Pittsburgh & Philadelphia - Pennsylvania 3/99
cmfce at smartmarriages.com
Mon Mar 22 11:54:28 EST 1999
18 churches join in premarital class covenant
Thursday, March 18, 1999, Pittsburgh
By Ervin Dyer, Post-Gazette Staff Writer
The growing push by Christian churches to cut the divorce rate by
mandating counseling before marriage will take a formal turn today.
At the Sheraton Inn Pittsburgh North in Warrendale at noon, 18 churches
will sign a "marriage policy," a covenant that requires couples to take
at least four premarital classes covering everything from family life to
finances before they can be married in the member churches.
Though Catholic churches have long required premarriage instruction,
efforts in most Protestant denominations have been inconsistent.
A program to change that began slowly working its way around the country
in the mid-1980s. Called Marriage Savers and headed by religion and
ethics columnist Michael McManus, it has found its warmest welcome among
mostly evangelical Christian churches.
Three years ago, Family Ministries in Pine, working with 18 area
congregations and the Arkansas-based FamilyLife, a Christian family
advocacy group, developed a network called the Pittsburgh Partnership for
Families to study the program.
The mission was to create their own model of how churches can shore up
marriages and family support ministries both before and after the wedding.
"This is an enormous undertaking," said Jim Leckie, president of Family
Ministries, "but we're encouraged to move ahead." The local churches that
have adopted the new marriage policy have about 18,000 members.
Key to the program will be using successful married partners to counsel
couples engaged to marry or trying to repair their unions. The
partnership will provide training for the mentors and make sure that the
churches that don't have any counseling or training sessions are brought
up to speed.
"We don't want all the preparation to be on the senior minister and we
need to have time to build a network of ministries to support him. This
is not a perfect system," said Leckie, "but by signing, we're hoping
other faith communities will follow our direction."
Specifically, the policy encourages longer courtships, four months of
premarital preparation, and counseling using Scripture and other
According to current census projections, four out of 10 marriages will
likely end in divorce.
The trend has long disturbed many churches.
Pine's Northway Christian Community is no stranger to premarital
counseling, but the sessions varied according to which minister was
The Rev. Jeff Small, associate minister at Northway Christian, said since
January 1998, the church has made an effort to bring consistency to the
counseling. By adopting the marriage policy today, the church hopes to
takes its commitment one step further.
With Sunday morning attendance reaching 1,600, it is one of the largest
churches in an area of booming development.
But the issue of saving marriages reaches across geographic and social
Homewood's Bethany Baptist Church is also signing.
"We're basically hoping to raise the awareness that people need to
receive instruction before entering into marriage," said Bethany's Pastor
You have to take a test to get a driver's license, said Glaze, and
getting married shouldn't be any easier. "By requiring the premarital
counseling, we're hoping that couples won't be able to run from one place
to the other to get married."
Other religious groups have also looked at boosting premarital counseling.
Last year, Christian Associates of Southwestern Pennsylvania, a sprawling
ecumenical organization linked to 2,400 local congregations and 1.5
million members, examined the marriage-saving program.
The Rev. Gregory Wingebach, the group's executive director, said it is
studying the issues and moving toward a statement that supports
premarital counseling and marriage enrichment classes.
"We can't dictate policy," said Wingebach, "but the divorce rate is
leading us to take a pastoral stance and recommend ways to help Christian
These 18 churches are to sign the policy today: Allegheny Center
Christian Missionary Alliance, North Side; Bethany Baptist, Homewood;
Beverly Heights Presbyterian, Mt. Lebanon; Chippewa Evangelical Free,
Beaver Falls; Covenant, Wilkinsburg; Ditilh United Methodist, Cranberry;
Elfinwild Presbyterian, Shaler; First Presbyterian, Richland; Greater
Works Outreach, Monroeville; Memorial Park Presbyterian, McCandless;
North Main Street Church of God, Butler; North Park Church, Wexford;
North Way Christian Community, Pine; Northgate Baptist, West View; St.
