Inspiring the Young to Lifelong Marriage
Edmund Adamus FAITH MAGAZINE May - June 2016
Inspiring the Young to Lifelong Marriage
Edmund Adamus introduces an initiative for young Catholics in London
Since 2013 the Diocese of Westminster has been working with the Explore educational charit y to provide a “remote marriage preparation” experience in the diocese’s high schools and parishes. In December 2014, with the help of a grant from the Celebrating Family Fund from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, a Local Development Officer for the project was appointed. Four parish youth/Confirmation groups and almost a dozen schools have taken par t in sessions during which more than 1500 young people have had a chance to dialogue with married couples about what makes their marriage work. The feedback from these “workshops” is over whelmingly positive. One student said: “It gave me a better understanding of how marriage works.” Another said, “ You can overcome any thing in a relationship if you truly love each other and want to try.”
Explore is an educational charity (Students Exploring Marriage Trust) and founded by Rex Chester, a Catholic living in Portsmouth diocese. It provides students with the unique opportunity of being able to put personal questions to a volunteer couple about their own experience of being in a committed long-term relationship.
Affirmed and encouraged
This methodology enables students to take “charge” of the sessions, and to engage in independent learning with real people. Ask any teacher of RE or PSHE and they will tell you that talking to students in a classroom about relationships and sexuality is a very challenging task, one they’d rather someone else deliver and often lacks resources that are either relevant or engaging in terms of Catholic truth and teaching. The beauty and effectiveness of Explore is that a married couple can share their own lived experience about the challenges of love and forgiveness, about pressures of time, children and work and about the need for honesty and communication to keep the relationship alive and well. Many of the couples are committed Christians and, as spouses enlivened by personal faith, are comfortable sharing about how prayer, spirituality and worship often form the backbone of their sacramental commitment and identity. This is not found in any text book and the young people are genuinely affirmed and encouraged by the honesty and openness of the couples.
Thinking about life decisions
An Explore session will normally take place in a classroom during a scheduled RE lesson or sometimes as part of the Relationship and Sex Education or PSHE programme. Some schools even provide students with a whole morning to focus on this important topic which allows them to dialogue with more than one couple. When asked if they see themselves as being married one day the vast majority of students (normally 90–100%) will put their hands up. However most of them have not taken the time to talk about this with a trusted adult or even to think about that crucial life decision. Therefore each session starts by getting the students to answer the question, “What are your hopes and fears for the future regarding marriage?” This then provides them with ideas about the questions they wish to ask the couples. The resulting dialogue can cover a huge number of different topics including children, money, faith, fidelity, sex, work/life balance and much more. In a rare piece of publicity, the Explore workshop was positively reported in the “Faith Register” section of the Times Saturday supplement on 24th January 2015 by Bess Twiston Davies, with a subtitle “Catholic schoolboys are soaking up the wisdom of married love.”
In order for this important work to reach as many young people as possible the LDOs [Local Development Officers] operate in many regions and counties. In Westminster diocese, Mary McGhee is looking for volunteer couples and for individuals who can help facilitate these classroom dialogues. Sitting with a group of adolescents and answering their questions about your marriage might sound scary but it is actually a really life-giving and enriching experience for the couples who volunteer and the young people are often amazed and inspired to see that marriages can last and that love can grow through a life time. If you are a retired couple or have flexible working arrangements and would like to be involved in this exciting and fulfilling ministry we would love to hear from you! All you need is a willingness to share your experience of married life and a commitment to the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Those who are married but unable to commit as a couple or single, divorced or separated individuals who would like to be part of this apostolate are also invited to become facilitators (Adviser Coaches). This role involves preparing the young people for the dialogue and providing support to the couples during the session. The Diocese will provide support and formation for both the couples and facilitators and your travel expenses will be met.
Finally, we take encouragement in this work of remote marriage preparation from Pope Francis who declared recently (address to Roman Rota 22/1/2016), “Therefore, with a renewed sense of responsibility, the Church continues to propose marriage in its essential elements – offspring, the good of the spouses, unity, indissolubility, sacredness – not as an ideal for a few, despite modern models centred on the ephemeral and the transitory, but as a reality that, with the grace of Christ, can be lived by all the baptised faithful.” This is our hope and prayer for all the young people who experience Explore – that they may see through the ordinary life-experience of couples, the extraordinary Christ-centred fidelity of spouses, shaped and refined by the beauty of a lifetime of love and commitment.
More information can be found on the Explore website, www.theexploreexperience. co.uk, or by contacting Mary McGhee on 07786737437 or [email protected]. uk. For those living in Brentwood diocese, contact Anna McCormick anna.mccormick. [email protected]
Explore is also working in many other areas across the UK. For more information about volunteering for Explore outside of London, please contact Chris Ford, CEO of Explore, on [email protected]
Edmund Adamus is Director of Marriage and Family Life for the diocese of Westminster