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This article was published in the January 2001 issue of The Journal.

No blueprint

From the beginning the Association of Interchurch Families has made it clear that there is no blueprint for an interchurch family. Each couple has to find their own way forward, depending on their own judgement of their family situation, and the concrete possibilities that are open to them in their particular circumstances at any one time. So much depends upon the quality of pastoral care available to them when it is needed. What the Association can do is to show couples that they are not isolated in their problems, and to enable experiences to be shared. For some couples and pastors this can open up whole new worlds of possibilities. For some couples it can mean that they are able to work together on their situation, instead of tugging (or allowing themselves to be tugged) in opposite directions. For some couples it can show that although they may not be able to achieve just what they want in their particular circumstances, there are other ways of affirming the two-church nature of their family life. There is no need to think in terms of a single model.

The baptism of a child of an interchurch family is an important moment in affirming the fact that the two parents want to bring up their child in relation to their two church communities, if indeed that is what they want to do. In this issue we give two quite different stories of how interchurch couples have recognised this dual relationship, and by recognising it have strengthened it.

Two church communities

Dominus Iesus could have a positive effect if it pushes us all to reflect more deeply on what we mean when we use the word ‘church’. From a Roman Catholic point of view it may mean the Roman Catholic Church worldwide – but should we perhaps more properly call this the Roman Catholic Communion rather than ‘the universal Church’, an expression that should surely be reserved for the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of the creed? It may mean the Church of Rome as a ‘sister-church’ to the ancient churches of the East – should we perhaps speak here of the western patriarchate? It may mean ‘the Roman Catholic Church in’ a particular area, country or place. Ecumenical progress often depends on a refinement of terminology.

What is important for interchurch families is to affirm the psychological equality within their marriage of the two church communities that are represented within it. It is a similar problem to that tackled by Abbé Paul Couturier, founder of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. He saw it was important for Christians to pray together for unity, on an equal footing, but how could they all pray for unity around the Pope when they were not all convinced that this was the kind of unity God wants? Hence his inspired formula: prayer for the unity that Christ wills, to come as He wills it. In a similar effort to express a psychological equality while not prejudging theological positions, interchurch families may be quite happy to talk of ‘our two church communities’ rather than ‘our two churches’. The phrase covers very well both the congregational and the denominational church life that they share.