Interchurch Families Meet in Minnesota

The American Association of Interchurch Families (AAIF) held its bi-annual conference under the auspices of the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research in Collegeville, Minnesota from July 13 through July 15, 2012. AAIF is the American counterpart to the Association for Interchurch Families (AIF) of the United Kingdom and the Foyers Mixtes of France. The International Congresses held near Rome, July 24-28, 2003 at the Mondo Migliore Center, also included many participants from Austria and Germany.
Interchurch families “consist of two baptized Christians who are members of two different, and as yet separated Christian traditions, who have come together in the covenant of marriage to form one Christian family.”

This year’s American Conference consisted of three plenary presentations, the first on Friday evening, given by Dr. Darrell Jodock, Distinguished Professor of Religion at Gustavus Adolphus College on “Living with Limits and a Sense of Humor: A Lutheran View of Intra-Christian Relations”. This presentation was a comprehensive view of ecumenism at this time from a Lutheran perspective, taking note of the historic Joint Declaration on Justification which was signed by the Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation in Germany on October 31, 1999. Dr. Jodock gave the audience a candid assessment of progress made since the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican (1962-1965) which is being studied and remembered during its 50th Anniversary while planning for further progress for the celebration of the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in 2017.

The second presentation was given on Saturday morning by Dr. Donald Ottenhoff, executive Director of the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research at St. John’s University. His topic was “Ecumenism in a World of Change”. Dr. Ottenhoff engaged the AAIF participants in a discussion of the kinds of change they had experienced in their lifetime. In the past the world was stable; today’s world is a place of change and instability. People are more mobile and relocate to distant places. There is less accountability. All of these changes have affected the ecumenical scene as well. Cardinal Walter Kasper in a talk in San Francisco said we face two dangers: that ecumenism remain a mere academic exercise; the other, that ecumenical activism focuses on spectacular events rather than on the slow, patient movement from below – sharing gifts, the ecumenism of life, ecumenical collaboration with a focus on our commitment to openness to the Spirit.

The third presentation was given on Saturday evening on “How Interchurch Family Prayer ‘Happens’: Models for Negotiating our Differences” by Daniel J. Olsen, PH.D, who received his Ph.D. in Constructive Theology from Loyola University, Chicago in 2008 with research on interchurch families. Using the model of Jesus the Liberator from Jon Sobrino and Virgilio Elizondo’s Galilean Journey, he indicated how this model might be helpful to interchurch families for enriching their prayer experience. He stressed that the future of the movement for Christian unity is with grass roots ecumenism; revisiting the concept of the border, of new language, Jesus as “soul of our soul” and the revealing Christ, could reveal the nature of prayer as relational, personal and communal. It is Christ forming not “a third church” but a family. It is recognizing that Christ lived “from the margins” and the interchurch families share this life in many ways.

The meeting in Collegeville did not make headlines, but it did draw the attention of Father Riccardo Burgana who wrote an article in L’Osservatore Romano, the official newspaper of the Vatican, entitled “Ecumenism in the family” in the July 15th edition, commenting on the upcoming meeting and its significance for the Church and Christian unity.

(This article appeared in the Parish Bulletin of St. Jean Baptiste Church, New York, NY on Sunday, August 12, 2012.)