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In our last number we gave an overview of the Franco-Swiss conferences for foyers mixtes that took place between 1967 and 1981(12,1 January 2004, pp.10-11). We promised to follow it up with an overview of the series of meetings for the foyers mixtes of Suisse romande that were held in different venues in Switzerland, starting in 1974.

Charmey, Fribourg, 20-21 April 1974

Couples who met in several separate groups in the Lausanne area had met together once a year since 1968- 69, and had thought of a wider Swiss meeting; since then groups had been formed in Geneva and Sion, and more recently in Monthey, Aigle, Bulle and Neuchâtel. It was the newly-formed Bulle group that particularly felt the need to meet other interchurch families, and this first Swiss meeting took place at a centre run by the Reformed Church of Fribourg, near Bulle. Fr Beaupère came from France to join the Swiss. The various groups prepared for the meeting by studying a dialogue text produced by church representatives in Switzerland: ‘For a common eucharistic witness by the Churches’. The intention was to celebrate a parallel eucharist at Charmey.

What happened was that the question of baptism took over: the concrete question of baptism in the course of the weekend for the child of an interchurch couple who had been refused permission for a Protestant pastor to share in her baptism in a Catholic church. After lengthy, intense and emotional discussion and prayer it was decided that she would be baptised by the Catholic priest who worked with the Bulle group, with the participation of the Protestant pastor who also worked with it. There had been no time to discuss the possibility of celebrating a parallel eucharist, and views were so diverse that in the end it was decided to have a eucharistic fast. However, in the celebration of baptism that took place at the end of the gathering, prepared by the children who brought water from the stream, flowers from the fields and candles that they had made, the participants experienced their unity in baptism as never before. They dispersed in profound joy, determined to meet again. (From an account by a couple from Vaud in Foyers Mixtes (FM) 24, pp.11-13, and memories from Pastor Richard Ecklin)

Mayens-de-Sion, Valais, 20-21 September 1975

The second Swiss meeting took place in the largely Catholic canton of Valais, in a house run by the Sisters of Notre Dame Bon Accueil. A hundred or so spouses came with pastors and priests who worked with them. They followed up the theme of Baptism that had dominated the first meeting by choosing to focus this time on the Christian upbringing of the children of foyers mixtes. Fr Beaupère came again, as did two catechetical experts from Paris. In Switzerland there was already good biblical catechetical material developed together by a Catholic- Protestant commission. There was much discussion around first communion, and agreement that its timing must depend on when the child was ready to make a personal commitment, rather than on local custom. Mass was celebrated on Saturday evening and a Reformed service on Sunday. ‘Together before the Lord, we proclaimed our faith and shared the bread of life.’ (FM, 30, pp.25-29)

 

Le Louverain, near Neuchâtel, 18-19 September 1976

The theme of the third meeting was ‘Looking for our identity as foyers mixtes’ and was reported under the title of ‘Dialogue with God and our confessional communities’ (FM 34, pp.21- 24). There was a common search for a more serene and less combative way of being an interchurch family. ‘The suffering of division turned into grace’, is how Pastor Ecklin puts it, looking back.

Crêt-Bérard, near Lausanne, 10-11 June 1978

There are fewer reports of the Swiss meetings from now on, but their dates and themes are given in Foyers Mixtes. The fourth meeting took as its theme: ‘Christian witness and foyers mixtes: that they may be one so that the world may believe’ (FM 39, p.33). The unity of the couple was to be a parable in view of the unity of the Church, remembers Pastor Ecklin.

Foyer John Knox, Geneva, 15-16 September 1979

The fifth meeting asked: ‘Do foyers mixtes still have a role to play in the churches? The credo that unites us’ (FM 44, p.35).

Centre de Sornetan, Jura, 11-12 October 1980

‘Foyers mixtes, new communities at the heart of the Church: but at what cost? (FM 49, p.35)

Aigle, Vaux, 20-21 March 1982

7th meeting: ‘Communication with God (prayer), one’s partner, family, neighbour etc.’ (FM 54, p.43)

Charmey, Fribourg, 1-2 October 1983

‘Ecumenical catechesis: programme and resources; relations with families, parishes’ (FM 60, p.47)

Crêt-Bérard, Vaud, 4-5 May 85

The theme of the 9th meeting, was ‘Foyers mixtes: what is our future?’ This conference was reported in Foyers Mixtes, which reprinted a text put out by the Ecumenical Press Service from Geneva. Fr Beaupère told those present that he thought interchurch families had a pivotal role in helping theological agreements (such as BEM, the 1982 Faith and Order paper on baptism, eucharist and ministry) to be expressed in terms of catechetics, preaching and liturgical reform. Participants believed that their double belonging, lived out well, was a true witness to unity; when there were enough of them, the walls of separation would fall. They wanted no hindrance to be put in the way of double registration of baptism for their children, so that they would not be obliged to choose one confession. In closing Fr Beaupère asked the churches to make new laws for foyers mixtes, and recognised that until that happened they found themselves praeter legem, beside the law, not against its spirit, but unable to conform totally to it, because it was not written for them. (FM 68 pp.32-33)

Le Louverain, Neuchâtel, 21-22 March 87

‘Living ecumenical hope today’ (FM 74, p.38). Swiss conferences 1974-2003 In our last number we gave an overview of the Franco-Swiss conferences for foyers mixtes that took place between 1967 and 1981(12,1 January 2004, pp.10-11). We promised to follow it up with an overview of the series of meetings for the foyers mixtes of Suisse romande that were held in different venues in Switzerland, starting in 1974.

