, the Church is perceived as a moralizing and disciplining institution.  The Catholic Church’s self-understanding is that of a universal church that issues universal rules and does not allow any separate provision for local problems.
* The notion of “Church” has a rather negative connotation today – because of its history (inquisition, burning of witches, Renaissance papacy etc.) and because of current events (paedophile priests and bishops, obscure money transactions, supporting conservative rulers in Latin America etc.). 



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