July 8, 2000
(Third in a series of three columns on marriage)
Marriage Ministry A Way To Save Nine of Ten Bad
Ten years ago, I wrote about Father
Dick McGinnis, an Episcopal priest who asked this question of his
congregation of 180 people: ''Are there any couples here whose marriages
were once on the rocks, but who have come off of them? If so, meet me in the
chapel after the service.''
To his surprise, 10 couples showed
up. He confessed, ''I have more work than I can handle in marriage
counseling. I prayed about it. What came to me was to not look at the
problem, but the solution. That triggered in my mind how Alcoholics
Anonymous got started. Some people tried to help each other stay sober, with
the help of Catholic and Episcopalian pastors. Out of it came the 12 steps
of AA that have helped millions stay sober.
''I want to meet with you to see if
there is anything of a common nature you had to do for your marriage to be
restored. I want to see if God has a way of re-establishing marriages.''
Seven couples agreed to do so. The
group discovered that God does indeed have a plan. ''It is a natural
spiritual process,'' said Lon Pardee, one husband. ''When you reach out to
give, you get. If we hoard what we've got, we don't get any more.''
At first, their stories seemed
wildly dissimilar. One woman had been in adultery for eight years. One man
was an alcoholic who was out of work for two years. There was a workaholic
prosthodontist and a bisexual who had homosexual affairs early in his
But they were able to agree on 17
''Action Statements'' that each had gone through, like the 12 steps of AA.
One was, ''Through other Christians' testimony and personal example, we
found hope for our marriage.'' At Marriage Encounter five couples first saw
Two others: ''I made a decision and
commitment to follow Jesus as my Savior and Lord. Once obedient to God, we
were able to love by his standards, not ours.''
Lowell Weddington explained, ''We
were non-Christians. We had enormous problems communicating. We tried books
with humanistic messages like `I'm OK. You're OK.' None of it was working.
So we said, `Why not try God?' We went to church and realized the Lord
really loved us, and we began to love ourselves.''
Three other steps are clustered
around ''Commitments to partner.''
''We/I made a decision to stay
together. We/I made a decision to forgive mate and myself.'' And what is
particularly difficult in a bad marriage: ''I accepted my mate as he/she
is.'' Each learned they could not change a mate, but ''realized the problem
was with myself and began to change with the Lord's help.''
After the couples learned to tell
their stories using the 17 Action Statements, Father Dick had them meet with
couples considering divorce. A couple who had survived adultery has more
credibility to tell a couple hurt by adultery how to restore trust than any
pastor or counselor.
Within five years, those seven
couples met with 40 couples heading toward divorce, and saved 38 of them.
That's a 95 percent success rate!
I wrote at the time, ''In my view,
this is a discovery of far greater importance than the discovery of AA's 12
steps. Only a tenth of people become alcoholics, but half of marriages
The McGinnises have now planted
their ''Marriage Ministry'' in 25 churches in 10 states. They trained 14
''back-from-the-brink couples'' at First Assembly of God in Rockford, IL.
Therapists in that city heard about it and sent over dozens of their worst
cases. In three years, the mentors have met with more than 100 troubled
marriages and saved all but four of them.
One was Richard and Dusty Burchardt who had
experienced pain from the beginning of their marriage and tried counseling
for five years without luck. When they began meeting weekly with Tom and Jan
Drake, a mentor couple, the Burchardts saw changes right away. Dusty said
they ''helped us recognize that we were stuck in depressive cycles.'' They
said `We went through something similar, and here is what we did.' We did
everything wrong. Little problems quickly escalated,'' Richard added.
The Action Statements nudged them
to ''take responsibility for our own actions and stop blaming the other as
we tended to do,'' Richard explained. ''We had been trying to change our
partner. We learned there is a right way to relate to each other. Going
every week to the Drakes helped because they held us accountable and taught
us how to solve problems.''
Would you like to start such a
ministry in your congregation? See a paper, ''How To Rebuild Troubled
Marriages'' found at www.marriagesavers.org.
Copyright 2000 Michael J. McManus.