For the past year, our parish thematic goal at St. John Parish has been “Marriage and Family Life.” In other words, we’ve worked to support these areas within our parish in order to help young families. Many new initiatives have arisen as a direct result, from Family Fun Nights, to offering child care during some Sunday Masses, and the start of the Fatherhood Project, to outreach in particular to our families with school and Religious Ed students, informing them about and inviting them to be active in the many opportunities to grow in faith here at St. John. While many of these initiatives have centered on family life and those with children, we now turn our sights to Marriage and Married Life, especially focused on those approaching the sacrament of Marriage. To help us begin this next step we are looking toward the new marriage guidelines issued by the Diocese of Lansing and their recommendation of the “Witness to Love” mentorship program.
It used to be that marriage preparation began in infancy and continued all the way through childhood, into adulthood, and right up to the wedding and beyond, simply by living life. A child was born and raised in a home where mom and dad taught by example what married life should be and by extension what involvement in parish life meant because the family attended Mass and parish functions together. Today many of our young people are not growing up with their parents’ marriages being an example of these things. In fact, sadly, a lot of them can’t point to one solid marriage in their extended families. In addition, we’re finding most of our engaged couples, certainly not all but a majority, haven’t made their faith life and Mass a priority in their lives.
We know that good, solid, life-long marriages don’t happen by accident. They need support and examples of what to do, where to turn in difficult times, and how to live everyday life in a way that is intentional about strengthening the marriage bond. Because the life experience of many young couples tends to lack being surrounded by strong marriages, the current methods of preparing for marriage have been insufficient. They offered various pieces of the necessary components, but nowhere was there a space to form the kind of relationships that help couples find the whole picture. What was missing was mentorship. Relationship with a couple who is living out a Catholic married life is foundational to offering those preparing for marriage a way to put together the pieces.
Perhaps right now you’re wondering, “Great, but I’m already married; why do I care about the marriage prep guidelines?” I’m glad you asked! It matters to everyone in the parish because one of the fruits of this kind of marriage preparation is a more dynamic parish as couples, both engaged and newly married, get more involved in parish life. These young families are being invited to not only be a part of the Sunday Mass more intentionally, but also to join small groups, attend social functions at the parish, and generally be present. With their presence and involvement comes a growing faith community and one that, hopefully soon, will include many babies and young children! This promises to be a vibrant and exciting time in the parish and diocese as those that go through this marriage preparation live more fully their Baptismal call to be a part of the Body of Christ.
It also matters to you because you might be asked to be a mentor couple! Wait, what? What the heck is a mentor couple and who would be asking? The backbone of this new preparation process is the mentor couple. Every engaged couple will be required to ask a couple that they believe provides a good example of what a Catholic marriage looks like to be their mentors. There are a few caveats for those that are asked, but basically if you are in a valid Catholic marriage of at least five years, you probably qualify.
Mentor couples will walk with their engaged couple through the time of preparation and beyond. They’ll be asked to attend Mass together (at least occasionally), to go to parish functions together (like Alpha or donut Sundays), plan a couple of “non-churchy” double-dates, and also to walk through a marriage prep series called “Witness to Love” together. Through this time spent together, much of it simply witnessing to what a “successful” marriage looks like in day-to-day life, the engaged couple builds relationships with both the mentors and the parish, relationships that offer them an extended family and community to share life’s triumphs and struggles with and provides an example of family life and Christian life that often hadn’t been modeled within their own homes.
Moving forward, we will be doing marriage preparation as a community. Whether you are married or not, your prayers of support for the engaged couples, mentor couples, program coordinators, and clergy are encouraged and appreciated. If you’re married, you might be asked by a younger couple to walk with them. Those who receive a sacrament in this parish are also received into community, and we believe this is such an honor to be part of! Please pray for the parish and diocese as this new means of preparation begins and ask the Holy Spirit to pour out His Grace on those who are engaged, those chosen as mentor couples, and every married couple within our parish. We all share the responsibility of modeling and supporting marriage and family life!
For more information about how you might get involved, please contact Angel Koerkel, Coordinator of Sacramental Prep.