PREMARITAL GUIDANCE IN THE SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTIST CHURCH

In 1977, D. W. Holbrook and Betty Holbrook, directors of the denomination's new Home and Family Service, organized the Metro Washington Family Life Council, an organization which spanned three conferences--Allegheny East, Chesapeake and Potomac. The Council, with a number of pastors and lay-family professionals as members from the Greater Washington, D.C. area, flourished for several years and undertook a number of projects encouraged by the Holbrooks. One of these projects was the preparation of premarital guidance materials for the Seventh-day Adventist church.

Formation of a Premarital Guidance Taskforce

A task force was assembled including J. L. Butler, Chaplain and Public Relations Director of Hadley Memorial Hospital in Washington, D.C.; Ron Flowers, pastor of the Capital Memorial Seventh-day Adventist Church in Washington, D.C. who served as chairman; Karen Flowers, homemaker and editorial secretary for Insight magazine; Jack E. Gibbons, R.N., M.S., Lieutenant-Colonel in the United States Nurse Corps and Chief of Nursing Education and Training Service at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.; Nancy Gibbons, homemaker, and Periodical Department supervisor at the Review and Herald Publishing Association, Washington, D.C.; Alberta Mazat, Chairperson of the Department of Marriage and Family Counseling at Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, California; Lennox Westney, M.D., Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the College of Medicine, Washington, D.C.; and Ouida Westney, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Human Development in School of Human Ecology at Howard University, Washington, D.C.

The group worked for nearly two years in the preparation of the manuscript. This kit of materials, which included a three-ring binder with three cassettes, included such components as the Marriage Prediction Schedule by Ernest Burgess and resource materials for seven sessions with a couple, six to be done premaritally and one after the wedding. This Seventh-day Adventist approach drew upon the insights of well-known Christian author and counselor H. Norman Wright, who had lectured at the Family Life Workshop at Andrews University in 1977. It also took into consideration the early 1970's research of Dr. Claude Gulder and Edward Bader in Toronto which indicated that, although the premarital period was not a very teachable moment for couples, through carefully-designed approaches which encouraged the couple to discuss with each other a variety of issues, some helpful premarriage preparation could come about.

Publication of Marriage Education; Togetherness, Oneness, Joy.

The SDA material, Marriage Education , put a heavy emphasis on the use of a special questionnaire called the "Preparing for Marriage Inventory." This ten-part questionnaire covered the topics of selecting a life partner, values and goals, love and feelings, religious beliefs and expectations, roles and responsibilities in marriage, communication and conflict resolution, finances, in-laws, sexuality and family planning, health and habits. It not only gave the individual couples a tremendous amount of insight into each other, but it also provided dialog material for the couple in the presence of the pastor/counselor during the course of the sessions. In addition, the package provided a large number of exercises and assignments which the couples were to complete between sessions. Additional resources were included--some short essays for reading, recommended selections of readings from Spirit of Prophecy books and other popular Christian books on marriage and related issues.

Cassette tapes were included for use by the pastor/counselor, and for loan to the couple. These tapes augmented the other assignments that were given to the couple. Someone estimated that if a couple worked on all the exercises and attended all the sessions as recommended in the package that they would have about 125 hours invested in this premarital guidance. The intent has never been to require couples to give this much time, rather what has been provided here is some resource material which could be used by pastors or others engaged in helping couples get ready for marriage, material that could be tailored to suit the individual needs of the couples.

A companion notebook, Togetherness, Oneness, Joy , was developed simultaneously for use as a workbook by couples. It includes segments from the Marriage Education notebook with the exercises and assignments included in such a way as to provide a workbook for the couples.

