Interchurch families have been called ‘the human face of ecumenism’. Pope John Paul II, in Britain in 1982, told them: ‘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.
In 2003 a statement adopted by the Second World Gathering of Interchurch Families at Rome 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.’
Interchurch partners live in one another’s traditions as well as their own. They can 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, they often invite both clergy and congregations to participate, and this can help others to see the reality and joy of Christian unity in a way that no reading or hearing about it will do. It can happen at their wedding, at the baptism or dedication of their child, a first communion, a young person’s confirmation or profession of faith, a wedding anniversary, a funeral.
Interchurch families are motivated to be active in ecumenical structures at all levels. In local Churches Together they are often to be found promoting study groups, Bible and prayer groups, as well as participating in joint mission and service in the community. As an association, AIF has encouraged its members to work in intermediate ecumenical structures, and has itself been a body-in-association with Churches Together in England and 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.