Building relationships: Parishes incorporate sponsor couples into confirmation prep

Contributed
Sponsor couple Zach and Paige Keller pose for a picture with confirmation student Sarah Martin and her mother, and Anne Martin, earlier this year.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

It’s never too early for youths to observe models of healthy Christian marriages within the greater church community, said Marianne Agnoli, diocesan marriage and family life coordinator.

This year, teenagers from parishes in West Point, Farmington, Houghton and St. Paul had the opportunity to receive mentoring from married couples as part of confirmation preparation. The pilot program, organized by the parishes’ confirmation coordinator, Mike Linnenbrink, also incorporated large-group presentations on topics related to healthy relationships.

Agnoli said the idea for the pilot program originated last year during sponsor couple training/retraining workshops in Farmington and West Point. “During these trainings, we discussed the importance of understanding that marriage preparation begins at birth and how sponsor couples might be able to share their experiences of the vocation of marriage in age-appropriate ways to students in their parishes.”

Linnenbrink attended the workshop with his wife, Liz, a public school teacher who has seen teenagers get hurt due to a lack of understanding of what healthy relationships look like. A few months later, he participated in a diocesan pornography awareness event and began to consider the possibility of incorporating marriage prep, sponsor couples and pornography awareness into an enrichment experience for his eight confirmation students. Agnoli assisted with planning, as did Deacon Chris Kabat, who helps lead diocesan presentations on pornography.

Linnenbrink enlisted eight sets of sponsor couples to make the program possible at the four parishes he works with. The response was positive and sponsor couples eagerly jumped on board. “They all kind of saw the vision of where we were going with this.”

Zach Keller, who served with his wife, Paige, as a sponsor couple, said he thought it was a great opportunity to speak with teens about marriage and the Catholic Church and share personal testimony. “I could tell that this was something that Mike was really passionate about and we really wanted to help and be a part of it.” Paige echoed her husband’s sentiment. “Zach and I have been trying to get more involved with the church, but it’s been difficult with our busy schedule. We thought this short-term commitment would be a great way to help out.”

The pilot program consisted of three group presentations with students, parents and sponsor couples in attendance. Presentations covered topics such as vocations discernment, friendship, holiness, God’s role in a relationship and the detrimental effects of pornography. Between each presentation, students met with their sponsor couple to discuss questions related to the group presentation.

Confirmation student Grant Derr said, “I learned something from each of the large group sessions. I thought my sponsor couple was amazing and provided me with another view of the Catholic Church.”

Angie and Brad Box were Grant’s sponsor couple. Angie said, “We hope that Grant knows that he can always use us as tools in his team box any time he has questions or needs someone to talk to about his faith. We hope that he knows we are here to celebrate the good times and be with him in the sorrowful times, whenever we are needed.”

Linnenbrink, who is in the diaconate program, was encouraged by the connections he saw forming between confirmation students and families and the student’s sponsor couple. The students witnessed examples of adult Catholics living out their faith and now have additional people in the church community that they can trust and confide in.

Agnoli said this specific model of pairing a sponsor couple with a student preparing for confirmation might not be feasible for parishes where the ratio of students to sponsor couples is higher. However, she strongly encourages parishes to think creatively of ways to intentionally offer catechesis and faith-sharing opportunities on the topics of marriage as a vocation and pornography’s effects on relationships with self, others and God.

Zach Keller said he hoped the confirmation student he and Paige mentored, Sarah Martin, was able to take away “that everyone deserves to feel holiness in their life; beauty is from within and not what you see on TV and social media. I hope she learns what a good friend is and the qualities of a good friend and that that will lead her to a healthy and strong relationship down the road. I hope that she knows how great the Catholic Church is and it is something that she will want to be a part of her life forever.”

Sarah Martin said of the Kellers, “It was nice to see a younger couple being married and starting off. (The program) helped me see that there are a lot of people who love and support me. It also showed me that God is important in my life and will always be there for me.”

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