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This article was published in the Summer 1997 issue of The Journal.

Interchurch Families Around the World

AUSTRALIA

In Newcastle, New South Wales, Bev and Kevin Hincks are trying to set up an interchurch families' group with support from their Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops. The Interchurch Families Association in Western Australia held its AGM at Perth on 24th May, with a new chaplain, Mrs C.O'Malley, appointed by the Catholic Archbishop. It is still a small group, but is starting on a publicity campaign with leaflets for church notice boards. Mary Paton writes: "Our main concern is getting known, and getting the interchurch climate such that couples will not feel threatened by even facing their double-ness. Many couples seem to feel it is better not to rock the boat and let pain surface as that puts family peace and marriage stability in danger " 

ENGLAND

AIF continues to work on the preparation of information packs, and two have been added recently. Confirmation, Communion, Church Membershipincorporates some of the experience of young people growing up in interchurch families, end raises questions of "double belonging". The other is a Christian Unity Pack. 

The Roman Catholic Episcopal Conference of England and Wales has been working on the preparation of guidelines on eucharistic sharing since the Ecumenical Directory appeared in 1993. AIF was encouraged to be drawn into this process in February 1997, when a meeting was arranged between a few representatives of the Association with two of the bishops and with the secretaries of both the Bishops' Christian Unity Committee and also the Bishops' Committee for Marriage and Family Life. The bishops intend to produce a teaching document on the eucharist and its relationship with the church, and in the context of this they intend to set out their guidelines on admission to communion. The whole process may take some time; interchurch families hope that they will continue to be drawn into it. Shortly afterwards Cardinal Hume addressed the Association's annual spring meeting and chose to speak on "intercommunion"; a report is given elsewhere in this number.

FRANCE

The latest number of Foyers Mixtes contains a joint reply from the French Catholic Bishops' Commission on Christian Unity and the Permanent Council of the Reformed and Lutheran Churches in France to the Appel a nos Eglises made in 1993 by Fr Rene Beaupere and Pasteur Jacques Maury. For details see elsewhere in this number. 

A group of the children of interchurch families in the Paris region have come together to form a group of ficially called Des Enfants de Foyers Mixtes (EFM). Their parents belong to three different groups offoyers mixtes (Paris-Annonciation, Versailles and Sevres). In September 1996 they spent a weekend near Paris working on such questions as: Are we obliged to choose a single confession, or not? Have we a role to play in our generation? What really are the differences . between the churches, their common ground? ... Since then they have visited Taize together, and have held a meeting in Paris. A further meeting dealt with a question raised by certain comments sometimes made by church members and leaders: "Are we really confused (desequilibres)?" They planned to meet up with EFM from other parts of France at the second Rassemblement Francophone de Foyers Interconfessionels held at Lyon 7-8 June 1997. Two young people from English interchurch families planned to join them there.

IRELAND

AIFI has held a review meeting to assess the work of the on-going Marriage Preparation Group together with ACCORD (formerly the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council). An information evening was held for those interested in training to work as part of the Interchurch Marriage Preparation Team. Marriage preparation for interchurch couples is one of the most important activities of AIFI. 

There is a sense that things are getting easier for mixed families and AIFI as a formal structure may therefore become less important. "Without having to fight so hard against the rules and regulations we are getting rather laid back." 

In an address to a Church of Ireland community during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in January 1997 one of the Catholic bishops in the Republic, Dr Willie Walsh, Bishop of Killaloe, said that many Catholics would now want to apologise and ask the forgiveness of their non-Catholic brethren for the pain and hurt caused by the Ne Temere decree (in force between 1908 and 1970), which required that nonRoman Catholic partners in a mixed marriage should promise to bring up any children of the marriage as Catholics. The Anglican Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Walton Empey, welcomed this apology, and said that Bishop Walsh had put his finger on one of the most painful issues facing Church of Ireland communities in recent years. 

In Northern Ireland the work of NIMMA in supporting mixed marriages was evaluated by the Community Relations Council, and NIMMA applied for a further 3-year grant from the Council to help it continue this work. One question raised NIMMA was: "Should NIMMA develop a more advocating and campaigning role?" Development of the Association was one of the themes of the annual conference held in Co.Fermanagh in April. NIMMA has applied to the Inland Revenue to be recognised as having Charitable Status; this will mean that donations can be covenanted to NIMMA and income tax paid on the amount given can be reclaimed. 

The NIMMA office in Belfast had a particularly busy time last December when the new Grand Master of the Orange Order declared that it was "disloyal for a Protestant to marry a Roman Catholic". NIMMA issued a press release regretting such remarks and got a lot of attention from the media in consequence. 

"Can we all learn from the experience of interchurch couples -Share their Pain, Affirm their Joy, Strengthen their Hope?" was the title of an evening session held during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in January at which two NIMMA couples were invited to share their experience. 

The Irish Inter-Church Meeting has a Standing Committee on Mixed Marriages. Last year a sub-committee produced some Suggestions for Inter-Church Marriage Services, and has followed this up with Suggestions for Inter-Church Baptism Services. Both are being discussed by representatives of the churches, and will be worked on further.

ITALY

In Interchurch Families, January 1996 (pp.9-10), we gave details of the joint study text and proposals for pastoral guidelines for interchurch marriages, Testo Comune di Studio e di Proposta per un Indirizzo Pastorale dei Matrimoni Interconfessionali, which was agreed by representatives of the Italian Episcopal Conference and the Synod of the Waldensian and Methodist Church in 1993. Soon after its publication it had been "received" by the Synod of the Waldensian Church and transmitted to the local churches. 

