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Interchurch Families International Network 
December 2011 Newsletter

Dear friends

Here is some of the news of activities during the past year from groups and associations of interchurch families around the world which are part of the Interchurch Families International Network (IFIN).
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Australia
Bev Hincks sends best wishes to everyone, and sends the following report:
In Australia together with much of the world, it appears that energy is subsiding in ecumenical involvement, yet existing activity denotes it as ongoing. Interchurch families are found actively playing a role in these events in many places. This report will focus on two Australian Catholic dioceses where this has occurred, namely the Archdiocese of Brisbane headed by Archbishop John Bathersby, whose retirement and replacement after 25 years has just been announced, and Maitland-Newcastle where Bishop Michael Malone retired and was replaced last May. Both men have contributed enormously to the field of ecumenism but, in keeping with this report, the interests of interchurch families under their watch will be noted.

The publication of the Directory for Ecumenism in 1993 marked a milestone for Interchurch Families. (Cardinal Cassidy, responsible for the Directory, is Australian, and lives retired in Maitland-Newcastle.)  The Directory, among many issues, called for bishops’ conferences to establish norms for ecumenical sharing which would reflect the individual criteria of different regions. In the event that this did not occur, individual bishops were asked to create their own. The first bishop to do so was Archbishop Bathersby. His document, Blessed and Broken: Pastoral Guidelines for Eucharistic Hospitality appeared at Easter 1995. It reflected changes within Australian Society where, for example, people can no longer enjoy care in organizations and institutions operated by their own denomination, and 70% of marriages of a Catholic are to a person from another denomination. At that time an interchurch families group was active in Brisbane. His example was followed later when the Brisbane document was adopted in 2000 as Norms for the Diocese of Broken Bay, in New South Wales, Australia. Similarly, the Diocese of Rockhampton, Queensland, produced a different document in May 1998.

In 1996 copies of Blessed and Broken were issued by Bishop Malone to his Ecumenical Commission.  A group of interchurch families became active in the diocese a little later. The bishop requested that Diocesan Ecumenical Commission work towards a document, grounded in the long history of ecumenical activity in the diocese, to provide independent pastoral guidelines. As a result, two documents were launched in May 2001: Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations within the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, a companion to the document Real Yet Imperfect - Pastoral Guidelines for Sacramental Sharing - a condensed version.  The Maitland-Newcastle Guidelines owed much to the Guidelines of the Diocese of Santa Fe, USA, produced by Fr Ernest Falardeau, as well as Blessed and Broken.  (Note: All documents may be found on the interchurch families international website, as well as those of the individual dioceses.)

Impetus was given to these Australian documents through the activities of interchurch families. For example, the presence of Brisbane interchurch family members who travelled 800 km to a gathering of Australian Catholic Diocesan Ecumenical Commissions in Sydney NSW led to a chance meeting with a Catholic member of an interchurch family from Maitland-Newcastle, which led this family to Geneva in 1998 for the First World Gathering of ICF. Here they met Fr Falardeau and many other ICF now friends. This in turn led to exchanges of documents and insights which in turn led to other new documents and guidelines.  Additionally, it led to further national conferences which in turn led, amazingly, to an international event in Newcastle in 2005. Australians were able to attend gatherings in Rome in 2005 and later Leuven in 2010. World-wide networking can produce unexpected, fruitful results.

