Too often, as lay ecclesial ministers, priests, and deacons, we complain that engaged couples require a great deal of time and energy from the parish but, in the end, many couples simply use the Church for their wedding after which they are never to be seen at the parish again. Conversely, engaged couples complain about all the “hoops” that they are required to jump through in order to get married in the Church.
Both perspectives hold some truth.
Over the past 40 years, most marriage preparation programs have not changed much, whether it be attending a weekend retreat or meeting with a married couple. However, today’s engaged couples have changed. Significantly. Consider the following:
- Cohabitation is up 900% since the 1960s
- The average age for first marriage is between 27 and 29
- Only 1/3 of self-described Catholic millennials attend Mass weekly
- 35% of adult Millennials (Americans born between 1981 and 1996) are religiously unaffiliated (“nones”)
Why continue as though nothing has changed? Instead, let’s take seriously these changing demographics and our parish survey results to implement a marriage preparation process that does more than just frustrate engaged couples and parish ministers.
In the recent months, I have reviewed a great number of marriage preparation programs and a few have risen to the top: Witness to Love and Prepare – Enrich.
- Sponsor Couple Program: Witness to Love
A well done sponsor couple program will reveal the beauty of lived marriage to engaged couples while sharing vital marital skills (communication, conflict resolution, etc.). Witness to Love does this and more. It focuses on evangelization and aims at fostering a deeper connection between all couples – married and engaged- and their parish. And it is not only the Archdiocese of Baltimore that has noticed this innovative program.
How does it work?
The program does this by asking the engaged couple to pick a sponsor couple from the pews (a couple who has been married for at least five years and regularly attends Mass). In picking this sponsor couple, the engaged couple immediately forms a bond with their sponsor and, consequently, with the parish (something vital for millennials). Often this proposition makes pastors nervous as the couple can pick anyone in the pew. However, this is precisely the point of evangelization: reaching everyone in the pews and inviting them to go deeper in their faith.
The content of the program is marriage skills through the virtues because the virtues are grounded in the rich faith of the Church but the Church’s teachings are not made explicit. The instruction about the theology of marriage can either be done with the pastor or at an Archdiocesan-wide retreat style seminar. But simply in learning about the virtues they are already learning about living Christian marriage well.
- Inventory Program: Prepare-Enrich
All couples prepared for marriage are required to take a Pre-Marital Inventory. Currently, the Archdiocese supports two inventories—FOCCUS and FACET. Prepare-Enrich has an equally successful forty-year history and has been administered to over three million couples.
How does it work?
The great advantage of Prepare-Enrich is that is works seamlessly with Witness to Love because even someone with a limited knowledge of the inventory can work with the couple. It includes many of the great insights of FOCCUS and FACET and is tailored to each couples’ individual needs. In fact, most pastors with whom I have shared the inventory have been very impressed with the robust nature of Prepare-Enrich.
- What are the next steps for renewing marriage preparation at our parish?
- Review the marriage preparation program(s) offered by your parish including the Pre-Marital Inventory
- Learn more about Prepare-Enrich through a meeting with me or even schedule a training in your region.
- Join me on August 13 at St. Mark in Catonsville with couples from your parish. Mary-Rose Verret, the creator of Witness to Love and a highly engaging speaker, will be presenting on the program and how to implement it on the parish level.
Together, let’s be bold in our evangelization efforts and stretch our couples, engaged and married alike.