Our marriage preparation course started this week, with 7 couples, all of whom seemed to enjoy it and find it valuable (we'll see how many come next week!). Though it's a bit posh, the Marriage Preparation Course from Holy Trinity Brompton is very good, and if you're looking for an easy-to-use marriage prep course, I can highly recommend it.
Even better, I recommend getting together with other churches in your area to run it as a joint course. Here's what's good about it:
- All the talks are on DVD, so you don't have to come up with stuff yourself.
- Everyone gets a guest manual, which ties into the talks (5 sessions), summarises everything very well, and gives people something to look back at after the course has finished.
- It's not just the presenter couple on screen, there are interviews with 'sofa couples' and folks on the street, so the couples on the course will hear a number of takes on the same topic (e.g. 'communication', 'forgiveness'). That means if they don't relate too well to one point of view, another will be along in a minute. This grounds the course in real life relationships, and there were plenty of laughs of recognition at situations and attitudes described by the people on the DVD.
- the course leaders manual gives a simple but clear outline of each session: how long you have for bits of DVD, length of discussions, overall length of session etc., which makes it very easy to plan and run.
- the 'God' bit is there, but not overdone. Each session ends with a Bible reading (presented by a 'famous face', with a reading which might get chosen for the wedding) and a brief prayer. There's a couple of useful appendices in the guests manuals which have lists of possible Bible readings, the marriage vows, and a simple book list on marriage and relationships.
- it's not dated as fast as Alpha: Nicky Gumbels jokes clearly relate to a certain point in history, but I'm not aware of any (yet) in the Marriage Preparation Course which do, though the bit on how much people spend on weddings may need updating for the debt crunch. It's also not quite as posh as Nicky Gumbel, though still with plenty of well-scrubbed London couples in the audience.
- There's a great little booklet 'ready for marriage?' which complements the course, costs 99p and we give it out to every couple who books a weddding with us, and we've given out quite a few at wedding fairs too.
- the course is 5 sessions, which is manageable. We do one session as a Saturday morning, with the first hour to meet the organist, florist etc. and to look at hymns, readings and some of the practicalities of the church service. After a coffee break, we then go into Marriage Preparation Course session for the day. This gives folk a chance to meet all the key people involved in the service, and links in the relationship preparation to the practicalities of the marriage service itself.
We've found it quite helpful to scatter chairs around the room in pairs (we have small tables in our church room which naturally seat 4, so couples can easily bag one each) as well as having seats around the TV, so that when it's time for a discussion, folk can go into different parts of the room and have a private conversation. A bit of (appropriate) background music helps too.
The course recommends starting with a meal - we don't do this, drinks and biscuits at the end of the 2nd exercise (there are normally 4 of these per session, 5-15 minutes each) seemed to work ok this week. Quality biscuits always help.
We also try to invite couples from the church along - a different one each week - so that folk on the course a) hear about a real live marriage from a Christian couple and b) get to know a few folk from the church. However, I've fallen down a bit on arranging that this year!
I'd consider myself a fairly critical customer, with a number of reservations about Alpha, but this really is a good resource. If you're wanting to do something with real and lasting postive impact for folk getting married in your church, then I would highly recommend it.
Happy Valentines Day.