| Weddings & Anniversaries
Date nights: Something the Church
is doing for married couples
Date Night, now in its third year at St. Michael Parish in Livermore, has grown out of a "now what?" question.
Scott and Julie Genung — both graduates of the St. Francis de Sales School of Pastoral Ministry — had been preparing couples for marriage in the parish for three years.
"When we started doing marriage prep six years ago," Scott Genung said, "one of the things that happens is you have a relationship with these kids."
The couples are "very receptive to Catholic teaching on marriage," he said, then, they fulfill the requirement for marriage preparation. And they're off.
"What do we do next?" he asked. "We prepare them for marriage and we leave them."
They might return to the church for the baptism of their first child, he suggested, or seek counseling for a troubled marriage through Retrouvaille, or a similar program.
But his question remained: "What does the Church do for married couples?"
The Genungs were introduced to marriage enrichment programs by Ed Hopfner, former marriage and family coordinator for the diocese who now has a similar role in the Archdiocese of San Francisco.
The Covenant of Love Date Night program, from the Alexander House ministry, was adopted by the parish, under former pastor, Father Robert Mendonça. Now in its third year, it offers an opportunity for couples to have a night out, with babysitting provided.
Depending on the evening's program, it might draw 20 couples.
But invite a priest to speak, and the number can double, Julie Genung said.
"We have been trying to direct Date Night to include priests, she said. "We received inquiries from the couples. So many couples need pastoral care."
St. Michael's pastor, Father Van Dinh, has attended a mid-February event featured Father Jeffrey Keyes, CPPS, pastor of St. Edward Church in Newark. Having a priest or deacon on hand for support is important to the couples who attend.
Personal testimony can be part of Date Night, Julie Genung said. Often it can end with another participant, brought to tears, whispering. "I thought I was the only one."
Date Night can bring in couples on the verge of filing for divorce. In these sessions, they might find the tools to move forward with their marriage.
"God puts us in places and we don't know why," Julie Genung said.
At Date Night, the couples are surrounded by others who value marriage. "Couples need the support of others that think alike: being Catholic, living our faith," she said.
"This is something that presents teachings on marriage and family that we don't get from the pulpit," she said, "that we don't get on our own."
After a Date Night dedicated to theology of the body, for example, a long-married woman told the Genungs, "I had never heard marriage explained like this to me."
Date Night's focus might be on the younger marriages. "People married 20 or 30 years have made their decision to continue on," Scott Genung said. Those married less time could use some help when they "hit those early bumps," he said.
"This is how the Church can guide you," he said. "Adding God to your marriage makes the challenges more bearable."
Date Night is not just about the couples. "This is about families," Scott Genung said.
"The whole family comes to help," Julie Genung said, adding that children and teens are "very much part of this community."
The teens take care of the younger children, but if their enthusiasm for the family activity initially surprised the Genungs, they understand it.
"Kids see the change in how their parents respond to one another," Scott Genung said. "Kids speak the truth. They share this with you."
A strong draw last year were Greg and Julie Alexander of the Anderson House Apostolate, which focuses on marriage ministry. Among their programs is Covenant of Love, which includes Date Night.
"The Alexanders last year drew quite a response," she said. They will be returning for a Date Night at the parish on March 20.
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