Interchurch families celebrate their Golden Jubilee with an ecumenical Evensong at Swanwick.
Fifty years after the Association of Interchurch Families (AIF) was founded, over 60 members and their guests met at the Hayes Centre in Swanwick on 13-14 October for a weekend to celebrate their Jubilee year. Central to the celebrations was an ecumenical service of Evensong that paid tribute to the vision of the founders of AIF; the service was led by the Anglican Bishop Tim Thornton (Bishop at Lambeth) assisted by the Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham and co-chair of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), Bernard Longley and the Moderator of the Free Churches, Revd. Dr. Hugh Osgood.
Back in 1968 Canon Martin Reardon, his wife, Dr. Ruth Reardon, and Fr John Coventry SJ recognized that couples from different church traditions who shared the sacraments of baptism and marriage often need a particular kind of pastoral understanding from their churches. They therefore brought together a number of such interchurch couples for mutual support. From this group grew an association that has also become a forum through which interchurch couples can share with their churches their experience of living together in love across the denominational divide.
Their experience of sharing Christ’s love across that divide, despite the challenges it presents, is a precious example of unity and a gift to the churches, summed up by Saint John Paul II in York in 1982 when he addressed interchurch families, saying, “You live in your marriages the hopes and difficulties of the path to Christian Unity”.
In a keynote speech Archbishop Longley spoke of the role that AIF has played in making the churches aware of the pastoral needs of interchurch families, and of what it had taught many church leaders about the joy and the pain of their situation. Speaking of their immense gratitude to the Association, one couple at the weekend gathering declared that without the support of the Association and its members they doubted that their marriage would have survived the difficulties they had faced.
• Photo Evensong”:
From left to right: Bishop Tim Thornton (Bishop at Lambeth and Anglican President of AIF), Revd Dr Hugh Osgood (Moderator of the Free Churches Group and Free Church President of AIF); Dr Ruth Reardon (co-founder of AIF); Archbishop Bernard Longley (Archbishop of Birmingham and a long-standing supporter of AIF)
• Photo of Three of the original members of AIF – From left to right: Peter Bentall, Ruth Reardon (one of the three co-founders of the Association) and Ruth Bentall
The purpose of the Association of Interchurch Families is to provide:
a support network and information service for:
• interchurch families – who are defined as couples in which the partners belong to different denominations – usually Roman Catholic and another Christian communion
• clergy, ministers, relatives and all others concerned in the welfare of interchurch families (The Association is linked with groups of interchurch families in many parts of the world)
and a voice in the churches ….
• by keeping the pastoral needs of interchurch families before church leaders and communities, at local, regional, national and international level
• and by affirming the gifts of interchurch families and their potential as a catalyst for wider church unity
One of the Association’s co-founders, Canon Martin Reardon was the first General Secretary of Churches Together in England. He was at the heart of the work that resulted in the 1987 Swanwick Declaration signed by many of the Christian Churches in England, including the Roman Catholic Church. The words of the Declaration (below) are on an engraved stone outside the chapel at Swanwick where the ecumenical Evensong was held on 13 October
“We commit ourselves to each other under God. Our earnest desire is to become more fully, in his own time, the one Church of Christ, united in faith, communion, pastoral care and mission. Such is the gift of God.” 4 Sept 87