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This article is published in the April 2010 issue of Issues and Reflections

Spiritual Ecumenism in Interchurch Marital Spirituality

"Though couples do indeed, like celibates, breathe, eat and die alone, they cannot say, in the same way that celibates do, that they stand alone before God. … It is not as though another were always present with the self and God in some eternal triangle, but that the self is in some sense another in addition to being itself. Before God the coupled person stands alone only partially and physically." by Mary Anne McPherson Oliver, quoted in Spiritual Ecumenism in Interchurch Marital Spirituality by Ruth Reardon, Issues and Reflections #9, April 2010

Seit dreissig Jahren Seminare fuer konfessionsverschiedene Paare und Familien am 23. bis 25. April 1999 im Kloster Neresheim

 Vielleicht gibt es keinen Ort in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, an dem schon so lange und so regelmaessig derartige Wochenendtagungen stattfinden wie in der Benediktinerabtei Neresheim. Diesmal war es eine kleine Jubilaeumsveranstaltung, zu der sich auch „alte Hasen" eingefunden hatten. Da ein Ehepaar beim letztjaehrigen internationalen Kongress konfessionsverschiedener Ehepaare in Genf Kontakte zum Ausland gefunden hatte, konnten Père René Beaupère OP, Gruender und Leiter des oekumenischen Zentrums Saint-Irenée in Lyon sowie Frau Claire Malone-Lee, Reverend Martin Reardon und seine Frau Ruth von der AIF (Association of Interchurch Families) aus London als Referenten gewonnen werden. Ueber dreissig Teilnehmerinnen und Teilnehmer hielten Rückblick und Ausblick.

Ging es in frueheren Jahren darum, die Probleme und die Chancen der Konfessionsverschiedenheit zu eroertern, so steht heute der Glaube als solcher in Frage. So lag es nahe, dass Referate und Erfahrungsberichte um dieses Thema kreisten: „Auf der Suche nach Wegen des Glaubens für uns und unsere Kinder".

Die wichtigste und schwierigste Frage war in all den Jahren: Wie gestalten wir unseren Gottesdienst? Einmal im Jahr wollten die Familien eine gemeinsame Feier des Herrenmahls begehen. Über das Ringen miteinander und mit den Kirchenleitungen um einen verantwortbaren Vollzug koennte lange berichtet werden. Oft wurde die Fuerbitte gesprochen: „Herr, zeige uns und unseren Kirchenleitungen den Weg zur Gemeinschaft im Herrenmahl!" Nach mehreren Anlaeufen mit verschiedenen Modellen wurden wir zu einer Form gefuehrt, in der die Gleichrangigkeit von Wort und Sakrament zum Ausdruck kommt: Der evangelische Pfarrer übernahm die Predigt, der katholische Priester die Eucharistie. Bei der Austeilung der Kommunion bediente der evangelische Pfarrer den Kelch.

Da es in den letzten Jahren schwieriger wurde, genuegend Teilnehmer für diese Seminare zu finden, wurde beschlossen, die Wochenendverandstaltungen in der bisherigen Form zu beenden und zu versuchen, vom kommenden Jahr an Ehevorbereitungs-Seminare für konfessionsverschiedene Paare durchzufuehren. Dabei koennten aber auch einige schon verheiratete Paare auf Grund ihrer Erfahrung Wesentliches beitragen.

Die Zahl konfessionsverschiedener Ehen wächst und es ist zu befuerchten, dass nicht wenige dieser Familien den Kirchen verlorengehen, weil sie von der Aufgabe überfordert sind, sich kirchlich zu orientieren und zu beheimaten. Die Gestaltung eines christlichen Familienlebens stellt hier erhoehte Anforderungen. Deshalb sollten die Kirchen diesen Paaren und Familien verstaerkt entsprechende Angebote machen.

Wir haben die Erfahrung gemacht, dass diejenigen Paare und Familien, die sich der Aufgabe gestellt haben, nicht selten zu Pionieren der Oekumene und zu Brueckenbauern zwischen den Gemeinden geworden sind. So haben sie auch ihren eigenen Glauben vertieft. Hier kann man tatsaechlich von konfessions-verbindenden Familien sprechen.

Pater Beda Müller OSB, Neresheim, und Pfarrer Peter Hompa, Leonberg-Gebersheim.

This article was published in the October 2003 issue of the Interdependent.

Stephen Granger-Bevan Reports

"To me, as a member of YAG, it seems that the greatest problems for Interchurch couples are often those thrown up by the impending first communion or confirmation of their children. It is the dogmatic denominational distinctions, which create rifts that keep Catholics apart from other Christians, and Anglicans from members of Free Churches." from "Stephen Granger-Bevan Reports" in the Interdependent, Issue 24, October 2003

A.J. Strickland Bibliography

Courtesy of

Amy Jill Strickland, J.C.L.
Doctoral Candidate, Canon Law
Leuven, Belgium
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Difficulties and Benefits

The following are some of the responses to an email sent to the members of the aifw listserv in January 2008.
 

The most difficult thing I find about being in an interchurch family is...

The thing I appreciate most about being in an interchurch family is...

