Interchurch families bring Christian Unity to life and have been called ‘the human face of ecumenism’ – something that Pope John Paul II recognised when he told them in 1982 during a visit to Britain, ‘You live in your marriage the hopes and difficulties of the path to Christian unity’.
When the Association of Interchurch Families was formed in the 1960s in the wake of the Second Vatican Council and its Decree on Ecumenism, one of the desires of its founding members was to make the unity they had discovered in their own marriages fruitful in some way for the coming together of their two churches. This experience of lived unity and its significance for their churches was later summed-up in a statement from the 2003 World Gathering of Interchurch Families in Rome which said:
We believe that, as interchurch families, we have a significant and unique contribution to make to our churches’ growth in visible Christian unity. Many people in our churches have told us that we are pioneers. As two baptised Christians who are members of two different, and as yet separated Christian traditions, we have come together in the covenant of marriage to form one Christian family. As we grow into that unity, we begin and continue to share in the life and worship of each other’s church communities. We develop a love and understanding not only of one another, but also of the churches that have given each of us our religious and spiritual identity. In this way interchurch families can become both a sign of unity and a means to grow towards unity. We believe that interchurch families can form a connective tissue helping in a small way to bring our churches together in the one Body of Christ.”
Click on image to read the document.
It is this connection with both churches that can lead interchurch partners to be ambassadors for their own tradition in their partner’s church, helping to build up understanding and love between congregations. When an interchurch family has an important celebration – be it a wedding, baptism or dedication of a child, first communion, confirmation or profession of faith, or even a funeral – they often invite clergy and members of both congregations to participate. By so doing they can help others to see the reality and joy of Christian unity in a way that no amount of reading or hearing about it can do.
Through their experience of living in two traditions, interchurch families are often motivated to be active in ecumenical structures at all levels. In local Churches Together they can be found promoting prayer and study groups, and participating in joint mission and service in the community. As an association, AIF has encouraged its members to work in formal ecumenical structures, and is itself a “body-in-association” with Churches Together in England and with Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, playing a full part in their work. Its members have served on bilateral groups such as English ARC (the Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission) and the Methodist-Catholic Committee.
Above all, by their very existence as domestic churches related to two as yet separated church communities, interchurch families embody Christian unity in their daily lives.
To read more about Interchurch Families and Church Unity click here.