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Strengthen family links

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Church News, Sept. 30, 1995 - A proclamation: `To the Church and to the world’

Life's most precious joys are found in the family. So are life's most profound sorrows. Such sacred and sensitive issues are not easily discussed openly in Sunday School or other Church class settings. Nor are they always easily discussed in the privacy of one's own home when emotions — such as anger — sometimes block positive communication.

But the Church's new Marriage and Family Relations course, announced in an August letter from President Boyd K. Packer, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve, and started by many wards and branches in January, is providing the setting needed to facilitate such communication.

Just ask Bishop Rick Parker of the Pellissippi Ward, Knoxville Tennessee stake.

"It's an unusual week when someone is not moved to tears [during the class]," he said during a telephone interview. "There will be those who share the hard lessons learned, and then others who will share wonderful success stories. The lessons provide a framework that very easily facilitates the discussion of things that are very sensitive and sacred."

And these discussions — between husband and wife, and parent and child — are extending beyond the classroom to the walls of the home. Pellissippi Ward course instructor Tom McCombs described a situation between a father in his class and his daughter. On that Sunday morning before Church, the daughter was angry about something. The father told Brother McCombs during class: "My normal action would have been a reaction. I would have gotten angry and told her to do something. I thought, 'Instead of feeling angry, I need to sit down and talk about what's going on between us.' "

In another incident, a father and daughter quietly talked. After, the daughter said, "Thank you for listening to me." The father responded, "I always listen." The daughter replied, "No, you don't."

The father told Brother McCombs, "Maybe I need to take some time and listen to where they are instead of where I want them to be."

These kinds of communication and problem-solving skills are just what the course is meant to engender. In a statement to the Church News, Elder Dennis B. Neuenschwander of the Presidency of the Seventy and executive director of the Church's Curriculum Department, said:

“The Marriage and Family Relations course is composed of two manuals designed to be used in a variety of settings, in the home and during Church meetings. The material is based on the doctrines and principles contained in the scriptures and in the teachings of latter-day prophets. It is ideal for discussion between husband and wife, as well as between parents and children. Every member of the Church can benefit from the timely and current teachings of respected Church leaders.”

Under the direction of the bishop or branch president, the course is designed for all members, in whatever circumstances, emphasized Richard M. Romney, director of the Curriculum Planning and Editorial Division of the Curriculum Department. Whether members are married or are planning to marry, whether they have children or not, or if they are single parents, all can benefit. In fact, among the many strengths of this course are its availability and flexibility. Brother Romney said the course is not only intended to be taught in a classroom setting, but it is also designed to be a resource for first and fifth Sunday Relief Society and Melchizedek Priesthood lessons, Mutual night lessons, family home evenings, firesides, or for informal conversation in the home. The materials, including the "Marriage and Family Relations Participant's Study Guide" and the "Marriage and Family Relations Instructor's Manual," are available at Church distribution centers.

The flexibility of the course also extends to how it is taught, said Josiah Douglas, manager of curriculum materials in the Curriculum Department. "It's made to be taught in totality, or it's made to be taught in pieces."

The general instructions in the instructor's manual state: "Because Church members have different needs and come from different family situations, the course is divided into two parts. Part A, 'Strengthening Marriages,' is particularly helpful for married couples and for members who are preparing to be married. Part B, 'Parents' Responsibilities to Strengthen Families,' assists parents and grandparents in their efforts to 'bring [children] up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord' (Ephesians 6:4).

"Members who participate in the course should understand that they have the option to attend according to their individual needs. For example, a married couple without children may want to participate in part A but not in part B. A single parent may decide to participate only in the lessons in part B."

Brother Romney explained: "In addition to being centered on the scriptures and the words of the latter-day prophets and apostles, the Proclamation on the Family was a guiding influence on the development of the course."

For example, in the first lesson in Part A, "The Family Is Central to the Creator's Plan," by President Packer, is cited as the major resource. In lesson 13, "Teaching Gospel Principles to Children," a Feb. 11, 1999, letter from the First Presidency is quoted, among a number of sources.

It is hoped that individuals and families will find help in these resources for their challenges. Brother Douglas related that in preparing the materials over a period of about two years, interviews were held with couples and parents, who were asked to describe their greatest challenges.

In the Pellissippi Ward in Tennessee, Bishop Barnes is pleased with how members in these classes are learning to share solutions to these challenges with one another — and strengthening one another. "We invited people to the course. We tried to get a cross section of families where it was obvious the parents were very good as a couple and very good as parents and tried to mix them with people who are known by the bishopric to be struggling."

By doing this, he added, "we hoped that the teacher could provide structure, but that he or she would not have to provide every insight in the class."

So far so good, said Brother McCombs as the class nears completion of the "first cycle," meaning the course takes about four months to complete before another class — with new members — begins. "It gives them a four-month period to look at that whole relationship in depth, between each other [as husband and wife] and with the children."

Brother McCombs expressed appreciation for the support of Bishop Barnes for this course. He said the bishop and his wife have attended the course together and provided an example to the others that everyone can benefit from the course. All have challenges and here may be some solutions.

"There are some excellent quotes in the lessons," Brother McCombs added. "[Class members] can draw out little tidbits from that, especially if a husband and wife sit down and read those together and talk about them."

Sitting, quietly talking and problem-solving — are what Church leaders hope will be the result of the new Marriage and Family Relations course.

E-mail: julied@desnews.com