Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
January 15, 2001
At Home in 2 churches
Challenges, blessings found in interchurch marriages
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
CALGARY — Suzanne Vandervoort attends church every week, but she's been criticized for not being Catholic enough.
The Vandervoorts alternate Sundays at Ascension Catholic Church and Northminster United Church in Calgary. Her children have been baptized in both churches.
"What difference does it make?" she asks. "We're all practising the same belief - the same God. The rest is just particulars. That may be simplifying it, but when you're living it everyday, it is that simple . . . that we're all one."
Married 15 years, the Vandervoorts are practising Christians. They have raised their children in both the Catholic and United churches. There have been some challenges, but overall, it has been a series of blessings, especially at the Baptism of their children, which was co-celebrated by a Catholic priest and United Church minister.
"It felt amazing when you have a Catholic priest calling a female United Church minister his sister in Christ," Vandervoort said.
There is the concern that the children may one day have to choose one religion over the other. Or maybe they'll continue practising both.
"They have been attending both churches faithfully," Vandervoort said of her three children. "How can you say they're Catholic or United . . . we're all Christians."
About half of the couples who attend the Edmonton Archdiocese's marriage preparation courses are interchurch or interfaith, said Ken Keeler, a course presenter. The numbers are growing every year because the era of Catholics only marrying Catholics is over.
Keeler, baptized in the United Church and his wife, Maureen, a Catholic, have been married 22 years. On the advice of a priest, Maureen never asked her husband to convert.
"(The priest) said, 'Just leave him alone. If he's comfortable, he'll convert.'"
Ken said he has thought about converting, but nothing serious has ever come of those thoughts. But that hasn't stopped him from being an active member of the family's parish, St. Michael-Resurrection Church. He
assists in marriage preparation courses, parish council, he's a lector and has even been invited to join the Knights of Columbus.
"Some people there don't realize I'm not Catholic," he said. "I participate in the church. I say the prayers, sing the songs, I even do the sign of the cross. I don't see any reason not to get involved in the celebration."
During the marriage prep courses, Keeler gives the couples some insight to the challenges interchurch couples may face. One thing he and his wife talked about when they were first married was what school system their children would attend.
She grew up in the Catholic school system, he in the public. He questioned whether the Catholic system followed the standard curriculum or did they just teach religion all day. But once they discussed such matters, "it was like a weight was lifted off my shoulder. These are things you have to talk about anyway.
"Being an inter-church couple has not been a disadvantage to us. It's enriched our lives."
There is a threatened feeling among some interchurch couples, who feel they have to give up one religion for the other, said Ken.
"There's no such thing as giving up on one or the other," Maureen said.
Ken added, "We de-emphasize the Catholic/United. We are all Christians; it's all spiritual. We're all good people. One is as good as the other."
"The common ground, common belief far outweigh the religious difference."
Being an interchurch family also has its blessings for the Keeler children.
"They see they are not just one molecule in this mass group," Maureen said. "Even though we're labelled, when it comes down to it, we're all the same."
There has never really been a challenge too big when it comes to the Keelers' differences in churches.
Although the topic of abortion has brought up some debate for the couple, Maureen was taught and strongly believes that abortion is never a choice, no matter what the conditions. Ken, on the other hand, is lenient about it, supporting it under certain circumstances.
"It's a big issue in the Catholic Church," Ken said. "Being brought up in the United Church, my understanding was there was a time for it - if a person was raped or molested. (The United Church) is not as solidly pro-life as the Catholics.
"So we just agreed to disagree."
The biggest challenge for the Vanderhoorts is the issue of Communion. Although the United Church allows Suzanne to receive Communion, the Catholic Church does not normally permit Catholics to receive Communion in other churches.
Mark can only come up for a blessing in the Catholic Church. The children have not questioned the issue of Communion in the two churches to a great extent, but she wonders what they're thinking when they see that "daddy can receive Communion in one church and not the other."
But in that case, Vandervoort has hope. The Calgary Diocese has opened up communion for Christians of other churches under certain situations.
"This opens the doors," she said. "It's really a great thing to see something like that happening."
Vanderhoort has had criticism from others who question her faith, calling her a water-downed Catholic because she doesn't receive Communion every week.
"But I can't see that God will knock me down for it. I practise my Christian faith everyday."
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