Acknowledgement and gratitude is recorded for the support received world-wide from some clergy and bishops.  As we live our lives of Receptive Ecumenism, the journey has been made more harmonious and at peace than would have been possible without support and pastoral understanding from them. Pioneers like the Emeritus Archbishop Bathersby and Bishop Malone, who reached out to so many Christians of other denominations, including members of interchurch families, are no longer serving us personally. We pray that their example will be followed, both within the whole area of ecumenism and particularly for interchurch families

Australia was originally known as the Great South Land of the Holy Spirit.  Our prayer is that the Holy Spirit will continue to guide us toward that Unity for which Jesus prayed. We are totally indebted to people such as Bishop John Bathersby and Bishop Michael Malone. We thank God for the leadership and vision which they have given to an Ecumenism which included Interchurch Families, even if not widely acclaimed within their dioceses.
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Austria 
Klemens Betz sent a summary of the recent annual conference of Austrian interchurch families.  Here are some details:
The Austrian group of interchurch families ARGE ÖKUMENE hold their annual conferences in a different region each year, and in October 2011 it was held in the Maria Trost Religious Formation Centre in Graz, on the subject of In what sense does the church see its ecumenical and peacemaking mission, as an advocate for justice, human dignity and spirituality in our rapidly and radically changing times?  Members were able to visit interesting historical sites within the city before and during the conference, and were pleased to welcome a wide variety of speakers from the academic world as well as church leaders from different denominational traditions.  Reports were given by participants from various parts of the country to introduce the conference.

There were sessions on the tensions between hope and experience, on climate change and its demands on the churches and their mission to care for the world, and on the growing global crisis (food, energy, debt) with a resulting call for a radical change in our way of life, including the life of the churches.  Addresses by significant speakers led to much consideration among those attending of their own responsibility as Christians and that of their churches.  The consequences for day to day life were drawn out well.

As usual there was still enough time for more informal sharing over a meal at a local inn, which fed both body and spirit!  The final morning was used to look at the future of the group.  The Kärnten group had already agreed to prepare and organise the 2012 conference, and in 2013 the Tyrol group were asked to be the organisers.  Various administrative matters were dealt with, with a newly formed committee selected.  Before the final act of worship Professor Peter Trummer from the University in Graz gave an address from the exegetical viewpoint on the Eucharist and the Lord’s Supper, commenting particularly on eucharistic hospitality between churches.  A celebratory meal was held after the service in the chapel.

Further information on the conference may be found on the ARGE-Ökumene website: www.arge-oekumene.at
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France
The Association Française de Foyers Mixtes Interconfessionels Chrétiens (AFFMIC) has moved into a new stage of its long existence, with the Foyers Mixtes bulletin coming to an end, and Père René Beaupère, its founder, no longer quite so active.  The AFFMIC website has been renewed and made more accessible, and along with the use of Facebook, a blog and e-news several times a year, interchurch couples in France and French-speaking Switzerland can access information and support in new ways. 

Groups in Paris, Lyon and Lille continue to meet regularly and a new group has formed in Reuilly.  During the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and Holy Week the groups are often involved in local ecumenical celebrations.  In Lyon there were a number of events this year, including ecumenical Bible study groups and acts of worship, and ecumenical witness in the city.  Père Beaupère gave a series of talks to older school students about the origins of the Week itself and the ecumenical movement in general, which were a great success.  The Lyon Association has been offering ecumenical religious education for children at the Centre St Irénée for many years now, and is now working in collaboration with RC and Reformed parishes in Ouillins nearby.  The curriculum has developed over a long time and is very rich.

Interchurch couples in Paris recently attended an excellent conference organised by l’Institut Supérieur d’Etudes Oecuméniques, with input from Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant speakers, on the theme: The Changing Family: Ecumenical Issues.  Professor Noël Ruffieux, who has worked for many years alongside Père Beaupère in Lyon, gave an address on the situation of two-church couples, who live their lives in their church communities alongside their life united as a couple or family.

AFFMIC plans for the future include a possible international conference in 2012, and the production of information leaflets on such subjects as Baptism, Marriage, and Confirmation.  Many more details of activities can be found on the website www.affmic.org
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Germany 
The latest newsletter from the Netzwerk Konfessionsverbindender Familien shows that they have been very busy.  There are regular regional meetings of interchurch families round the country.  There has been a reorganization of the committee to allow Rudolf and Rosmarie Lauber to share more widely some of the responsibilities they have held for many years, but they still maintain the registered address of the Netzwerk, and produce the printed newsletter. 