Three years later, this text was approved by a majority vote in the Assembly of the Catholic Bishops' Conference in Italy. Mgr Alberto Ablondi, Bishop of Leghorn and Vice-president of the Italian Episcopal Conference, wrote "an open letter to Waldensian and Methodist brethren" expressing his belief that approval of the text was "the result of commitment and is a promise for the future". Significantly, the Italian bishops had overcome "a traditional incompatibility in our society between religious and civil weddings" by recognising the validity of civil (rester of fice) weddings in the case of interconfessional marriages. Bishop Ablondi said that "no communion is possible without willingness to sacrifice something of oneself and one's convictions". He hoped that many interconfessional families would be helped to avoid a slide into religious indifference because of the agreement reached, but instead would be encouraged to build on their ecumenical experience. Working together on the text had been very positive for both churches; "to make their mutual relationship constructive both must continually purify their values in the light of Christ when they are confronted by human need - this is in fact what happened in the preparation of this report on mixed marriages." 

GERMANY & AUSTRIA

In the course of planning a joint presence at the Second European Ecumenical Assembly at Graz, 23-29 June 1997, French foyers mixtes and interchurch families from England discovered the existence of groups of interchurch families both in Germany and in Austria of which they had previously been unaware. 

The Austrian ARGE Okumene brings together interconfessional couples in Vienna, Oberosterreich, Salzburg, Tirol, Steiermark, Karnten and Burgenland. They have expressed themselves in their "Salzburg Vision" statement. They say: "When we live out what unites us, then what divides us loses its power to divide." "We are trying to be a driving force for unity, to move from beina the victims of church divisions to being agents of ecumenism."

"Our successes: ... the enriching of our own faith identity through the encounter with each other ... the enjoyment of friendship in our partner's church as we come to belong there too..." "Our dreams: ... we dream of a transparency of mutual understanding in our relationship with one another; ... we dream of a right of domicile in our partner's church ...." 

UNITED STATES

AAIF held its first annual meeting at Spalding University, Louisville, Kentucky over the weekend of 23-25 May. It was a productive meeting, drafting the constitution, discussing the "division of labor" for future activities, newsletters, organising by regions and so on. 

In our last number we promised more detail on the Guide for a Lutheran-Catholic Marriage which was the subject of one of the workshops at the Virginia International Conference of interchurch families last summer. 

At the end of 1990 the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis entered into a covenant relationship with the St Paul and Minneapolis Synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. This formal covenant was the outcome of many years of joint study, prayer and witness, with an ecumenical relationship dating back to 1965. One of the ten specific commitments made in this Lutheran-Catholic Covenant was to: Give special support to those who live a Lutheran-Catholic covenant in theirfamilies. At Pentecost 1995, a Guide for a Lutheran-Catholic Marriage was published, with a preface signed by the two Lutheran bishops of the St Paul Area Synod and the Minneapolis Area Synod and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of St Paul and Minnesota. It was the work of the Lutheran-Catholic Covenant Commission, reviewed by the ecumenical commissions and other of ficial bodies of each church; many people had contributed recommendations, suggestions and insights. The Archbishop and bishops hoped that it "will be a source of help to all those who assist in marriage preparation. But most especially we hope and pray that it will be a source of help to those who are to enter into Lutheran-Catholic marriage. Those who are married in our traditions need the support of the members of the Church in living their marriages in the fullness of Christ's love and blessing. Finally, those in ecumenical marriages bring to the Church, by the testimony of their love and their vows, a call to all of us to continue to respond to the Holy Spirit's present gift of unity and to collaborate with the Spirit and one another in the journey to full unity of the Church." 

There is a great deal of useful information for couples, but the final words are perhaps especially important: "Keep in mind that the Church - both Lutheran and Catholic communities -invites God's blessing on your deliberation, your commitments and your hopes." 

Also from Minneapolis comes a very useful little booklet: Our Faith Traditions: a TalkTrip - prepared for couples in an INTERCHURCH relationship, published by TalkTrips Inc. in 1995. The TalkTrip format was designed "to create the kind of environment that encourages the growth of friendship and understanding between two or more people", and the first titles were on Marriage, Marriage Enrichment and Baptism. This one for interchurch couples was prepared by Mitzi Knutzen (who was herself involved in preparing the Guide for a Lutheran-Catholic marriage). The formula lends itself very well to stimulating communication between interchurch couples before or after marriage. Copies can be obtained from 

Mitzi Knutzen, 
Fostering Christian Unity, 
6381 Edgewood Avenue, 
Woodbury MN 55125 USA. 

The author hopes to write a TalkTrip for children and another for extended family members within an interchurch family. 

In speaking about a common date for Easter following a meeting held in Aleppo, Syria on this subject last March, Dr Thomas Fitzgerald, a World Council of Churches of ficial who took part in it, said that the Christian division over Easter is "an internal scandal". Dr Fitgerald is a priest of the Greek Orthodox Diocese of America. He pointed out that a common date would be of special importance in regions where there is a high level of inter-marriage between Christians from different traditions. In his own home parish in Manchester, New Hampshire in the United States, the Easter date is important because families with members in different traditions have to choose which date to follow.

   

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