Annual Council Action on Premarital Guidance

In 1984 the Annual Council of the Seventh-day Adventist church took an action to adopt a plan for premarriage education:

Voted, to adopt the following plan for premarriage education: That Seventh-day Adventist ministers provide premarital guidance to couples requesting to be married. Where possible, this premarriage preparation of the couple should consist of several counseling sessions conducted by the minister who is to perform the service or by another qualified individual. For a suggested method of approach to such premarital guidance, as well as material to share with couples for self-study in instances where personal pastoral guidance is not possible, the General Conference Home and Family Service has prepared Marriage Education, a program which includes study guides, cassettes, background reading material, tests and other pertinent information. (245-84NG)

1985 Revision: Preparing for Marriage

Marriage Education went through three printings for a total of about 1500 copies sold in the English language in the early '80s. Encouraging responses came in as did reports of aspects that needed strengthening. In 1985, the material was revised, expanded and published as Preparing for Marriage . The "Preparing for Marriage Inventory" was enlarged to include family of origin material and also preparation for remarriage. About 20% of the material from Marriage Education was revised based on input from field usage and some additions were made. Four cassettes replaced the original series of three. Togetherness, Oneness, Joy was also revised and updated to correspond with Preparing for Marriage.

Premarital Guidance Efforts Throughout the SDA World Field

The General Conference action of 1984 stimulated wide interest in premarital guidance. Marriage Education was translated into Spanish as Educaci�n para el Matrimonio , and Togetherness, Oneness, Joy as Compa�erismo Uni�n Gozo . A French translation of Preparing for Marriage by Roland and Josette Buyck in the Franco-Belgian Union of the Euro-Africa Division entitled Preparation Au Mariage was completed in 1991. Additional translations include Norwegian, Polish (1999) and a partial translation into Russian (1997).

The South Pacific Division produced a premarital guidance manual titled Beginnings in 1987.

Reaffirmation of the Importance of Premarital Guidance

Department of Church Ministries. In 1989, the Department of Church Ministries reaffirmed for GC Administration the following responsibilities of its Family Ministries section regarding premarital guidance. It stated that GCCM had the role of "preparation of premarital guidance materials as support for the Annual Council action mandating the availability of premarital education to all couples married by an SDA pastor. Since this is yet to become a reality worldwide, GCCM sees its role as:

  1. Providing division leadership with a biblical and Spirit of Prophecy base for this action;

  2. Assisting division leadership to keep abreast of current research findings regarding the most effective methodologies;

  3. Assisting division in the development of culturally adapted premarital materials for use in their unions by providing a model program which suggests areas to be covered and utilizes methods which have proven effective.

  4. Assisting divisions as requested in the training of leaders who will train pastors to prepare couples for marriage."

Department of Family Ministries World Advisory, 1996. In its first world advisory since becoming a separate department, the Department of Family Ministries took the following action in 1996:

96FMWA-8 Premarital Guidance. Whereas, the 1984 Annual Council (245-84NG) voted, "to adopt the following plan for premarriage education: That Seventh-day Adventist ministers provide premarital guidance to couples requesting to be married. Where possible, this premarriage preparation of the couple should consist of several counseling sessions conducted by the minister who is to perform the service or by another qualified individual. For a suggested method of approach to such premarital guidance, as well as material to share with couples for self-study in instances where personal pastoral guidance is not possible, the General Conference Home and Family Service has prepared Marriage Education, a program which includes study guides, cassettes, background reading material, tests and other pertinent information," VOTED, to 1) reaffirm our commitment to the spirit of the General Conference call for premarital guidance (AC 1984, 245-84NG), and 2) to implement the practice of premarital guidance in each division by:

  1. Affirming the importance of premarital guidance to pastors and members;

  2. Emphasizing the value of an approach which allows couples to explore various aspects of their relationship through an experiential learning process.

  3. Providing premarital guidance resources and leadership training in the use of these resources to pastors and qualified lay leaders;

  4. Developing suitable materials for self-study by couples.

  5. Requesting the Ministerial Association to assist in the process of enabling pastors and pastors-in-training to provide premarital preparation.

Premarital Guidance Taskforce

From April 7-9, 1999 a Premarital Guidance Taskforce was convened at the General Conference World Headquarters office in Silver Spring, Maryland by the Department of Family Ministries in cooperation with Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries, the Ministerial Association, the Department of Education and the Youth Department. This taskforce reviewed the progress of work in the field of premarital guidance among Adventists and among other Christian groups. A review of literature on premarital guidance research was presented and recommendations were made for advancing this important ministry throughout the world field through cooperative efforts among the several departments involved.

Ministerial Association Video

In 1999, the General Conference Ministerial Association released How to Prepare Couples for Marriage , a one-hour leadership development video as part of its Seminar in a Box series. Script for this video is included as Preparing Couples for Marriage."

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