Heart Searching: Aisle see you in my dreams: Cathy Aitchison talks to couples who met their match in church

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Ken McLaughlin met his wife, Kaori, at ASIF, an International Fellowship group run by All Souls church in central London. Mainly for overseas students and people passing through the capital, ASIF meets once a week for Bible study, discussion and fellowship.

Ken had come from Northern Ireland to study architecture; Kaori, who is Japanese, was studying at Chelsea School of Art when she first came to All Souls: 'A missionary from Japan was running ASIF at the time - she was like our mother in London - and that was one of the reasons I started to come to this church.'

'One of the things about living in London is that it can be a very lonely place,' says Ken. 'The International Fellowship is always looking out for those who are lonely and need some support. If anyone asks where we met and we say 'in church' it stops the conversation. People must think we're real fuddy duddies or something.'

Certainly, actual attendance at church is now very much a minority activity: in its 1993 Church Statistics, the Church of England quotes usual Sunday attendance at its churches as 1.14 million; the 1994 Catholic Directory of England and Wales puts average Sunday Mass attendance at just under 1.28 million.

Despite this, however, around two-thirds of the population feel that they do belong to a religion, according to studies by Social and Community Planning Research (British Social Attitudes, 1992): 34.4 per cent felt they belonged to the Church of England, and 11.1 per cent to the Catholic Church.

Ken and Kaori share a committed faith, which they find provides a sound basis for their international marriage: 'In a sense what we have through our belief in God transcends our cultural barriers - which are real, they're still there - but it means we've got a goal in life which is God-centred.'

Pat and Isy Mottram feel the same way: growing up in Sussex, Isy was a member of the Baptist church, and Pat belonged to the Church of England.

They met as teenagers when they both attended ecumenical youth clubs in the area - clubs bringing together young people from more than one type of church: 'As the older members moved away, we became the senior members of the group, and we ran it together for a while.'

When they got married they took as the theme for their wedding a verse from Ecclesiastes in the Bible which says 'a three-fold cord is not quickly broken'. 'It's not just the two of you, but also the power of God, so it's much stronger,' Pat explains.

'On a purely social level, church is a wonderful thing,' adds Isy. 'We've moved house five or six times, and everywhere we've been involved straight away with the church, and we've had an instant set of friends, because we have God in common.'

'It's like being in a large family,' says Robert Carlin, who met his wife, Beth, through St Helen's Church in west London. 'You can get to know people quite intimately, and discuss thoughts on a wide range of topics - you can become quite deep quite quickly.'

Paradoxically, being church members also means that the relationship can develop more slowly, as Beth explains: 'Meeting in a situation which is not just geared to dating you have the chance to get to know each other to know what you want, before embarking on a relationship.'

Andrew and Rachel Bourne also got together when both were running a church group. Since they married in 1986, Andrew has left his job as a management consultant, and is now studying in Oxford to be a vicar: 'We both felt that was what God was calling us to do, and it wouldn't have worked if Rachel had not been a Christian. Your attitude to everything is affected by your beliefs - it's not like having an interest in woodwork or something.'

The Catholic Church runs Choice weekends for young people to take stock of themselves, their faith and their relationships. Kate and Bernard O'Shaughnessy met in the back of a car on the way to a Choice weekend, and at first they hated each other: 'She was posh and middle-class, and I was a rough working lad,' says Bernard. After the weekend, however, they kept in touch: 'Kate and I became sort of penfriends. The weekend allowed you to realise that God was important, and sharing that was quite important for us when we were getting engaged.'

Around the country, several churches offer the kind of service which attracts large numbers of students and people in their twenties. But for many people, the church is an alien environment: 'For people who've never been to church, it's difficult even to come through the door,' says Kaori.

'If you just go to one church, the likelihood is you'll find something you don't like,' says Steve Jenkins, of the Church of England's press office. 'Try different churches and different services in different churches, and talk to people.'

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