Newlyweds in their mid-40s, Fennella and Ray Temmerman each had built strong ties to their churches over their lifetimes: Mrs. Temmeran in the Anglican church and Mr. Temmeran in the Roman Catholic church.
The couple married six years ago in an Anglican church in England after which Mrs. Temmeran emigrated to her husband’s home of Morden, Man. The couple began worshipping primarily in Mr. Temmeran’s Roman Catholic parish.
All was well, at first. The priest was an Anglican who had converted to Roman Catholicism and told Mrs. Temmerman he had absolutely no problem with her receiving the eucharist. He was succeeded by a second priest who told her she was welcome to worship at the church for five years but then ought to decide whether she would convert to Catholicism.
When he left, a third priest told Mrs. Temmeran – who by now was heavily involved in the church, including with the children’s liturgy – he did not approve of her receiving the eucharist but would not refuse her.
Finally, the fourth priest told her she would no longer receive the sacrament, a decision she found very difficult and which has led the couple to worship now almost entirely in the Anglican church where both are lay readers.
Mrs. Temmeran said the couple had been experiencing the richness of both traditions.
Attending the Roman Catholic church “has enriched my faith journey enormously,” she said. “But I can’t join a church which won’t welcome me and my family to the eucharist.”
The Temmerans have found support through the Canadian Association of Interchurch Families, a support network for families where the husband and wife are from different Christian traditions. This is distinct from interfaith families where couples are from different religions.
“It was a tremendous relief to know we were not alone,” Mr. Temmeran said. “Just knowing there were others out there who had gone before us, and were struggling with the same issues, somehow made it possible for us to continue being faithful to God in both our traditions.”
The Temmerans have started a Web site – www.aifw.org/aif/aif.htm – in order to communicate information to others like them, and a list service which allows interested people to chat. Much of the 200 pages of information and articles on the Web site has been produced by the English association.
The Canadian association has branches that meet in Calgary, Saskatoon, Montreal and a new one forming in Toronto.
The Temmermans are also organizing an interchurch retreat for March.
Difficulties interchurch couples face ought to be recognized by the churches, Mrs. Temmerman said, noting that 40 per cent of Roman Catholics in Manitoba marry non-Catholics. She views the divorce of the churches as being akin to that of parents who divorce. While the parents choose to divorce for their reasons, children are often the ones to pay the price. It’s the parishioners who are living the pain of the churches’ separation, she said.
“Why should we be living the pain of what happened 400 years ago? … The problem is with the churches, it’s not with us. We’re made to feel it’s sinful to fall in love with someone from a different church. It’s not a sin. The churches’ separation is a sin.”
Mrs. Temmerman is encouraged by the ecumenical talks that have been going on in recent years. Interchurch families have pushed these forward, she said.
“Other people can say ecumenism can wait. We say we can’t wait; we’ve only got one lifetime.”
The couple is looking forward to the day when ecumenical talks result in a greater unity between Christian churches, a unity they feel they already represent.
“In our marriage, we feel we live in the unity that Christ prayed for,” Mrs. Temmerman said.