FAIRFIELD, Conn. (CNS) — A husband and wife each active in their own Christian community can be models of an important step in the movement toward Christian unity: not just recognizing their diversity, but loving it despite the pain it sometimes can bring, said couples at a conference on ecumenism.

“The churches need to work at their unity the way married couples have to work at theirs,” said Ray Temmerman, an active and involved Canadian Catholic married to an active and involved Anglican, Fenella.

“It is important that our churches begin to recognize that it is not only what they have to offer each other that is important; their capacity to receive and love the other … will also be the key element in calling both churches to become what God calls them to become,” Temmerman told the International Receptive Ecumenism conference June 10 at Fairfield University.


“None of us set out to do this: We fell in love,” and had to figure out how each could be true to who they were while loving and respecting the other, he said at the conference, which was exploring how the process of promoting Christian unity could gain momentum if churches and Christian communities recognize that they need to learn from each other.

In many, probably most cases, when a man and a woman from different churches marry, they end up choosing to belong to and raise their children in only one of the churches, or in no church at all, said conference participants. The Temmermans and other members of the Association of Interchurch Families remain active in their own communities, attend the services of their spouses and try to raise their children with openness to both.

“If our churches are really to be motivated to move to the next stage, they need not only to remove obstacles” to unity, “but to see that the other church may have preserved some Christian gifts and values better than ours has or that they have new gifts that they would like to share,” Temmerman said.

“This is, after all, what we experience in a good marriage: husband and wife remain individuals with their own individual identity,” he said, “but they gradually establish a common, shared family identity.”

Joyce Kazuri-Makumi, a Pentecostal married to a Catholic in Nairobi, Kenya, said members of her extended family — mainly on her husband’s side — “think I don’t love him” because after 12 years of marriage, “I still haven’t followed him” into the Catholic Church. Their wedding was a Catholic ceremony without a Mass, and she and her husband go to both services together each Sunday.

“People who don’t know us wonder about us,” she said. “We go into the church together, but at Communion, David goes up and I remain sitting.”

Jeff Wild, an Australian Catholic married for 30 years to the Rev. Margie Dahl, a minister in the Uniting Church, said his approach is: “Because I love you and respect you, I love and respect the church that made you who you are.”

The choice to encourage the other to continue his or her denominational affiliation is not always easy, especially when in many cases it means not being able to receive the sacraments with one’s Catholic or Orthodox husband or wife. Dahl said, “It seems strange that a couple united in baptism and marriage should be separated at Communion.”

The presenters encouraged bishops, priests and other ministers to be welcoming of such couples and to encourage their faith commitments — even of the spouse that belongs to a different church. The presenters also said every minister needs to know that, when approached to celebrate a wedding, if the potential bride or groom is a Catholic, they must be informed of the permissions needed for the recognition of a marriage performed outside the Catholic Church.