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The following article was published in the Summer 1998 issue of The Journal.

CHRISTIAN UNITY IN MARRIAGE

As the 1998 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity came to a close, we were asked by our Catholic parish priest to share our experiences as a two-church couple with readers of our local diocesan newspaper. As new members of the Association of Interchurch Families we felt that we should also like to share these very positive experiences with readers of Interchurch Families.

I am a Catholic, my husband an Anglican. Until our marriage we were content to attend and be involved in our own churches separately, although we did on occasion attend each other’s churches together. However, as we discussed our wedding service we realised that, for us to be joined together completely, we had to include both Christian traditions. Nervously we explained our needs to my priest and to my husband’s Anglican parish priest. We introduced them and left the rest to God. The result was uplifting and astonishing. A nuptial mass which united Catholic and Anglican bride and groom, families and traditions, with both of us and our families given eucharistic hospitality -–all our dreams that we almost dared not dream were fulfilled.

Now, joined together by the sacrament of marriage as well as baptism, attending separate churches was painful, a tear through the heart of our unity as Christian partners in marriage. On discussing the situation with my priest, he welcomed my husband to receive communion when attending mass with me. Only other two-church couples will appreciate what this meant to us. A pattern of worship was established. As a couple, we went together to Catholic and Anglican churches on alternate Sundays. We were both involved in groups in our own churches and supported each other in this.

Nine months after our marriage we were blessed with a daughter. She was baptised in the Catholic church, a baptism jointly performed by our Catholic and Anglican clergy.

Then our Catholic priest left. As a new priest was appointed, we were very apprehensive as to what the future might hold, realising full well the pastoral discretion individual priests have in these matters. My husband did not want to offend our new Catholic priest or his parishioners by receiving communion without his consent. Yet it was difficult to approach him. His response was too important. I wrote to the bishop in dismay. His reply came: Talk to your priest. Still we couldn’t approach him. Then God took over. Our priest visited us. He talked and listened to us, and said that he saw no problem in my husband’s receiving communion with me. He also introduced us to the Association of Interchurch Families. Meanwhile, my husband was also offered eucharistic hospitality by the Catholic priest in my parents’ parish. 

The birth of our second child followed. For balance within the family we wished to have him baptised in the Anglican church, but jointly in the Anglican and Catholic traditions. The discussions which followed were difficult, but eventually he was baptised in the Anglican church. The Catholic priest performed the baptism and the baptism was recorded in the registers of both churches. 

Such have been the events of three and a half years of a two-church marriage. As members of AIF we are aware that we have been more fortunate than most in the support we have received from all our clergy. In the Association’s newsletter, we have read heartbreaking stories of similar couples who have experienced much pain and difficulty over the baptism of their children and who, despite being united in the sacraments of baptism and marriage, have not been able to receive communion together at Catholic altars. We can only imagine the pain, distress and division that this causes at the heart of a marriage and at the heart of a family. In addition, we are not complacent about the future. We face our children’s first holy communions, confirmations, and eventually a change of Catholic priest (our Anglican clergy may also change, of course). Our main concern is for the Christian upbringing of our children. In our present society, it is difficult enough for a one-church family to bring up their children to follow Christ, but it is far more difficult for a two-church family to achieve that if the child is experiencing tension and division rather than love at the heart of their life of worship.

So we offer this brief account of our experiences as a two-church couple, both to encourage similar couples who may have been less fortunate in the pastoral care, support and understanding they have received, and to remind others in the church of the pain, rather than the love and unity, which many such couples are currently experiencing. This is especially pertinent at this time, when the Catholic bishops of England and Wales are currently considering new and clearer guidelines for the pastoral care of those who may be in need of eucharistic sharing but are not in full communion with the Catholic Church.

Rita and Martin Howell