By Chris Codden, NACFLM Region X, Past President
BUILDS and forms a team who minister to those called to the vocation of marriage and family.
Building leadership is the first of the building blocks for a reason. Like any other building project, if you do not a have strong foundation, the building crumbles. Leadership is that key component. If the leadership does not have a strong underpinning; a strong vision for marriage, the work of strengthening marriage will not last.
The first step may be obvious, but is essential. The diocese and/or parish needs to make strengthening marriage a priority. This means viewing each ministry of the parish from the lens of how this affects the marriage of the couple sitting in the pew which will build a culture that bears witness, in all areas of life and society, to the truth and beauty of marriage.
For any type of intentional ministry, our clergy are key. Having our priests on board and excited about the Sacrament of Marriage is vital to the success. That excitement and commitment needs to extend past marriage preparation and the wedding, and look at marriage from womb to tomb.
Archbishop Joseph Kurtz has commented on how he used to return to the rectory after a Saturday wedding, write the couples names in the parish registry and close the book thinking, “I’m glad that’s done.” If we treat a couple as a finished product on the day of their wedding, no wonder we don’t see them again. Archbishop Kurtz then challenged us to look beyond the wedding and seek ways to help the marriage, throughout the lifecycle, particularly at those pivotal moments.
To assist our clergy in understanding the importance of their role and vision, a diocesan day including a variety of speakers, the local ordinary and time for discussion on key topics would be helpful. Many dioceses have done this with great success. Not only does this impart valuable information, but the camaraderie and solidarity can be a good source of support. On a parish level, the first step is identifying potential leaders. While the support and vision of the pastor is essential, he needs a team to assist him. Drawing from those who are already working in some form of marriage ministry, such as, current Sponsor or Mentor Couples, couples who have attended a Marriage Encounter Weekend, or couples who are catechists in the parish is a good place to start. Asking those persons mentioned above for recommendations can also be helpful.
Step two is to train those potential leaders. Just as you wouldn’t go to a building site without the proper tools, leaders need adequate formation to do the work. If this is a diocesan effort, regional trainings could be held to assist the parishes. Or a parish may offer a series of Saturday or Sunday afternoons focused on the steps toward becoming a MarriageBuilding Parish. This could include time assessing the current details already in place, developing a plan of action, gathering of potential resources, developing a timeline and budget for events and initiatives, etc. Many of these ideas can be found in this resource guide.
As the U.S. Bishops expressed their thanks for this important role we undertake, “We are grateful, too, for all those who work with young people and engaged couples to establish good marriages, who help married couples to grow in love and strengthen their union, and who help those in crisis to resolve their problems and bring healing to their lives. (Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan)