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

Canadian Bishops meet Interchurch Families 

The Association of Interchurch Families in Montreal was asked to make a presentation to the national annual Anglican-Roman Catholic Bishops' Dialogue, a group charged with establishing pastoral guidelines for interchurch families, during their three-day meeting which took place near Montreal in late November 1996. It was an honour that the Association immediately accepted. Three couples represented the Association before fifteen bishops from the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches across Canada. (In 1987 this group produced the document Interchurch Marriages between Anglicans and Roman Catholics in Canada.) 

Not having any Anglican members in the Montreal Association, we contacted friends in Manitoba - Ray Temmerman, a Roman Catholic, and his wife Fenella, who is an Anglican. To our great satisfaction, they had a wealth of personal testimonies from other Catholic-Anglican couples, testimonies of complete acceptance in some church communities and terrible rejection in others. 

Living actively in two churches 

The message we brought to the bishops is that some interchurch families are living active lives in two churches and sharing those church lives with their children. We presented the concept of dual registration of baptism, a practice that is very new in Canada. The bishops had a few questions regarding what the future would hold for the children. In which church would they become communicant members? One bishop felt that if the child's baptism is recorded in the Catholic church, then he would consider the child a Catholic. Our experience is that children are welcome and active in both churches, and the concern over their of ficial membership does not affect their contribution to the life of either community. The bishops also asked what would happen when these children themselves get married. Our group has no previous experience of interchurch children growing to adulthood. But what do we know of any child's future? The most that we can do is to raise children in the Christian faith, nurture their young beliefs and love them. If we prepare them as children, we must have confidence that they will make good decisions for themselves when they grow up. 

A change of priest can be devastating

The ninth International Conference of Associations of Interchurch Families, held in Virginia last summer, stated that the most immediate concern for interchurch families is their overwhelming spiritual need to receive communion together, and that this need cries out for a more generous pastoral interpretation of the rules on eucharistic sharing. We brought this to the bishops along with personal experiences from across the country. We reported that in one area an Anglican spouse was welcomed with open arms by the Roman Catholic community, invited to the table, and given opportunities where she could share her gifts in the liturgy. That same couple, after sharing with a community in communion and the life of the church for several years, was devastated when one day a new priest arrived and opened the liturgy with the statement that while all were welcome to be at the liturgy, only those who were Roman Catholics were allowed to receive communion. Such experiences cry out for a more pastoral approach to the situation. 

The bishops expressed their own pain at not being able to share communion with each other. They described how they lived this separation during their annual meetings: that morning one of the Anglican bishops had presided over communion and while the Anglican bishops went forward and received, their Catholic brothers remained seated. The next morning a Catholic bishop would say mass and the Anglicans would remain in their seats. 

One of the Anglican bishops shared the story of his daughters. Both daughters were educated in a Catholic school, and both followed the normal first communion classes with their classmates. The elder received her first communion in the Catholic church, but with the younger came a change of priest and two days before the communion service she was told that she would not be permitted to receive. For a young child to be denied just two days before the celebration, after months of preparation is a very difficult thing to accept. Her pain was deepened by knowing that her sister had been allowed to receive only a couple of years earlier. How do you explain to a child that she was an exemplary student throughout the preparation classes, but she would nevertheless fail to experience first communion with her friends and classmates? How do you explain that she didn't fail: it is the churches that have failed for the last few hundred years? As adults, though we find it hard to accept the scandal of our division, at least we can understand our brokenness. A young child cannot understand our problems. 

The challenge not to go away 

As interchurch families, we meet priests who do not understand, or do not want to understand, our double belonging. The bishops admitted that they have similar problems with some of their own confreres. At all levels of the church there are people who continue to see interchurch families as oddities and problems that, if ignored long enough, will go away. This is perhaps our greatest challenge today. 

Our meeting was, I hope, a blessing for both groups. The bishops got a glimpse of what it is like to live an interchurch life and we met in the bishops partners who will walk with us on our journey towards church unity. It allowed us to add a human dimension to the ecumenical movement. 

Craig Buchanan

   

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