Philip's Episcopal, Moon; Second Baptist, Penn Hills; South Hills Bible
Chapel, McMurray; and Trinity United Christian, New Kensington.
Philadelphia Daily News, March 19, 1999
"marriage situations" are a major topic......
Keeping the faith Area priests hope weekend events can bring some back to
by Ron Goldwyn Daily News Staff Writer
Confess to an abortion and you're in line for absolution. Confess to a
divorce and remarriage, you're more likely to get annulment advice.
It's Reconciliation Weekend, when lapsed and reluctant Catholics are
being implored - by heavy advertising, personal visits, a toll-free hot
line and the Internet - to return to church to be reconciled with God.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia, in an initiative unprecedented in the
United States, will dispatch 1,100 priests to 84 Millennium churches for
penance services followed by confess-athons today from 7 to 9 p.m. and
tomorrow from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
That's almost double the 598 priests on active assignment for the
archdiocese. The ranks include retirees and those ordained by religious
orders, often from college and high school faculties.
And it could get crowded.
"Eighteen priests are going to be here to hear confession, nine upstairs
and nine downstairs," said the Rev. Anthony Dieckhaus, of St. Timothy's,
Levick and Battersby streets in the Northeast. "We have four
confessionals upstairs and four downstairs, and the other priests will be
at the altar rail on either side and at the break in the middle, and one
priest in the old baptistry."
For those who have been away quite awhile, the church offers confession
the old-fashioned way: in the privacy of a booth, and |also face-to-face
- wherever the penitent feels comfortable.
Church officials have no idea how many long-absent Catholics will return
to the fold tonight and tomorrow, but they already consider the campaign
The toll-free 1-877-BLESS-ME, set up in November, has drawn 11,000 calls
to priests manning it up to 12 hours a day. An on-line version has drawn
more than 3,000 hits in less than three weeks.
The priests field calls at diocesan headquarters, 17th Street near Race,
in a 13th floor office beneath a copy of "The Return of the Prodigal
Son," a 17th-century painting by Bartolome Esteban Murillo. Jesus'
parable is the inspiration for this weekend, and a copy of the painting
and text were included in packets delivered or mailed to over 400,000
Catholic households - active and inactive.
Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua (who will hear confessions at St. Martin
of Tours at Oxford Circle tonight) announced last week BLESS-ME will
continue beyond this weekend.
"We have been amazed by the overwhelming response to the 'Bless Me' hot
line," he said. "We have opened the door for people to return to the
church, to reconcile with their families, their church and their God.
Evidently, people have been waiting for us to reach out to them."
Monsignor Charles V. Devlin, who oversees Reconciliation Weekend as vicar
for renewal and evangelization, said: "It's out of our hands now. It's up
to the people's decision and God's grace to bring it all together.
"We are leaving the arithmetic up to God on this one. If we get one
person back that really needs to come back, that will satisfy us."
The hot line - which is not a telephone confessional, officials stress -
provides a clue to concerns that have kept many Catholics away for months
or years. Devlin said "marriage situations" are a major topic.
"Some people who are divorced feel they are excommunicated and cannot go
to the sacraments, but they can, as long as they have not entered into a
second marriage," he said.
If they are remarried, he said, they cannot receive the sacrament, but
"we urge them to remain close to the church and attend Mass, but then we
try to focus on possibility of annulment."
As for a woman who underwent an abortion, strictly forbidden by Catholic
teaching, "that can fall right into the sacrament of reconciliation," he
The initiative, with full-page newspaper ads, radio, TV, billboards and
transit ads, is a first for the nation, according to the U.S. Catholic
Conference. The expensive campaign is funded chiefly by special
donations, Devlin said, but when asked the cost, he chuckled: "Military
The intent is to be welcoming to all. So Devlin likes to quote the final
line of the prodigal parable: "Let the celebration begin."
"Around the Coalition" shares information on marriage, divorce, and
educational approaches. Opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by
members of the Coalition.
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