  • the feeling of having to defend my church's beliefs (at times)
  • meeting Christians of other denominations and learning from their faith walk.
  • to respect the differences, and to learn about each other faith
  • if we really care to see the good things instead of the weaknesses, you will learn lots of things
  • being keenly and consistently aware of church divisions which many people don't notice and aren't bothered by
  • the chance to participate with two very different parishes, both of which we really enjoy. 
  • understanding the complexities of my husband's fierce belonging to the Roman Catholic Church. Supporting over the past several years what seems to me to be a relatively inactive style of belonging has somehow felt less straightforward than supporting regular dual attendance and involvement. But it's about support, isn't it?
  • an enhanced mindfulness of the outsider. When in a Christian setting, I try to speak and behave as though non-members of my community are present and to be included.
  • talking to other Christians in enough depth, including the clergy, about our unity in Baptism and Marriage, as very often others just don't have the experience to identify with our situation.
  • that as our marriage has matured we have grown and matured ourselves in our individual and shared faith, and this has deepened our love for each other in its turn and enabled us to minister to others, not least our children.
  • the way same-church couples or fervent + agnostic are accepted easily and we - interchurch families - are discriminated against/ treated differently at God's table/ thought difficult/challenging
  • the huge amount I have learned about my personal Christian faith and my birth family's (URC+Anglican) and my worship family's (Anglican - i.e. Church of England given where I live) through getting to understand and learn about and learn from and enjoy and value the faith-traditions of the actual spouse and her birth and worship family (Roman Catholic). 
    I honestly believe my faith and love of God would not be as rich and as deep and as well-founded on the Rock as it has been due to my "marrying out" and often therefore "playing away"! I also think our children have benefited from being brought up in a family of Christian first, church member second and lots of flexibility in that church membership, without preconception that they "cannot be both"; as a matter of reality they know they belong in the family of their mother and their father and that we belong in each other's church family's too.
  • feeling the 'maranatha' of Christian unity so much more keenly. "Here, but not quite!" I guess that I feel the 'here' more than others who still find what I consider to be artificial excuses to keep us all apart ('not quite'). The awareness of the disjuncture is more apparent to me because of my involvement with my wife's church. (As others have said, if we kept just to ourselves, the ignorance would be blissful.)
  • participating in the wonderful diversity of the very broad Christianity. That diversity provides a great breadth and depth to our relationship with God and each other that is just touched upon within any one denomitation. You can't fully appreciate God from just one isolated vantage point, and even within a 'unified' Christianity, the diversity still is/will be a major portion of God's gift to us all. 
  • (From the 'adult child' of an interchurch couple)): As a kid, my siblings and I would attend church twice on Sundays/holidays or some times 3 times if we went to youth group or were in the choir. You definitely felt the pressure to choose between parents and attending their service, not always from your parents but just as a kid.
    My First Communion experience was difficult because my parents hadn't decided how they wanted to handle the situation (whether I would do it or not and when). It was such a specifically Catholic ritual and rite of passage that I think it caught them off guard. I wished that they had decided how they would handle significant religious points in my childhood before I was of the First Communion age. For my brother and sister, who came later, it was smoother.
    People assume that I automatically chose one faith, either Catholic or Episcopalian, to go with rather than sticking with both faiths. I'd like to keep my "Interfaith-ness" and not have to choose one church. I hated being labeled and have never gone through Confirmation.
  • (From the 'adult child' of an interchurch couple): because of my interchurch family I always felt comfortable and welcomed in any church. I appreciate the similarities between my folks' churches. The prayers might have had slight differences, or certain rituals were included or not, but you learned to look for the differences or what makes each church unique and enjoy them. For that reason I like going to different denominations and experiencing a wide variety of services.
    ...my parents shared spiritual beliefs. My parents have very similar spiritual and moral beliefs but pray in different buildings. They had shared values and taught them through a shared Christian viewpoint.
  • (From the parent of the above 'interchurch child') The "promise" was not properly explained (or should I say completely read to us) and Protestants have no "Promise" so we have to fend for ourselves at a very young age. It is first presented to us in the presence of our spouse-to-be and a priest ( so we feel outnumbered) with no sense of having anyone behind us to give us any kind of support. I had a religion that I wanted to share with my children. I had always been active in my religion. I did not want my own children taken away from me in any way.
    When I asked about marriage preparation practices this year, my own current Pastor told me that they just advise the couple that the child should be raised in the tradition of the most devout of the two parents to be. I had previously found out that the Catholic and Orthodox Churches say that the children should be raised in one tradition; they are all being taught the same things in their seminaries. How can any twenty something year old couples make that decision? How would any pastor decide who among their parishioners was the more devout? This kind of pastoral care is setting the marriage up for failure. If I had known about or if there had been your website at the time of our marriage, I might have known that it was possible and preferable to raise children in both traditions. We needed real life survival stories.
    This concept even needs to be talked about in more depth because it is ecumenical. This is very difficult for Catholics who have been taught that the children must be raised Catholic. What is Christian Unity? What does Vatican II really say? Denominations arose originally as a political concept and in response to political concepts of church beginning with Constantine in Rome. We talk about going back to the concept of the early church prior to those times; that is a good idea. They were pacifists. When interchurch couples get married, they are not thinking about church history and that they will become a part of that history. Right after that time, many of them are in a personal survival mode and try to stay below the radar. Although 40 to 50% of all marriage ceremonies in the Catholic Church each year are with other Christians <in our country>, to my knowledge, no denominations, across the board, are actively addressing the issues that interchurch couples will face. Nor do they teach their extended families how to support them or nurture them in an ecumenical way. 
  • (From the parent of the above 'interchurch child'): As interchurch families, we are far more aware of church and what it means to us. We study it on a very personal level. We go to church more often than most families. We tend to go to many different kinds of churches. We become ecumenical internally and to such a great depth that the average person, even in our own churches, just doesn't understand this experience. Unfortunately, we are rarely given the opportunity to share this experience with the greater community. Although I think it would be a boost for
    Christian Unity.
  • having to deal with new clergy. Having to work out how to explain our situation to them. Finding out whether they are willing to continue to give us both communion.
  • the friends we've made in other countries which has led us to being more broad minded.