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“As couples come to celebrate their wedding at

the church, we don’t just do wedding preparation. We do marriage preparation,” said David Elseroad, who will marry several couples this summer and works with ELCA couples as a licensed marriage and family therapist with the Lutheran Counseling Center (LCC) on Long Island. Elseroad said the ELCA’s approach to marriage

preparation has deepened over the past 30 years and premarital counseling is now a requirement in many churches. While some pastors create their own counseling

programs, many use Prepare/Enrich, an online relationship inventory and skill-building program, Elseroad said. “The strength of something like Prepare/Enrich

is that it’s comprehensive,” he said. “In effect, it’s a program that is based on strong research and psychometric standards and properties. The way the assessment is put together has a high accuracy.” Jared Carson, pastor of Peace Lutheran Church

in Las Cruces, N.M., is a certified facilitator of the Prepare/Enrich program and calls it a powerful assessment tool. “I highlight with couples that studies show

that most relationships struggle over the issues of communication, conflict, finances and family planning,” he said. Carson said he has found the issues to be the same for both heterosexual and same-sex couples. The assessment covers an array of topics, such

as communication, conflict resolution, partner style and habits, financial management, leisure activities, sexual expectations, family and friends, relationship roles, spiritual beliefs, marriage expectations and parenting styles. Couples are often nervous about taking the

assessment, Carson said. “When they come to be married, I have an initial meeting with them. I tell them that I’m happy that they’ve decided to make joining their lives in marriage a priority based on a commitment of fidelity,” he said. “After all, fidelity is the benefit of marriage. You’re not wondering how long this relationship will last if you’re married.” Carson explains the marriage preparation

process and meets with couples three to four times. “I explain that Prepare/Enrich is an assessment—not a compatibility test—and by taking a questionnaire we find points of agreement,” he said. “Where there may not be agreement, we find points where they can talk to each other.”

All in the family Annie Edison-Albright, pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church, Stevens Point, Wis., uses Prepare/

Enrich, but she pairs it with a genogram approach where couples use online tools to make family trees similar to those used in genealogy research. “You’re not just marrying the one person; you’re

marrying their whole family,” Edison-Albright said. “You’re marrying an entire family system, even beyond the people who you may have met. You’re getting the whole extended family, both living and dead, and the influence they’ve had on each other from generation to generation.” She said she first learned about the genogram

while studying family systems at Yale Divinity School in New Haven, Conn., where students practiced doing them on each other. “I ask all the basic questions as if you were

doing a genealogy,” Edison-Albright said. “Who got married, who had kids, who got divorced? I ask for family stories and some other information, too, like patterns of abuse or addiction, careers, entertainment, stories of immigration, success around money, religion, family values, key celebrations and other types of things that don’t get talked about.” Edison-Albright said all who have participated say

it was meaningful and that it gave them a chance to interact with family members in new ways. “You often get a new perspective on your own family,” she said. Redeemer member Kendra Cychosz, an early

childhood teacher, went through the Prepare/ Enrich and genogram programs with Edison- Albright when she married Scott in 2012. Since his job requires him to be on the road

a lot, the program underscored the couple’s need to talk every day and stay in touch. “He works on the pipeline and sometimes won’t be home for a month,” Cychosz said. “The program reminded us of the need to be on the phone a lot to communicate—and to pray. “Marriage isn’t always easy and it’s always work.

Some days it’s the easiest work and some days it’s the hardest work.” Edison-Albright thinks ELCA pastors like to

support couples in this work. “I would say that in the ELCA, I believe marriage preparation is something clergy put a lot of thought into. I’ve seen a lot of colleagues and myself look for better ways to help people, not only in preparing people for marriage, but also in how we support them in their marriages. Sometimes when we find out that a marriage is in trouble it’s often past the point of being helped.”

Healy is a freelance writer and member of Trinity Lutheran Church, Brewster, N.Y.


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