“There are a number of legitimate ways to structure programmes of marriage preparation, and each local Church will discern how best to provide a suitable formation without distancing young people from the sacrament.” (Amoris Laetitia #207)
As diocesan or parish leaders, we are often faced with those “special cases”. There’s always someone who can’t attend our Pre-Cana workshops or Marriage Preparation retreats we prepared for them. Sometimes the schedules don’t work for everyone, or sometimes distance, professions, school and work can also be a factor.
When that happens and when those couples come to us requesting help with marriage preparation but, due to different circumstances, they can’t attend the diocesan or parochial programs we offer, the church calls us to offer them other options so they can complete their marriage preparation.
These options include online marriage preparation, so we don’t distance the couple from the sacrament of marriage but encourage them to get closer to God and the church.
In this blog post, we will explore our attitudes as ministers towards the utilization of methods of marriage preparation that may not be the traditional way in which we have always done things.
Let us open our minds and our hearts to new ways of reaching out to those who need our services.
1. Be Open to Try Something New
New things always bring with them an element of fear of the unknown, this is completely normal. There are two attitudes we can have towards fear: we can either be paralyzed by it and do nothing, or we can face that fear and overcome it.
Remember what the Bible says so many times: “Be not afraid” (Joshua 1:9).
Fear can be transformed into fuel that will move us towards action. We usually fear what we don’t know, therefore, if we don’t know much about online learning and online marriage preparation, let us learn more about it. Ask the experts, ask the professionals, consult with your peers, those who have already used online marriage preparation programs, and see what their experience is with online courses.
Consult with us! At The Marriage Group we have a great group of friendly professionals with tons of experience who will be more than happy to answer your questions and enter into a conversation with you about what is the best course of action for the needs of your diocese or parish.
Most importantly look at the reality with a new set of glasses and be open to what technology offers us today, a whole new way of doing ministry and reaching out to even more people than before.
2. Get to Know Your Audience
The Millennial Generation. Once you have overcome your own fears, it is time to get to know this new audience that also need your pastoral attention and care. They are called millennials; this generation grew up with digital devices that facilitate communication, learning and connectivity.
They not only expect technology to be present everywhere, but they also expect this technology to work for them, to facilitate their lives and solve their problems. For the millennials, the online experience is real life experience, the world is smaller, the distances are shorter. They communicate with family and friends using technology. The sense of community and the concept of church for the millennials is completely different than that of other generations.
How are we, as ministers of the church, going to respond to the needs of millennials?
Are we brave enough to say “welcome” to a generation that uses technology as a way to communicate, learn, engage and interact? That’s exactly what online marriage preparation offers.
Online marriage preparation is an opportunity for millennials to engage in a church that welcomes them as they are and where they are at, with their busy schedules, with distance challenges, with work and study obstacles, etc.
For the millennials the online experience comes naturally. Watching a video and reflecting about it with their fiance via Facetime, reflecting about it and writing down their thoughts on their iPads, is as enriching for them as attending an 8 hour talk may be for other generations.
Let us show millenials that they also have a place at the table and that they are also members of the Body of Christ!
3. Trust the Couple
One of the temptations that we may face when deciding to use online marriage preparation is to want to treat the couples as children subjecting them to “tests” or “quizzes” to make sure they actually watched the videos and answered all the questions.
It is proven that in sacramental preparation (First Eucharist and Confirmation) testing the children or youth is actually counterproductive.
Can we measure and give a grade to our faith? Can we evaluate the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives? Can we put a number on our conversion process?
If we have stopped testing children for First Communion and Confirmation, why do we still want to test couples who go through online marriage preparation?
We need to remember that these couples are adults and as adults we need to treat them with respect and trust.
The online experience of marriage preparation (videos, discussion guide and affirmation exercises) gives us (ministers) the tools that will clearly show us if the couple went through the contents of the videos and the questions offered for reflection and sharing. But we need to resist the temptation to submit the couple to a test and offer them a space where they can enter into an adult conversation about the contents of the online course and what they learned.
As ministry leaders we like the advantages of having a toolbox, a place where we can go and obtain answers to our questions without having to recreate the wheel. Online marriage preparation can be a great tool in your ministry toolbox.
We realize that what you are doing in your ministerial setting, either diocesan or paroquial, is excellent! You are doing a wonderful job! But what are you doing for those couples that do not fit into the schedules of your class sessions? What are you doing for those who have valid reasons or conflicts with your marriage preparation courses?
We are here as an option for you and we are here to partner with you and to offer you one more tool for your toolbox. Let’s work together!