In March the annual conference was again held in Schwarzenshof near Rudolstadt in the eastern part of the country on the theme Giving a common witness; passing on a common hope.  Excellent speakers and workshops, interesting discussion, a strong parallel programme for children and young people and a warm welcome from the centre were all much appreciated.  Stephen Judd was able to attend as a visitor from England.  The next annual conference is planned for 24-26 February 2012 in Braunfels bei Wetzlar (near Frankfurt), on the theme Interchurch families in the life of the community.  See the Netzwerk website at www.netzwerk-oekumene.de

In June 2011 Netzwerk members were active with a publicity stand at the biennial Kirchentag organized by the German Protestant churches in Dresden, which attracted 120,000 visitors.  To celebrate Ascension Day during the week, the whole of the River Elbe was lit up.  The Netzwerk stand enabled conversations with many people, church leaders as well as lay people.  For the biennial Katholikentag organized by the Catholic Church in Germany in alternate years to the Kirchentag, to be held in May 2012 in Mannheim, a presentation in words and music based on the experiences of interchurch families is being planned.  During the four days of the gathering, members are also planning an ecumenical act of worship, a podium discussion with significant speakers, and their usual busy exhibition stand. 
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Great Britain 
Paul Docherty, AIF Chair, mentioned during his 2011 AGM address that a past President of the Association had said a while ago that he saw AIF as a real gift to the church:  Whilst for much of the time we played our roles quietly in the life of our various churches, every now and again we rose into the limelight for a “Day in the Sun” when people stopped and took notice.  He was referring of course to the visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury to deliver the 2010 John Coventry Memorial Address, one of a series of lectures founded by the Association in memory of our founder, and by implication to the first strand of our Mission Statement, that of being a Voice in the Churches.  Six months later, the invitation for 25 AIF members to attend the Service of Evensong jointly celebrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope in Westminster Abbey – apparently the largest invitation to any one grouping - was a ringing endorsement of the fact that this Voice, which has been a constant and carefully moderated influence over the years, really is widely recognised and respected among the churches and ecumenical bodies.  This gave us an opportunity to give thanks for the efforts of so many members over 40 plus years whose quiet work has brought about this degree of influence, and allows us to meet this particular strand of our Mission.

Our Executive Secretary Keith Lander participated in several meetings of national ecumenical bodies over the course of the year, including those of Senior Church Representatives, Churches Together in Britain and Ireland and Churches Together in England.  Members continue to be involved in local and regional ecumenical activities, as officers on Churches Together groups, on liaison groups and many others – often with the AIF boards on display.  Our work to provide a Support Network has focussed, in recent years, on our two top priority gatherings, the Swanwick Conference and the spring London Meeting.  At our London Meeting we had an embarrassment of riches when we were addressed by two key speakers – Professor Antoine Arjakovsky from the Ukraine, who is an Eastern Orthodox in an interchurch marriage with a French Catholic; and Commissioner Betty Matear from the Salvation Army who, as the Free Churches’ Moderator until this April, was one of our Presidents.

One particular plus of the past 12 months was a Considering Confirmation Weekend held in May for seven of our younger members who are trying to determine what (if anything – and I don’t say that negatively) they want to do about committing themselves in the sacrament of Confirmation.  This was a really good example of an activity being proposed, sponsored and implemented from within the membership, hosted by Liz & Rufus Ballaster and facilitated by Bev Hollins and Helena Mayles.  The 2011 annual AIF conference was held at Swanwick as usual at the end of August.  It included the joyful celebration of several significant wedding anniversaries of long-term members.  See a
report with lots of photos on the international website at http://interchurchfamilies.org/aife/Swk11ConferenceReport.pdf

