'Being One at Home'
Interchurch Families as Domestic Churches
Edited by Thomas Knieps-Port le Roi and Ray Temmerman
Book review by Bishop Christopher Foster:
This book of essays, from north American and European contributors, explores the experiences of married couples who belong as individuals to different Christian denominations (“interchurch marriages”). A number of the papers, edited here by Thomas Knieps-Port le Roi from the University of Leuven, Belgium and Ray Temmerman, a Canadian Catholic, were originally gathered in what came to be known as interchurch families’ ‘Domestic Church Project.’ The intention is to provide sound evidence of the reality of interchurch families as domestic churches, and enhance the nourishment and contribution of their gift of unity to and within the churches of which they are members, and through those churches the wider Church.
This collection offers intriguing theological insights into the role such couples may play in modelling and moving towards unity between denominations, and articulates how the pain of interdenominational division is expressed in their marriages and family life. The book is divided into two sections – the first offering experiential approaches to the subject, the second providing further theological thought, drawing interesting parallels between the nature of marital commitment and the nature of the commitment that exists (or ought to exist) between denominations as they aspire to healthy unity within their individuality and diversity.
The book returns regularly to the particular problems experienced by Catholic / Protestant or Catholic / Orthodox couples who are unable to receive Holy Communion together in the same church. There are moving accounts of how their unity is lived out, and how the pain of this is worked through. The emphasis on Holy Communion is directly relevant where the couple includes one person who is either Orthodox or Roman Catholic. The issue of communion is obviously less relevant to marriages where couples belong to different strands of Protestantism, where there may nonetheless be similar practical and emotional challenges to belonging in two churches. Similarly, a lot of the theological discussions about the sacramental nature of marriage may not be quite so applicable to marriages between couples of different Protestant denominations. Marriages between a Christian and someone of a totally different faith tradition fall outside the book’s scope.
Reading this book has made me reflect more deeply on how the pain of impaired communion between the denominations is particularly poignant for interchurch families. Having read the book I will be newly sensitive to how I engage pastorally with such couples, reflecting with them on how I might best affirm their unity in faith even when Holy Communion cannot be shared. And although there is conviction expressed in this book that the unity in faith modelled by people in interchurch marriages has much to teach the church, I would also want us to take great care not to place the burden of the quest for unity between denominations only on their shoulders.
Christopher Foster is Anglican Bishop of Portsmouth and presently Convenor of Churches Together in England.