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'Beloved Date Night' series brings couples together, strengthens marriages

Steve and Ann Gonyaw facilitate Beloved Date Night for their parish, Mater Dei in the Northeast Kingdom. Steve and Ann Gonyaw facilitate Beloved Date Night for their parish, Mater Dei in the Northeast Kingdom.
Peter and Claire Curtice agree that marriage fluctuates among phases of romance, disillusionment and joy, lasting from about 10 minutes to years before moving into one of the other phases.

Though in a joy phase, the parishioners of Mater Dei Parish in the Northeast Kingdom are attending the Beloved Date Night series at St. Edward the Confessor Church in Derby Line.

The 12-part series takes place six times a year for two years, and during the third session, they spoke about their marriage, saying that even after 43 years, they still work on it. "It's a lifelong process," Mrs. Curtice said. "We change as people."

Date Night gives them a chance to focus on themselves as a couple, said the parents of three and grandparents of eight. "It helps us make the choice to put each other and our relationship first," she added.

There are 14 couples – of different ages and backgrounds – that attend. Preceded by the 6 p.m. parish Saturday Mass, Date Night continues with a potluck candlelight dinner at 7 and then a Beloved DVD presentation and discussion about the joys and challenges of married life.

The Beloved program helps couples discover the meaning of their marriage, how their marriage fits into an eternal story, the truth about the bonds and commitment of love, God's plan for true spiritual and physical intimacy, how to communicate and resolve conflict, the importance of healing and forgiveness and tools for protecting their marriage.

It explores Scripture, tradition and Church teaching to bring God's plan for their marriage alive.

Steve and Ann Gonyaw facilitate Beloved Date Night for their parish; she is also the director of the family faith formation program. Because the Church offers various programs for marriage preparation and few for married couples, she saw the need for the Beloved program. "We need to provide support for marriage, to strengthen them [because there are so many] life challenges," she said. "There is a need to refresh, revitalize" marriage.

The parents of two who have been married for 15 years, the Gonyaws appreciate the perspectives on married life offered by couples married for many years and a few years all in the Catholic environment of the parish program.

Topics this year are marriage through salvation history, the importance of marriage, the meaning of sacrificial love, total gift of self, the sacramental bond and challenges marriages face.

The second year's topics will focus on practical conflict resolution and communication to build deeper unity and protect the bond of marriage.

Cheryl and Andre Lefebvre have been married for 38 years and have three children and four grandchildren. "We're all on the same page" about marriage at the Date Nights, she said. "Our marriages are important to us."

Dr. Chuma Ezenwa and his wife, Chinelo, had been thinking about participating in a marriage program when they heard about Beloved Date Night. "It was providential," he said with a smile.

Married for eight years with four children, he described today's world as one that "kind of takes oxygen away from marriage," so the program is "a way to get fresh air" and re-energizes, reinvigorates and refreshes marriages.

And the church setting helps couples stay focused on the marital relationship as a sacrament, Mrs. Ezenwa said.

Nathan and Regina St. George agreed. Married for four years with one child and one on the way, they are new to the parish but enjoy getting to know other couples and sharing the same faith values and focus on family and spouse. "We have a greater appreciation of marriage and married life" thanks to Beloved Date Night, Mrs. St. George said.

After viewing a DVD that emphasized that marriage is meant to mirror God's love and that individual marriages are part of God's plan for salvation, the couples engaged in small group discussion and then spread throughout the parish center to talk privately, spouse to spouse.

"Our society has lost the concept of (marriage) being a permanent choice," Mr. Curtice lamented during a group discussion. That's why the grace of the sacrament of matrimony is so important.

Mr. Gonyaw said marriage is "so big and wonderful and hard, and it is a total commitment. You can't do it without grace."
Last modified onWednesday, 27 July 2016 10:07
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