By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
Despite coming from different faith traditions, Tom and Debi Boeck of Keokuk and Tim and Vicki Walch of Iowa City say their faith differences never became a wedge in their married lives.
Debi Boeck was raised in a “traditional, strong Catholic family.” Tom said he was raised in a strong, Lutheran (Missouri Synod) family. “Both of us were raised going to church on a weekly basis,” he noted. The topic of religion came up at times when they were dating, “but we didn’t discuss it in depth. We were very much in love and knew that we could work through anything together. Whatever we did, we wanted to do it together,” Tom said.
Once the couple got engaged, they continued to attend church. In preparation for marriage they attended sessions through Debi’s parish, All Saints in Keokuk. The preparation included discussions about their different faiths and marriage.
Their families did not express concerns to them. “My parents could see that I continued to be faithful to the Lord and were OK with my decision — whatever that might be. We continued to be flexible with discussions about faith and to educate ourselves and others,” Tom said. “Furthermore, we stressed the importance of being open to learning about our religions.”
On June 23, 1990, the couple was married at All Saints. Father Tom Parlette officiated. After their marriage they attended both of their churches on a weekly basis for many years. Tom was an officer in Our Savior Lutheran (LCMS) in Fort Madison.
“We continued to attend each others churches, even when kids came along,” Tom said. “Kids were with us at all times and attended churches regularly with us. Not being able to participate in the Eucharist at each other’s church did not bother us. “We knew the rules governing each other’s religion and respected them,” he added.
The couple has four sons — Luke, Brian, Jacob and Adam. All four were baptized Catholic — without a question.
“Deep down I always knew that the children would attend Catholic school and be raised Catholic,” Tom said. “I was very comfortable with that notion.”
He began to think about his position as a parent and being an example to his children. He continued attending the Lutheran church. But in fall 2014, Tom began classes for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) and came into the Catholic Church in April 2015.
“I think that both of us learned more about our own religions, having to explain some of the differences and similarities between the two. We had a greater appreciation of our parents’ heritage and deeper understanding of their faith and traditions,” Tom said.
Communication, compassion, understanding and flexibility are the keys to success in an interfaith marriage, the couple said.
In the Walch family, Tim was raised as a Catholic and Vicki was raised as an Episcopalian. As a couple, they haven’t had struggles about religious beliefs and values because they share so much in common. “We respect each other’s views on those few issues where we might diverge,” they said.
“I knew right away that Tim had a deep interest in the history of Catholicism because he was a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and Catholicism was his research field in graduate school at Northwestern,” Vicki said. “It was clear almost from our first date that he was an active Catholic and that is an important part of his life and identity.”
As their relationship grew, they talked about religion in “philosophical terms and in the context of marriage,” Tim said. They were counseled at the Sheil Center at Northwestern University where Tim attended Mass. Neither was insistent on converting to the other’s religion.
During counseling sessions, they decided that if they had children they would be raised in the Catholic faith, with Vicki’s support. Tim and Vicki also participated in a pre-Cana marriage preparation program and completed paperwork to have their marriage recognized by the Catholic Church.
On June 24, 1978, the couple married at St. Mark Episcopal Church in Geneva, Illinois. The Rev. Russell Johnson officiated, joined by Father Thomas Elliott, CSC, who was provincial archivist for the Catholic Congregation of the Holy Cross in South Bend, Indiana.
Tim and Vicki’s families didn’t express concerns. Tim’s mother was grateful that he finally was getting married, he joked. Vicki’s parents were comfortable with Catholicism based on their experience with family, friends and neighbors.
The couple has two sons, Tom and Brian, both of whom were raised in the Catholic faith. Both were baptized at a Catholic church in Virginia. They received first Communion and confirmation at St. Thomas More Parish, then in Iowa City.
Vicki attends Mass with Tim weekly. He believes that Vicki is a “better” Christian than himself because she lives her faith and values every day. She sees the good in others and is not as cynical as he is on some occasions, Tim observes.
Not receiving Eucharist at the Episcopal Church was never an issue for me, Tim said. “I’ve never felt any ‘strain’ per se because I can’t receive the Eucharist in the Catholic Church,” Vicki said. “But I am conscious that it can set me apart from the rest of the congregation. …
There are a fair number of interfaith marriages among those who attend St. Thomas More, so I’m never the only one who stays at my seat while the rest of the congregation goes up for Communion.
“We think one of the reasons that St. Thomas More is such a vibrant parish is because it is so welcoming of diversity and there is a fair share of couples of different faiths in the pews,” the couple said.