By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Six couples from different parishes participated in the first-ever virtual marriage preparation program of the Diocese of Davenport. COVID-19 pandemic precautions made the video conferencing program on Zoom the best possible option to in-person presentations, said Marianne Agnoli, diocesan coordinator of Marriage and Family Life.
The couples who responded to questions from The Catholic Messenger said they appreciated the virtual program for its content and speakers. However, that format did not lend itself to the back and forth interaction with other couples that an in-person program would have fostered, they said.
Presenters engaged the couples in topics covered in “For Better & For Ever,” a resource for couples preparing for Christian marriage. Topics covered such areas as family of origin and traditions, marital communication, finances, intimacy and parenthood and marital spirituality.
“We actually really liked that it was online through Zoom,” said Jillian Doyle, 23, and her fiancé William Riggan, 28, who plan to marry Dec. 18 at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Coralville. “It was nice to have the privacy while talking through some of the discussion questions. We also really enjoyed taking the quiz on the Love Languages.”
However, people may have been less interactive because of the online format, Jillian said. “I don’t think as many people asked questions as they would’ve if we were in a group in person.”
Some of the most important tools the couple took away from the program: “Communication is very important in marriage and praying as a couple (even if it’s awkward at first) is very beneficial.”
Bryton Lumberg, and her fiancé, Gavin Parker, both 26, plan to marry Oct. 17 at St. Thomas More in Coralville. “It was good to have the time to have important discussions,” Bryton said of the virtual marriage prep program. “It’s helpful to have a set day/time to have pre-marital conversations and the (program) was well-guided.”
Interactions with speakers proved to be the most challenging aspect of the virtual format. “They were open to answering questions and talking with couples but the participants may have been a little more shy through this format versus in-person,” Bryton said. “Some speakers had technical difficulties with gallery view so it was probably difficult to give a presentation without nonverbal cues from the audience.”
The most important ideas coming out of the program pertained to future church involvement, in Bryton’s opinion. “It can be an awkward topic for some couples, especially interfaith couples, to discuss. This allowed a time to discuss what each person’s idea of faith priorities is. Even in the times of COVID, it pointed out different ways to stay involved.”
Devin Van Wyk, 30, and his fiancé, Gabrielle Breja, plan to marry Oct. 24 at St. Mary Catholic Church in Pella. Devin said he thought the video conference went smoothly and was well organized for the first time using Zoom. “I really appreciate the multiple speakers for different chapters; (it) gives a different perspective,” he wrote in an email. The workbook was helpful and provided an opportunity for a couple to ask serious questions about each other, he said. He also appreciated other couples’ involvement in the virtual marriage prep program.
Derek Hobbs, 25, and Lauren Cavin, 24, plan to marry Oct. 16 at St. Mary Catholic Church in Williamsburg and appreciated “the time given to us as couples to talk through questions” during the virtual marriage prep program. The most challenging aspect of participating in the virtual program was being able to stay focused for a long amount of time. The couple took away from the training “that it is important to talk through these topics with your fiancé before getting married to plan for a successful marriage.”
Agnoli said that the diocese has eliminated all in-person gathered preparation workshops until further notice because of the pandemic. The Zoom video conferencing workshops are one alternative for couples preparing for marriage. Another, highly encouraged option is for engaged couples to work one on one with a trained parish Sponsor Couple, she said. “These days most of the couples are meeting via Zoom or at a safe distance outdoors.” Under special circumstances, such as pandemics, couples may also register for a diocesan-approved online preparation program.
(For more information about Marriage Preparation in the Diocese of Davenport, visit the website https://www.davenportdiocese.org/marriage-preparation or send an email to Marianne Agnoli at agnolim@ davenportdiocese.org.)