Divorce: Who Gets Custody of the Church?

A Christian Perspective

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Divorce: Who Gets Custody of the Church?
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About the Author

Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes

Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes

The Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes is the Minister of Maple Grove United Church, and is a member of the Interfaith Councill of Halton. A chatty extrovert with a conversational preaching style, a multi-tasker who is a “multi-worrier” when it comes to caring about people’s problems, and a leader who treasures teaming with the lay people in her church, Morar says that at Maple Grove she has experienced “a deeper level of ministry than I thought possible.” Anyone who has personally received Morar’s deeply compassionate caring and wise counsel will testify to what an inspirational, healing and encouraging ministry it is.

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For the family that has a pattern of church attendance, a church can be a safe place –

  • where difficult issues can be talked about;
  • where people treat one another with respect;
  • where there are role models for living through tough times;
  • and where love and grace are evident.

When life is difficult, church members can provide a listening ear, a meal prepared with love, a connection with others who have struggled with similar challenges, and prayer for you and yours. Church is a place where faith can be nurtured.

When families go through the trauma of separation and divorce, both parents and children experience loneliness and a sense of being cut loose from the foundations of life that provide resilience. The church can be a sustaining help to all ages by providing constancy and permanence, but who gets to keep the church?

When there are children, it is obvious that they continue to attend. The weekly ritual and the support of a loving, multigenerational community can help to replace the stability of the home. Who comes to the church with the children? If parents are focussing on the needs of their children, whoever is parenting on Sunday would bring them to church. Sadly, often children are only brought to church on the weekend that one parent brings them — interrupting the stabilizing influence and giving the child a sense of missing out — on choir, special events, Messy Church, church suppers, etc.

Oddly, sports and other activities are maintained without question; but church involvement isn’t thought of in the same way. Although it is sacrilegious, I often say, “hockey won’t get you through life’s tragedies.” But faith that is nurtured and expressed in community will get you through a lot.

In our church, the families that seem to do the best over the years, all come to church regularly. We have had ‘two-pew families:’ blended families all attend together even though they do not live together. Having watched the children grow up, I am convinced that they are emotionally and spiritually healthy when their parents make this kind of commitment.

But it is not only the children who benefit. Adults need support in deepening their faith when relationships are rocky. Some adults have chosen to attend different services in the same church; some have decided which spouse gets custody of the home church, and the other spouse has found a new church home. Sadly though, I have noticed that the person who can’t attend their home church, will often not find a church home and their spiritual lives suffer.

In the midst of conflict, there is a danger that the spiritual needs of children and adults may not be addressed. The teachings of faith and the discipline of regular attendance can help to focus conflicted partners on behaviour that is kind and considerate, avoiding emotional warfare with the children as weapons and ultimately victims.

For those who do have the habits of faith, there is hope that all can adapt to the disruption of divorce with resilience.

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