Different traditions, but shared ‘faith’
Together, but separate – that might be one description of an interfaith marriage.
But Peter Kennedy, interim director of the Center for Family Life Formation, believes there’s more to an interfaith marriage than simply acknowledging the differences. "We want them to appreciate and respect each other’s faith backgrounds," he said.
"While marriage preparation addresses the interfaith marriage in a positive way, we also encourage the non-Catholic person to consider the truths of the Catholic Church."
Many non-Catholics join the church at some point, but in some cases, the couple decides to make a two-faith family work, and the church remains supportive.
That’s the case for George and Sylvia Thompson of Bellevue, who have shared a Christ-centered faith for 54 years, while practicing different faith traditions.
Sylvia, a lifelong Catholic and member of St. Mary Parish in Bellevue, and George, a member of First Presbyterian Church in Bellevue, are active in ministries and attend services at their own churches. They also regularly pray and read Scripture together, and have always sought ways to share their faith.
"Early on, we got involved in the Christian Family Movement (CFM), and that was one of the most important things we did for our marriage," Sylvia said, "because it was Christ-centered and non-denominational, and it supported our marriage."
At that time, CFM, a national network of small faith sharing groups reinforcing Christian values, was one of the few organizations where they could share their common faith in Christ, Sylvia said.
"It was a wonderful experience for us and we made some really good friends," she said.
They participated in other faith-building experiences, including New Testament classes at Offutt Air Force Base and faith-building workshops at St. Mary, she said.
The couple also has attended early morning prayer services during Holy Week at First Presbyterian Church, where both offered Scripture reflections. "So in preparation for that, we’d do a lot of sharing," Sylvia said.
Now retired, the couple often stops during their day to read Scripture or spontaneously pray. "I know I can stop anytime and say, ‘George, let’s pray,’ and he can do the same," Sylvia said.
Born and raised in South Dakota, Sylvia attended Catholic grade school and high school, and after moving to Bellevue, she attended College of Saint Mary in Omaha.
George was born in Minnesota and baptized Lutheran. With his father’s job transfer, the family moved to Bellevue. Having no particular church affiliation, George began attending Presbyterian services with a friend.
The couple married in 1962 at St. Mary Church, and raised three daughters and one son as Catholics. They have nine grandchildren.
While sharing their faith lives, being involved in their own religious communities and beliefs also has remained central to their lives.
Sylvia served 17 years as director of religious education at St. Mary and later was mission education director for the Missionary Society of St. Columban in Bellevue.
And in retirement, she remains active as a member of the parish development committee and chairperson of the Our Lady of Sorrows Garden at St. Mary Parish, and as a retreat team member for the Columban Fathers.
And George, a retired judge, served more than 15 years on the board of Crossroads Connections, a non-denominational ministry that helps prison inmates on temporary release come together for worship and a meal with their families.
He served as a board member for the Good News Jail and Prison Ministry in Omaha, which provides chaplains and volunteers to help inmates with their spiritual needs, and was a trustee, elder and deacon at his church.
He now regularly attends adult faith formation classes and a non-denominational book study and prayer group, he said.
Supporting each other’s faith was never a question in the couple’s relationship.
"When preparing talks for the church, we’d always talk," George said, "and I’ve learned a lot from Sylvia."
"George really introduced me to the Scriptures," Sylvia said. "That’s one of the gifts he gave to me.
"And I admire his acceptance of my faith and his support and encouragement. I’ve learned a lot about constancy in faith and trust in the providence of God," she said.