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The Association of Interchurch Families’ Annual Conference, 
The Hayes, Swanwick, 27-29 August 2005

Nearly a hundred people, some the founding and earliest members of the Association, some the tiniest children of some of younger couples, met together for this year’s conference at the Hayes conference centre. Half of the conference participants were the children of interchurch families. The conference is truly a family conference with active participation by all age groups. The leaders of the children’s programme come from local Derbyshire churches, and they have worked hard over the years to develop parallel sessions for the different age groups, including the crèche, to form an integrated programme. The children and young people, with their enthusiasm for meeting with one another, bring a major contribution to the worship and the fun of the conference weekend. They are an open group, always welcoming to new children and young people.

This year’s annual conference was particularly poignant. Martin Reardon, ecumenist and AIF leader for many years, Fiona van Kroonenburg, wife of Tim and mother of Jonathan and Katie, and David Butler, former AIF co-chair and member of the Association’s Panel of Reference, had died in the course of the year. At Saturday evening’s night prayers their contributions to the spiritual growth of members were remembered in all their richness. The last candle of remembrance was lit by Ellen, age six, recalling Martin’s presence at her service of blessing. This service of blessing had brought together in celebration the local Roman Catholic and Baptist parishes, her parent’s two traditions. Ellen’s words were a fitting tribute to Martin’s work for interchurch families.

The weekend’s broad theme was the issues that face interchurch families in the twenty first century. Our three speakers, in contribution order, were from the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Methodist Church. The Revd Canon Gregory Cameron, Director of Ecumenical Affairs for the Anglican Communion, spoke of being led in new and unexpected directions of Christian experience through his marriage to his Roman Catholic wife, Clare. He was addressing the question of what held him within his own Christian tradition in the context of his interchurch marriage. He spoke of valuing ever more deeply the habits of the tradition within which his own spiritual life was nurtured, while experiencing the enrichment of dialogue and growth through his wife’s tradition. In the questions that followed, he emphasised the positive values of growth through dialogue with the other. The questions pursued in depth the fundamental issues he had raised about habit, spiritual growth and openness to change, and the many ways in which interchurch families experience them.

Monsignor Andrew Faley, who addressed our second session, is Assistant General Secretary of the Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. He carries a wide range of responsibilities including that for the Department of Dialogue and Unity. He spoke on the Roman Catholic bishops’ conference teaching document on the Eucharist, one bread one body, encouraging us to see it as generous in its response for the situation of interchurch families. There was no escaping the difficulties that lie in this area. He spoke from an understanding of the Eucharist as celebration of unity achieved, and suggested that the real presence of Christ in the coming together of fellow Christians in Jesus’ name and in exploration of the Word, can be done together now and should be encouraged as we travel our Christian path together learning from one another. The speaker for our third session, the Revd Peter Whittaker, Methodist Minister and present chair of West Yorkshire District of the Methodist Church, spoke on Jesus, the key to our unity. He asked us ‘Which Jesus?’, and challenged us by looking at the great spectrum of images of Jesus that have been held up. His choice of Jesus as companion in our life’s journey carries special overtones for interchurch families, not spelt out by him: companion, the person with whom we share bread. His theology of the Eucharist emphasised more the sharing of the Body of Christ as food for our spiritual journey, and less the concept of the celebration of unity achieved.

We are grateful to our three speakers for the richness of their contributions to our conference, opening up and refreshing the questions that challenge interchurch families and the separated churches, offering us their own insights and understandings. We were happy above all that they were willing to join with us, to be questioned by us, and to celebrate in worship with us. The three great services of worship which we held together at our conference weekend were an offering of music and dance, story and memory, in which children and adults’ contributions were enjoyed and celebrated together.

Interchurch couples and families of all ages and stages in their relationships, including engaged couples, are welcome each year to the Assocation’s annual conference at the Hayes. Next year’s conference, 26-28 August 2006, will challenge us explore how we understand the other’s point of view, View from the Other Side. For further information, contact the

Association of Interchurch Families, 
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