I wasn't able to attend in person, but I was able to participate through the Livestream video of the plenary sessions which were uploaded to the internet. http://livestream.com/accounts/6379109
Here follows a rough transcript of that Plenary Part 2 and then my own response to it. Why bother? Not everyone likes getting their information via video, and going through the process of taking notes and typing them up enables the message to take deeper root – and there's no guarantee how long the Livestream option will be available for.
This session could have been entitled 'The Marriage Course'
It began with a few words from Archbishop Anthony Mancini, the leader of the archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth in which the parish of St Benedict's resides.
'Thinking about the testimonies we heard at the end of the last session, it reminded me of how at the Easter Vigil we all light our little candles from the Paschal Candle by passing on the flame to each other until the whole church is filled with candlelight. That's what missionary disciples, like those we heard from, do : pass the flame of faith from heart to heart, one by one.
Thanks to Fr James for what he is doing in this parish, and for what he told us about compassion. The gut is where we feel compassion, but it is also where we feel anxiety, fear and nervousness – which is what I am feeling now.
There are not many places where 600 people gather to learn what is behind the Divine Renovation book. It is a book. Just like the Gospel comes to us as a book. They both stay as a book unless you get in touch with the experience behind the book.
All of us are facing the challenge of making our Church able to speak to our world in ways that will touch the hearts of people. What do we do? What can we do? The answers won't just be found in the written word, but in the lived community that birthed the book.
It is mind-boggling for a bishop to be here. However, the point is not for us to be in this building – but to get the hell out of this building. We have Holy Doors for people to come in, but we also need to use them to go out as missionary disciples.
So welcome to Halifax-Yarmouth, Enjoy your visit, and may God bless your efforts here and when you return home to your parishes.'
We were then introduced to Nicky and Sila Lee, the Anglican founders of The Marriage Course. You can find out more about them through Twitter : https://twitter.com/nickyandsilalee and more about The Marriage Course http://www.themarriagecourses.org/try/the-marriage-course/ and The Marriage Preparation Course http://www.themarriagecourses.org/try/the-marriage-preparation-course/ . And there's a book too: https://www.amazon.com/Marriage-Book-Nicky-Lee/dp/1934564656
To begin their session a short video was shown that gave some background information. In 1985 they began writing the course, which started in 1986. By 2001 it was being used internationally. In 2010 it went to China. In 2011 the parenting courses began. In 2011-12 a Spanish version was released. In 2012 a version for rural Africa was prepared. In 2013 it became available in Arabic. In 2014 it received Vatican endorsement.
We are excited and honoured to be family together here. Fr James has visited us in London many times. The two of us met when we were 17 and 18 while we were on holiday. We are from non-church-going families. There was belief in God, but it wasn't acted up. Only on Christmas Day would we normally go to church. While at university Nicky heard about the possibility of a personal relationship with God. He was intrigued. After a couple of months of listening to talks on Christianity he came to the point of saying 'I think this is all true'. On February 14 he got Sila to come and listen to the talks too, and that day they gave their lives together to Christ. Their conversion happened about the same time as Nicky Gumbel's. From that day Jesus gave us a new freedom and depth in our friendship and love together. 2.5 years later we were married.
How did the marriage course begin? In 1985 we were on staff at Holy Trinity, Brompton (HTB) and were asked to take on marriage preparation in the parish. The 5 week marriage preparation course we wrote came out of our own experience, and we aimed it at a very practical level. Later on we wrote the marriage course.
The first course started with 3 couples. We were soon asked, 'Could my friend come too…even though they are not church-goers?' It was heartening that outsiders wanted to come and learn. We found that those that came wanted more, so the parenting children course and the parenting teens course were written.
Where did the vision come from? God broke our hearts for the sake of family life, and gave us a passion for marriage at the heart of family life. Some 50% of marriages break up, and it doesn't have to be like that. We have huge hope for change in couple relationships. One couple who came to the marriage course (as we found out later) had been married for 3 years, separated for the last 6 months, and had an 18 month old child. The course helped them find their way back to each other. There are 100s and 1000s of couples like that out there.
Conversation is the most important part of the course, the private conversation between spouses within a 'date night' atmosphere. We have seen marriages changed, redeemed, transformed and saved.
In some ways the marriage course functions as a pre-evangelization course. We see a lot of couples doing the course and then doing Alpha – but there are a good number who do Alpha and then do the marriage course.
(At this point the video tape stopped as they began to talk about how the marriage course got to China.
The video tape restarted with the story of how Vatican endorsement came about.)
It was a friendship with a 70 year old parish priest from northern Italy. He had connections with the Italian Bishops Council for Marriage, and had a passion for couples to not only be the objects of evangelization but the subjects of evangelization. In his parish the marriage course was first run in people's homes. From the success of those courses came an invitation to do a seminar at the World Meeting of Families.
Our vision is to turn the tide on the breakdown of marriage and family life. The only way for it to happen is through the local church.
Do you have any words for us gathered here today? Read 'Divine Renovation' . This is the work of the Holy Spirit. Come Holy Spirit, come and fill Your people and then release them for Your purpose of creating missionary disciples. If you are married, each week make time for a date night with your spouse.
Things then moved into a time of prayer ministry.
It is the Holy Spirit who ignites the passion of His call in us, and Who seeks to clarify a vision with us. Send Your fire into our hearts. People lose hope through hurt. God will work healing, especially among those let down, not appreciated and overlooked. Maybe there is someone you need to forgive. Can you be weak enough in your heart to say that you need Me?
My own response
Yes, I need healing for all three of those hurts. I wouldn't be alone there.
I know of far too many people who gave of themselves generously in Christian service over long periods of time for whom that service ended in bitter tears at a time not of their choosing, or who were given no support in the difficult transition from full time lay ministry to regular life, or who got burnt out due to lack of support and lack of pastoral care. They need healing too, and we lose too many good people because there is no obvious pathway to seek that healing. Could the Rachel's Vineyard weekends that bring healing to those suffering from abortions be a model for how to assist the healing process for those wounded in ministry?
It is good to hear that there is a marriage course out there, that seems easy to set up, and that works.
It sounds like all you need is a meeting space, equipment to project video from a DVD onto a large screen, tables set up nicely (tablecloth, candles etc) with two chairs per table, a couple to act as facilitators and a few people who love to cook preparing some food.
I'm thinking that the school hall of the local parish primary school might be the best location. Firstly because it wouldn't require anyone to step outside their comfort zone and go to church, and secondly because (sad to say) many of the parents of the primary school aged children are at risk of separation and divorce. They are also most likely to know of couples who need a little help in their relationships.