Bex, Vaud, 5-6 November 1988

The theme of the eleventh meeting was ethical questions as they arose for foyers mixtes. Unusually, it was introduced by an Orthodox priest. A key-word for the group was ‘responsibility’. (FM 83, p.32)

Villars-sur Glâne, Fribourg, 24-25 March 1990

‘Confessional roots and spiritual life: evolution and perpectives’ (FM 86, p.35).

Le Louverain, Neuchâtel, 21-22 September 1991

The theme of the thirteenth meeting was: ‘The good fortune to be a foyer mixte: dynamism of our situation’ A priest and pastor present both summed up their findings under the headings: openness and identity; discovery of complementary riches; the mission of interchurch couples – what they have to say; their mission to their children (FM 94, pp.30-32). A letter was sent by participants to the Swiss church authorites (text in FM 95, pp.30-31).

Delémont, Jura, 4-5 December 1993

‘Baptism and ecclesial attachment’ was the theme, with a plea for dual registration (FM 103, pp.30-31).

Delémont, Jura, 27-28 November 1994

The fifteenth meeting’s theme was ‘Foyers mixtes: catalysts for reconciliation? (FM 107, pp.27-28).

Les Rouges-Terres, Jura, 13-14 September 1997 (FM 114, p.27)

Arzier-sur-Nyon, Vaud, 29-30 May 99:

‘The future is ours to make’ (FM 123, p.4)

Sapinhaut-sur-Saxon, Valais, 23-24 September 2000

This eighteenth meeting took the theme: ‘The Trinity – source of family life’ (IF 9,1 Jan.2001, p.10)

Charmey, Fribourg, 17-18 November 2001

‘Handing on the faith’ was the theme of this nineteenth meeting. It was prepared by the Fribourg group of foyers mixtes, which had been re-launched three years earlier and consisted of ten or so couples who took it in turns to prepare and host a meeting. They met four or five times a year. One of the members described a meeting that took place during the period of preparation for Charmey, and picked out some of phrases used in the discussion. ‘Our aim is to live ecumenism, beginning with ourselves. We have a favourable context – we are a couple who love one another! First and foremost we concentrate on what unites us, on the certainty of our common ground. Usually an ecumenical group studies biblical texts and talks about different sensibilities. We talk about everyday ecumenism, lived out 24 hours a day.’ An eight-year old drew a picture of what it is like to be an interchurch child. The parents are walking up parallel paths to their respective churches; the children are running and dancing on the grass in the middle. (En Chemin/Auf dem Weg, Fribourg, September 2001, pp.4-6) When they welcomed the Catholic bishop and the Reformed pastor to Charmey, the couples explained that they had built their homes on two pillars, a double foundation on which their ground floor rested. But they wanted to build a new storey, truly shared, nearer God, where the children would not have to try to understand about divisions any longer. (Chrétiens en Marche, 73, March 02, p.9).

‘Bishop, Pastor, do not ask our children which of their parents they prefer. Do not ask us to choose between you: our reply is clear, self-evident: we need you both! … Help us to prepare the marriage of our churches, to begin it …’

Delémont, Jura, 8-9 March 2003

As at Sapinhaut eighteen months earlier, there were participants from England. The theme was the Bread of Life (John 6). Thus between 1974 and 2003 there were twenty meetings in different parts of Suisse romande, held every eighteen months or so, with a different region responsible each year for preparing the conference. Links with France have always been strong, through the review Foyers Mixtes and, since 1998, the Comité permanent francophone. In late 2003 a more formal association was established.

Thanks to Fr René Beaupère for information on the Swiss conferences in Foyers Mixtes, and to Pastor Richard Ecklin who participated in most of the conferences.

A SWISS ASSOCIATION

In November 2003 a Swiss interchurch family association was formed, constituted as a not-for-profit association under Swiss law. It is called the Association des foyers interconfessionels de Suisse (AFI-CH). It is hoped that this will give interchurch families in Switzerland a higher profile, and help them to make a more effective contribution to ecumenism. A number of church authorities who were circulated with information about the Rome Gathering in July 2003 had already asked to be kept in touch with post-Rome developments.

The Swiss Association will retain close links with French interchurch families, and with the Centre Saint Irénée at Lyon, which has been for so long an inspiration and a support for foyers mixtes francophones. Swiss interchurch families are being encouraged to attend the fourth Rencontre francophone at Rimlishof, Mulhouse, 22-23 May 2004, and the next meeting of Swiss interchurch families will therefore not take place until 2005.

It is hoped however that the work will extend to German- and Italian-speaking Switzerland, and that the AFI-CH will also become the Vereinigung der konfessionsverbindenden Familien in der Schweiz, and the Associazione delle famiglie interconfessionale della Svizzera.  

This article was published in The Journal, Summer 2004.