Marriage Encounter: Embracing the sacrament, and each other
Twenty years after getting married in Los Angeles by a Justice of the Peace when they were teenagers in the ’50s, Winston and Pansy Greene went on a Marriage Encounter weekend where they learned to be a closer couple.
“I think it was the best thing we’ve ever done because we’re still married after all these years,” said Pansy, 74, attending a Feb. 14 ceremony in Burbank with her husband, 76, honoring Worldwide Marriage Encounter’s 2014 Longest Married Couple Project Winners, Harold and Edna Owings.
“We found that going to the Marriage Encounter weekend helped us to be a couple, and they didn’t have that when my parents were coming up — it was really something that made us want to be together forever,” she commented. The Greenes were so impressed that they became a Marriage Encounter presenting team couple for 35 years, sharing their marriage story to local married couples, among an estimated 10,000 who attend M.E. weekends each year in the U.S.
Worldwide Marriage Encounter, the original faith based marriage enrichment program in the U.S. founded 46 years ago by the late Jesuit Father Chuck Gallagher, is still relevant today, according to Pansy.
“People don’t know how to stay married today; they’re not taught,” said Pansy, who attends Sunday Mass with her husband at Holy Name of Jesus Church in Los Angeles. “Marriage Encounter is a good way to realize what it means to be a couple and how you can make it work. People need to know how to love each other, accept each other and not be so critical of each other. It helps you to learn how to sit down and talk about things instead of getting angry and walking away.”
“The key to marriage is communication, period,” declared Winston. “You look at the TV and some of these reality shows and people are only married for a couple of months or two or three years. Through Marriage Encounter we try to be examples by reaching out to couples and showing how it can work. But, you have to work on it. Marriage is a journey.”
Our Lady of Perpetual Help (Santa Clarita) parishioners, Joe and Karen Greulich, who volunteer locally for Marriage Encounter in the “LA North” region stretching from the archdiocese’s northern pastoral regions all the way to Santa Rosa (revived some years ago by the Greenes), say they learned to appreciate their marriage as a sacrament during their Marriage Encounter weekend.
“We say we’re married 28 years the old way and 7 the new way,” explained Joe, who admitted he was initially reluctant to go. “We went on a weekend, and we resolved to get through it. It made such a huge difference in our marriage that we volunteer for it now and have ever since.”
He describes their marriage as “a whole new relationship,” strengthened by the daily love letters they learned to write to each other on their M.E. weekend. “We’re like newlyweds again,” said Joe. “It emphasizes the sacrament of marriage against the message of the world. We don’t understand how a couple can withstand all the pressures of the world and remain married without help. We learned a lot of things about how to be married,” and, added Karen, “how to journey with other [married couples].
Josephine and Edward Lara, parishioners at St. Robert Bellarmine parish in Burbank and a Marriage Encounter presenting team couple since 1998 who attend a local monthly Marriage Encounter community group, said their M.E. weekend really improved their communication.
“We thought we had a good marriage, and I think we did,” said Edward. “When we went on the weekend, it just kind of gave [our marriage] a little tune-up, a way to communicate better on a different level. In today’s world, you can’t put your spouse #10 on the list of everything, behind the kids, the finances and the job, so it just showed us how to refocus again as a couple and that has helped a lot with us.”
“It opened a new part of our relationship,” added Josephine. “We were able to really get down to some things that I didn’t know about him after being married for 19 years and then to rediscover that there’s this whole new beautiful person that I didn’t even know about and Marriage Encounter did that through the tools that it taught us.
“It also made us realize that we needed to bring God first [in our marriage]. We put God in the back seat for a while and then all of a sudden, we realized he has to be in the driver’s seat. That’s what the nucleus is, the three of us. It opened up a new part of our relationship,” said Josephine.
For more information about local WWME weekends which are open to married couples as well as priests and other religious, log on to: www.twocanlove.org or call (909) 863-9963.