If you personally know our family, then you already know that I (Hazelle) am a Roman Catholic and Luke is an Evangelical Christian (Protestant). What that ultimately means is this: we both love Jesus very much; however, we have different ways of showing and practicing that love. If we were to ascribe a term to it, it’d be called an ‘ecumenical relationship’, but let’s not get carried away with nailing our status down with a label. We wanted to write a post together, and we thought what better place to start than our faith journey as a family! So we decided to co-author this post, give you a his & hers point of view, and summarize our thoughts on what it truly looks like living ecumenically as a family.
Growing up I didn’t know anything about Catholics except that my only Catholic friend had to go to his church on Sundays. I had another friend who was a convert when I was in college and went to Mass once with him, however I don’t think I knew much about what was going on. I came from a large Evangelical church, to get technical it was a part of the Christian and Missionary Alliance (or Alliance Church for short). We weren’t too charismatic or too traditional, kinda somewhere in the middle. There was loud music and bright lights, energetic preaching and a big emphasis on the importance of scripture and missions. I was baptized at 13 by my Grandpa who has always been a huge spiritual influence on me.
After moving to BC from Alberta, I didn’t have a home church and spent a few years trying to find a new church where I felt at home. Hazelle came on this journey with me. When Hazelle and I started dating, we decided to go to church with each other every week. We’ve been going to two church services basically every weekend since. In the early days, we had some fierce arguments. Every few weeks a Protestant would make a crack about religion or a Catholic would make a remark about how Protestants want the book of James removed from the Bible. These misinformed statements often led to intense discussions and quite frankly, lots of anger. The more I learned, the more I disagreed with. We went through a season of trying to convince each other that the other's faith was out to lunch and that we should convert to the other's. We discussed baptism, saints, Mary, communion, the list goes on. If either of us had been less faithful it might have been a lot easier to “jump ship”. That being said, it would been a lot less fruitful as well. Our differences forced us to consider what we believe and to grow stronger in our own faiths, which made it less and less likely for a conversion to happen. At this point we talked about our “irreconcilable differences”.
A friend of Hazelle’s kept inviting us to a Bible study, I was not interested in attending ANOTHER Catholic thing and we continued to politely decline. After about 3 weeks she said “The couple that hosts the Bible study is ecumenical, he’s a Catholic and she’s Evangelical.” We didn’t know that it was possible to actually have an ecumenical marriage and attended that Bible study the following week. Jason and Mirjam are now some of our closest friends (he’s also a partner/our boss at Glass Canvas). Without them meeting with us and guiding us, we probably never would have gotten married. The other couple that was instrumental in the early days of our relationship were the Directors of FamilyLife Canada. They invested in us and met with us privately to work through our relationship. These two couples taught us a great deal about how to approach our relationship with love and respect. The first piece of advice was to stop hoping / expecting the other would convert. With this in place, we were able to focus on understanding and accepting each other regardless of our differences. The next critical factor was focusing on what we shared, which turns out is a great deal.
Our faiths may have some big differences but at the core we believe in the same Jesus and have a shared heart for helping others find relationship with Him. Next, it was important for us to actually value the differences and each other’s different approaches to growing in faith. Finally we had to figure out how to practically deal with unavoidable differences like how to do our wedding or whether or not to baptize our kids as infants. Ultimately we came to decisions where neither of us felt like we were compromising our faith and were ready to move forward with our relationship and get married. There were still difficulties along the way, such as a few occasions where we (individually or as a couple) may have felt ostracized in social gatherings.
Ultimately, we feel that our ecumenisum is not a weakness in our family but a strength. Our kids will have a unique opportunity to really decide what they actually believe, based on their own experiences and how the Spirit reveals Himself to them. Although they will be brought up in a Catholic/Evangelical home, ultimately they will need to decide which path to choose. Needing to make a decision like this will force them to understand their faith and not simply follow along with us.
