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Thoughts on the

Association of Interchurch Families

International Conference

Would we be two of twenty, or two of two thousand? When my wife Fenella and I made plans to take part in the international AIF conference in Virginia Beach this summer, we had no idea how many people would be there, where they would be from, what we might have in common beyond being inter-church families, or what we would do. We knew only two things: that we had been told of the conference by the Reardons, two people we had come in a very short while to know, love, and trust; and that we had a sense that God was calling us there, though the reasons remained totally unknown.

We had communicated with the conference organizer, Fr. George Kilcourse. His warm welcome and enthusiasm for inter-church families were a real encouragement. Finally, Fenella's having taken two church history courses recently, (one seeing church history through the eyes of Fenella's Anglican communion, the other through the eyes of my Roman Catholic communion), combined with her having stayed with new friends, the Karstads (involved with the Prairie Centre for Ecumenism and the Interchurch Families Association there) just prior to their also going to the conference, completed the setting of the stage.

I share these with you because for us the conference was not an event in isolation. We had a real sense that, for whatever reason, God was at work in our lives, calling us to step out and participate in something that could be a real gift or a real burden, and may well prove in different ways to be both. And so, we came having spent the previous weeks in prayer for a real openness to God, in all that God had in store.

We were not disappointed. This is not to say that all went smoothly. Far from it. The approximately 130 people present were far too much members of a real family for that, with our own agendas, aspirations, expectations, and understandings. At various times we laughed, we cried, we argued, we denounced, and we rejoiced. But through it all we saw God at work moving us along toward the unity for which Jesus had so insistently prayed.

We were blessed with pastors who cared, both as shepherds and as our brothers and sisters. We were also blessed with sound theological input. Fr. Ladislas Orsy, for example, led us into a deeper understanding of canon law, and its task of facilitating justice. For myself, a key element was coming to understand the term 'cases' of the 1993 Directory on Ecumenism as being 'concrete, particular, personal' situations, with the Directory providing not an exclusionary listing of events at which communion may be shared, but rather some examples of situations which fall within the guidelines given for eucharistic sharing.

Fr. Orsy went on to reminisce with us on the 'miraculous' changes in the church through and following Vatican II, pointing out that we really don't know the form of unity that will eventually emerge; only that Christ had prayed for it, and we are called to respond.

A phrase given by Fr. Ernest Falardeau also stuck with me: "The scandal is not that inter-church couples love each other. The scandal is that the Church of Christ is seriously divided."

Throughout, we were blessed with a sense that we are clearly not alone. Whether from the United States, Canada, England, Northern Ireland, France, or Italy, it was obvious we were in fact in 'concrete, particular, personal' situations. Christian traditions present included from Anglican on the one end to Waldensian on the other (I didn't see any 'X', 'Y', or 'Z' ), with each family having a unique story to tell of the way they lived in their marriages the sign and foretaste of Christian unity.

Again and again we heard of the pain of working with bishops, pastors, and laity who are at times only slowly growing in recognizing the reality and understanding the needs of inter-church families. We also heard stories of joy and excitement, examples of couples moving from a sense of burden on the church to an experience of themselves as gift to the church, and being recognized as such.

As concrete outcomes, the conference gave birth to two fledgling associations, the Canadian and American Associations of Inter-church Families, and endowed them with 'formal but loose' structures. It was also decided to establish an electronic home for the International Association, so that people around the world could read what was happening in this area of Christian unity, converse easily with each other, and share information. As well, it was decided to hold the 1998 international conference in France, with an international planning committee established to bring that about. They face a huge task, and will need our prayers and our support.

As a fitting close to the conference, a number of people joined with the parishioners of Holy Apostles, for the celebration of eucharist. We experienced firsthand how a joint Catholic / Episcopal parish works out the arduous and joyous task of creating unity, sharing not only a church building, but actually celebrating together.

Where will all this lead? We don't know. But, we give thanks for the gift God gave us, and look forward to more.

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