Interchurch Families in Omaha
Ernest Falardeau, SSS
The American Association of Interchurch Families is only three years old. It began at an international gathering (mostly families from the British Isles, Canada and the United States) at Virginia Beach, VA in July 1996. Since then, the AAIF has met every two years, once in Louisville,KY and this year, from July 9-11, in Omaha, Nebraska at Creighton University.
Last year, Foyers Mixtes (French speaking) and the Association of Interchurch Families (English Speaking) were joined by German speaking groups from Switzerland, Germany and Austria. The international conference last year was held in Geneva, Switzerland. It met at the headquarters of the World Council of Churches. Dr. Konrad Raiser (World Council of Churches) and Bp Jean Duprey (Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Vatican) were the keynote presenters. While less prestigious, the AAIF meeting in Omaha indicated that the world-wide movement for interchurch families is gathering momentum in the United States as well as in other parts of the world.
Are they different?
Are interchurch families different from the rest of the population? Dr. Michael Lawler, director of the Center for Marriage and Family at Creighton, reported on the results of a survey on interchurch families which the Center for Marriage and Family is conducting with a generous grant from the Lilly Foundation. He began by saying, that in general, interchurch families greatly resemble the general population. They can be classified in various categories ranging from very religious to not very religious, with everything in between. Like the general population, his survey reported that 60% of interchurch families remain married while 40% are eventually divorced. He also noted that religion plays a significant role in the stability of marriages and their success and happiness.
The noteworthy and special information about interchurch families which he found in his extensive survey is that, when interchurch families are able to work through their problems, especially relating to differences of religious affiliation, they are twice as likely to be stable and happy marriages. This does not mean that either his survey or the interchurch families advocate marriage across church lines. It simply indicates, as Dr. Lawler emphasized, that interchurch families are very dedicated to their marriage, their children, and the church of their spouse, as well as their own church. With this kind of communication and caring, Dr. Lawler believes, the ground work for a happy and successful marriage is laid.
Sr. Margaret Markey, Associate Director of the Center for Marriage and Family, confirmed Dr. Lawlers insights in her presentation about conflict resolution in interchurch families. Reviewing various principles for conflict resolution, Sr. Markey stressed the importance of communication -- of love and listening -- between spouses. She felt that the CMF Survey brought out some of the problem areas for interchurch families and some of their strengths. Interchurch families must work harder at their marriage, but they also reap more ample rewards.
An Open Forum of Sharing
Interchurch families are fond of sharing their own experiences. By such sharing they are able to encourage new couples in their first steps forward. They are at the cutting edge of the ecumenical movement. Pope John Paul II has said of them: "You carry out in your daily lives the struggle for church unity. The pain of division is something you experience every day." He stressed that interchurch couples can point the way to the churches toward unity through love.
On Saturday July 10, the AAIF spent the evening sharing the experiences of many couples from across the country (and Canada as well). What was disheartening at times was the way in which some of the couples were considered to be marginal by their clergy. The members of AAIF are not marginal Catholics or Protestants. They are very dedicated to their church - but equally dedicated to the church of their spouse and members of their family or extended families.
Interchurch families seek the unity of the church. The interchurch families, perhaps best of all, understand how all Christian churches are one. They recognize and respect the baptism that is common to all Christians and all churches. They understand the strengths and weaknesses of each others church. They appreciate the dedication of the clergy in each Christian church. They also understand the complexity and difficulty for clergy to uphold the canons and laws of their church while facing the sensitive pastoral problems experienced daily by interchurch families.
Eucharistic sharing is one of the central and crucial issues in the lives of interchurch families. The inability of the churches to resolve their differences on this question is agonizingly felt as interchurch families worship together and yet are denied access to the sacraments together. Recent developments such as interim eucharistic sharing (Episcopal/Lutheran) and full communion agreements (Lutheran/Reformed) as well as the proposed Christian Churches Uniting agreement (formerly the Consultation on Christian Union) offer some prospects of resolution.
The Catholic Church is pursuing opportunities for eucharistic sharing with Ancient Eastern and Eastern Orthodox Churches. It has agreed that Old Catholics and Polish National Catholics can be considered in a similar ecclesial status with the Orthodox. It is hoped that Anglican-Roman Catholic and Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogues may soon find ways of resolving remaining difficulties in this matter.
At the Cutting Edge
Interchurch families are at the cutting edge of the ecumenical question. Their very presence in the churches asks the question: "Why are we not one? Why can we not resolve our differences?" In their personal and family life, these families have resolved their differences by love and mutual respect. Prayer together and communication have moved them to a deeper appreciation of who they are and who their partner is. Their children are nurtured in the same love and respect.
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