Like many Filipinos out there, I was born and raised in a Catholic family. Our Catholic faith is just as much tied to our identity as our cultural Filipino heritage is. My family went to Mass every Sunday, participated in all the Sacraments, observed religious holidays, regularly said the rosary as a family, and had our fair share of holy items spread around the house. We all loved Jesus, though if I were being honest, I imagine many of us did not have a true personal relationship with Him. Fast forward to me in highschool, where all of my friends were non-Christian, and I figured that I’d lose my faith by the time I graduated, just like many of the other young Catholics I knew. The Holy Spirit had other plans for me, of course, because by university I had a re-conversion back into the Catholic faith, and started to seriously consider a vocation either into religious life or becoming a full time missionary. Needless to say, I was on fire for my faith. I had re-discovered a love for Jesus and His Church and felt it to be a personal mission to be an ambassador of the Catholic Church in a world that seemed to know so little about Her.
When I graduated university, I spent some time in the Philippines to be with my family and to volunteer. When I came back to Canada, I started to become desperate for a paying job and took on a temporary position at a call center for a Christian missionary organization. When the time came to sign the Statement of Faith, I froze. Listed in the one-page document were a few beliefs that Evangelical Christians and Roman Catholics do not see eye-to-eye on. I honestly didn’t know how to proceed, though I knew I really needed the job. I eventually signed the form with the understanding that while I represented the organization, I needed to adhere to the beliefs stated in the Statement of Faith, meaning I could not use my position to preach Catholic beliefs to anyone I would be speaking with over the phone. It was a call center job, and I completely understood that I could not use my time talking on the phone to argue with people and try to prove that Catholics do not actually worship Mary. Nevertheless, it was a difficult decision and honestly a huge part of me felt like I was betraying my church for serving elsewhere. Ultimately, however, I knew that I was participating in the Great Commission and souls around the world would meet Jesus for the first time due to the good work of the organization. Besides, the job was only supposed to last 6 weeks. I could live with Evangelical Christians for 6 weeks, couldn’t I?
And then came Luke. A couple of months after I started in that position at the call center, I met Luke, who was working in a different department at the time (read more about How We Met). He came from a good Christian family. His parents also worked for the organization; in fact, they had been there for over 20 years. The more I got to know Luke and his family, the more I realized how good and faithful they were. A few months into dating, Luke and I started to spend our weekends together, meaning we were attending two services on Sundays, one for each of our faith traditions. The weekends were busy, to be sure, but those double services proved to be a very revelatory time for us.
There were very big things that caused a lot of heated arguments, oftentimes ending with me in tears. Sometimes, the mere reality of not being fully united with one another was itself painful, with receiving communion as the most visible reminder of our situation (Catholics can not partake in communion outside of the Catholic Church, and non-Catholics are also not able to receive communion in ours).
Not too soon after, the “L” word entered the picture.
… woops, I meant ‘love’ (though his his dad did grow up Lutheran…).
“Hmm”, I thought. “Well I’m in a pickle now. I love the guy, but I swore I would never marry someone who wasn’t Catholic. What do I do?”
To be honest, to this day, I do not have an answer for you. If you’re reading this post because you’re in an ecumenical relationship and you’re hoping to find a definitive answer for what to do, then I’ll do you a solid and cut to the chase: I do not know the answer.
All I know is that the Holy Spirit showed up. He did for us, and I know that He will for you, too. This may mean you stay together, or it may mean a most painful goodbye. I don't have an answer, but the Spirit does, and I urge you to seek Him.
Here’s how the rest of our story unfolded:
We started dating in November, and the serious faith talks started pretty much right from the start. Even though things started off a little rocky (neither of us was really exposed to other Christian traditions other than the ones we were raised in), we powered through anyway and continued to date seriously, with the intention of discerning a call to get married. In the beginning, we would purposefully look for the ways our faith traditions differed, looking for reasons for why our beliefs trumped the other’s. And while the desire to please was strong early in the relationship, the desire to be right was probably stronger. Like Luke mentioned, we started attending a Bible study hosted by an ecumenical husband+wife. We did not really know anyone else who was in the same boat as us, and it felt providential to be invited to meet this elusive couple.
The more we attended the study and observed the family, the more we realized that it was possible to make this life work. Around the summer (five-ish months into dating), we met with the couple for dinner and started to ask about making ecumenical marriages work. We came with lots of questions, and they tried to share as much and answer as honestly as they could. They never directly told us to go for it, or not, because that is something we will need to answer ourselves. I remember them saying that it is not impossible, but it is hard -- really hard.