We continue to receive enquiries at the office in London and on our website, but fewer than in previous years.  There has been little activity amongst local groups of members this year though the re-formed Midlands Group has met a couple of times, including once with the Archbishop of Birmingham Bernard Longley; and the Herts ‘n Beds group met with the Bishop of St Albans – both occasions being an opportunity not only for group support but also for giving an opportunity for our voice to be heard.  Fulfilling our mission to provide an Information Service, the design and purchase of some printed roll-up banners to replace or complement the AIF travelling boards has been a significant step, and they are now available for use by members when they attend local events, and are much more easily transportable.  The AIF triptych features on one of these, and has been bought with some of the proceeds of the money donated in memory of Martin Reardon.  A number of volunteers maintained a substantial presence at the four-day annual National Christian Resources Exhibition, attended by over 11,000 people.  AIF is in the middle of some re-organisation and administration changes which we hope will enable us to continue to work effectively in the changing life of our churches and through our lives as couples and families living in unity every day. 
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Northern Ireland
The Northern Ireland Mixed Marriage Association has a well maintained website at www.nimma.co.uk.  NIMMA’s 2011 conference was held in St George’s Church, Belfast.  For many years the Association has had a unique ministry among interchurch family groups and associations, being involved in depth in the political and social world, particularly through responding to consultations and lobbying on such subjects as mixed social housing (Catholics and Protestants are still often living in separate areas), and integrated schooling (not denominationally exclusive) in the province, as well as supporting couples and families in their individual situations.  NIMMA newsletters can be found on the website by following the links About Us and News Index.  All are welcome to sign up for the online newsletter on the website. 

You will also find on the website links to their leaflets, and to a history of the Association and its origins during much more troubled times in the region.  Members and NIMMA literature have been consulted as a background to two studies in past years: a doctoral work by an Australian student on intergroup relations in post-conflict societies, and Mixed Emotions: Real Stories of Mixed Marriage in Northern Ireland, a book which appeared this year.  
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United States
The American Association of Interchurch Families www.aifusa.org is planning its next biennial conference, to be held from July 13-15 2012 at St John's University (SJU), Collegeville, Minnesota.  St John’s University is in the suburbs of St. Cloud, Minnesota, about 60 miles NW of the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.  It is beautifully situated with woodlands, lakes, hiking trails and wildlife on its 2,500 acres.  AAIF gives a warm  welcome to visitors from other countries to its conference.  For more details, please contact one of the AAIF officers from the website.

Mary Jane Glauber produces a regular online AAIF newsletter, copies of which can be found on the international website www.interchurchfamilies.org.  More details of the conference will be given as they become available, and you can contact her via the website if you would like to be kept in touch. 
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World
The 10th General Assembly of the World Council of Churches is planned for 30 October – 8 November 2013, and is to be held in Busan, South Korea.  The theme has been announced as God of life, lead us to justice and peace.  It will bring together Christians from many different countries, backgrounds and traditions.  At the last Assembly held in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 2006, the Interchurch Families International Network was invited to send a delegate.  Rev Beverley Hollins from AIF GB was accompanied by Melanie Finch as a participant, and during the Assembly they organised a workshop entitled Interchurch Families: Living Unity Every Day and also mounted an exhibition of the work of interchurch families in several countries.  They were able to meet members of other IFIN groups who were attending the Assembly from their own country, and to talk to a wide variety of people interested in our work over the past 40 years, including some significant church leaders.

Although it is nearly two years till the next Assembly, AIF GB has been discussing the possibility of some of our members participating in 2013.  It would be great to meet with some of you there!  We would like to encourage other groups and associations to sign up to bulletins from the WCC at www.oikoumene.org to follow the planning, and we will try to keep in touch with developments.
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Conclusion
The variety of activity amongst groups and associations of interchurch families around the world is very encouraging, and thank you to those who have contributed to this newsletter.  Please contact me or the group concerned if you would like reports in their original languages, or if you find any errors.  We hope you will continue to share your news!

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Association of Interchurch Families GB