It’s not about winning your spouse to the “other team”, it’s about making it your lifetime mission to lead your spouse to Jesus in every possible way. It’s about learning the ways your husband practices his spirituality and learning to tend to his soul. I have to clarify that Luke and I believe that our faith in God is what makes our story possible; we are united by a deep love for the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This unified belief in the Holy Trinity is a necessary foundation in marriage. We know that we are both loved by God first, and are changed by the truth of the Gospel. We recognize, that how we practice our spirituality is different and we need to always support each other and cheer the other on, because in reality, when it comes to our marriage, there really is no “other” team.
We got engaged not too long after that. We dove into marriage preparation, attending Archdiocesan retreats and private premarital counseling-type sessions. Preparing for the wedding itself proved to be more complicated largely because of a few Catholic requirements. To make a long story short, we ended up having to get five dispensations in order to get married: one for me to marry a Protestant, one to marry outside of my parish, one to marry outside of my diocese, another to get married in less than six months, and one more to get married in a Protestant church (whew!).
I wasn’t much of a “I’ve-dreamt-of-my-wedding-ever-since-I-was-a-little-girl” kind of girl, but I at least knew that I wanted to get married in a Catholic church. However, when organizing a Catholic wedding outside of my home parish proved to be near impossible, we ended up getting married in an Evangelical church instead. This was extremely difficult for me, especially because most of my family and relatives were not able to attend my wedding. I focused on making sure that I do my due diligence in obtaining the proper dispensations needed to have our marriage considered valid in the Catholic Church. I was able to organize our wedding ceremony to follow a very similar structure to a Catholic wedding Mass. We were also able to write our own vows, so we chose traditional vows that would have been used in Catholic weddings. Even though our wedding wasn’t in a Catholic church, we were able to do almost everything that would have been part of a Catholic wedding Mass, except for Communion (which we couldn’t have done together anyway). At the end of the day, I married my best friend, my soulmate, the future father of my children. It was a great day.
Our wedding planning proved to be good practice for how our life as a married couple would unfold. Marriage preparation brought up key pieces about our identities and our beliefs that would change the way we would raise our family, especially when our children would arrive. We learned about what is truly important to each of us, and which elements of our spiritual practices were up for discussion and perhaps compromise. Note that I say spiritual practices, not beliefs. For example, I am more than welcome to continue praying novenas or rosaries, but I know that this is not a spiritual practice that our family will do during family prayer time. Of course there were non-negotiable points -- some of mine included: our children receiving the Sacraments, me attending Mass every Sunday, NFP, etc. and negotiable ones: all of the Holy Week services, displaying Catholic articles like statues and rosaries at home, etc. As we learned prior to getting engaged: living our life ecumenically is not impossible, but it does require extra conversations, understanding, faith, and above all: love.
Fast forward to today.
Going on seven years of being together (almost six of them married), and two children later:
We are now parents to two boys, Micah Fitz and Judah Cruz. We still attend both services on Sundays, though if only one service is possible, we attend Mass. Both our boys are baptized as Catholics, and Hazelle intends to enroll them into Catechism as soon as they are the right age. She will do what she can to teach them about the Catholic Church’s teachings, and the same is true for Luke’s own traditions. Will it be hard for the kids as they’re growing up? We imagine so. Sitting through church is hard when you’re 18 months old with endless energy, so bringing them to two services just takes that extra little push. But then again, they’re growing up in a mixed Filipino-German family, with a mom who grew up in Asia and a dad who grew up up in very whitewashed Alberta. Noodles vs. perogies is an ongoing debate. We love to travel too, so our kids will be exposed to and immersed in many cultures. We pray that their unique upbringing will only help to shape their little souls with humility, open-mindedness, and respect towards practices that may not be their own.
Our children are still little, and we full well know that more layers of complication will continue to unfold as years go on. But hasn’t the Holy Spirit been faithful to us since day one? So what have we to fear? If you’re reading this, we ask for your prayers as we continue to live faithfully in love. We still have much to learn, but we’ll take it one day at a time.