Parish Sponsors2018-11-02T10:34:27+00:00

Engaged – Sponsor Program

Building a Marriage Ministry in  your parish, using Sponsor Couples with the SmartLoving Online Engaged Course

A Context for this Initiative

Catholic Marriage Preparation in the 21st century is undergoing a radical re-orientation. Psychological sciences are developing excellent insights into what makes relationships work and the theological advances are equipping Catholics to more clearly and powerfully articulate the role of Matrimony in the mission of the Church. In addition, new technologies provide flexible and more effective ways for parishes to nurture the gift of Matrimony in all its stages within their community.

A Nuptial Ecclesiology

Jesus frequently referred to himself as the bridegroom and many of his parables made reference to the betrothal and nuptial traditions of the day. As a community of believers, we can only fully understand our identity in Christ when we internalize our call to be the bride of Jesus. This Nuptial Ecclesiology is more fully explored in St John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

Matrimonied couples (that is married couples properly formed in their vocation and growing throughout their life in faith and in love) are uniquely placed to help the church more fully understand our identity. They are an essential part of, and co-responsible with the clergy for, the mission of the Church.

Renewing and empowering the marriages in your parish brings benefits to the entire community as it helps couples grow more into their identity as prophetic leaders of the nuptial ecclesiology. Empowered couples are radical witnesses and effective workers for any number of apostolates in the parish and beyond.

The Marriage Catechumenate

Preparing for marriage is not just a ‘course’, it’s a period of formation that includes relationship skills training, spiritual direction, prayerful discernment and practical support by the community. That’s why the Church is moving away from intensives run by diocesan groups towards parish-based formation over several months. Online learning enables couples to access information presented by expert educators without leaving the parish, allowing parishes to manage and support the engaged easily and efficiently.

Providing a married sponsor couple to accompany each engaged couple not only helps the engaged couple forge relationships with active parishioners, it also helps them go deeper into the course content for a more effective formation that is grounded in faith (rather than simply good psychology).

In addition, the sponsor couple’s marriage is also renewed and strengthened through participation. Sponsor couples regularly report how much they benefited personally from the course and are grateful they were given the opportunity.

The SmartLoving Engaged -Sponsor program is an opportunity to form and motivate all your parishioners. It is not just about the best possible experience for the engaged. It is also about embedding into Catholic culture a priority for ongoing marriage formation throughout the life cycle.

Experience shows us that Sponsors finish the course with enthusiasm to do more. For many, it is the first concrete experience they have had of their marriage having a sacramental impact on others; they see and feel the responsiveness of the engaged couple to their stories of struggle and hope. It’s profoundly empowering and parish leaders should be ready to direct their energy into other parish initiatives.

We are looking forward to working with you to establish a new dynamism in your parish.

In faith and in love,

Francine & Byron Pirola
Coauthors, SmartLoving

Keeping the Costs Down  

Every engaged couple registration includes a ‘gift coupon’ for a sponsor couple, which means that there is no cost to the Sponsor Couple to access the course.  To view current prices, please visit here.

Clergy can access the course free. Go here.

NB: Workbooks can be self-printed from the PDF available in the course platform or ordered from our store at the time of purchasing the course. Significant savings are available when workbooks are ordered in bulk by a parish. Go here. 

Time Line

Stage by Stage

Stage 1: Foundation Team

Establish a foundation team to be your first Sponsor couples. They will then recruit and train second generation sponsors, and help establish a permanent, sustainable marriage ministry. 

  1. Review the course | If you haven’t reviewed the course yet, get your coupon code to create a free account (any clergy).  Go here
  2. Parish marketing  
    1. Bulletin advert (below) 
    2. Script for pulpit announcement (below) 
  3. Recruit 1-5 couples to become the foundation team by direct invitation (NB the criteria for foundation team members is different to the sponsor criteria as indicated in bold text) … 
    1. Validly married in the church at least 15 years 
    2. Preferably with children 
    3. Regular mass goers, both Catholic  
    4. Leadership presence and able to self-organise 
    5. Enthusiasm for the project 
  4. Briefing of foundation team by a SL team member, or use the online induction package available on the Sponsor page here    
  5. Order Resources   
    1. Workbooks (for use by sponsors and engaged).  
      1. Individual orders can be purchased at the time of buying the course 
      2. Bulk discounts available (min 10 couples) Order here   
      3. Or print workbooks inhouse using the PDF available in the course 
    2. Brochures:    
      1. Parish leader information (available from SL, or self-print, or download the digital ebook)   
      2. Sponsor brochure (available from SL, or self-print) 
      3. Engaged brochure (available from SL, or self-print) 
    3. Coupon codes for Engaged Couples | Optional, Order Here   

Parish Bulletin Notice  

New Parish Initiative: Starting out in Catholic marriage can be tricky. We want every engaged couple who prepares for marriage through our parish to be accompanied by a Sponsor Couple, a couple who will meet with them several times throughout their engagement to share their life experience and offer prayerful support. Using SmartLoving Online, Engaged and Sponsor couples simply work their way through the online course material, using the Discussion Questions to review each lesson together. The first stage is to establish a foundation team of married couples who will work with Fr N to pilot the program. Please keep this initiative in your prayers.  

Parish Announcement (by pp)  

Objectives: 

  • To alert the parish community of the initiative 
  • To establish that marriage formation is a life-long endeavor and that this is about enriching all marriages, not just the engaged. 

Suggested script – edit as required 

One of the priorities of this parish is supporting newly engaged couples to have a strong Catholic marriage. When a couple marries in the Catholic church they are required to do a formation course, the same way that anyone who prepares to receive a sacrament for the first time, participates in a preparation course. The course for engaged couples includes information on the Sacrament of Matrimony as well as relationship skills and spiritual formation activities. These courses are very effective in equipping couples to have stronger marriages. The preparation is not just a course, it’s a formation period called the “Marriage Catechumenate”.   

However, the need for formation, doesn’t end with the wedding. Just like we priests undertake regular formation and retraining, it’s important for married couples to do the same. We need your marriages to be vibrant and up to date so that you can be a more effective witness of God’s love in our community. 

We know family life is busy and it’s hard to get a time together to participate in a marriage retreat. So we are trialing a new system in this parish. 

We want every engaged couple to be supported by a parish sponsor couple who will accompany their engaged couple during their Marriage Catechumenate. There is no training required for the Sponsor couples, they simply do the sponsor course in parallel with the engaged, meeting up to discuss what they have learned and offer prayerful support to the engaged.

Both couples benefit and with SmartLoving Online, you can do the course any time, any where and at your own pace.  

Over the next few weeks, I will be approaching a number of married couples to join me in establishing a team to make this happen. Eventually I would like to see every married couple participate in some form of enrichment, and the online platform has lots of options, starting with the Engaged-Sponsor system. 

It’s a very exciting initiative and I am enthused about the possibilities for this course to be a source of nourishment to all the couples and families in our parish. If you think you might be interested in helping me get this started, talk to me after Mass or call me during the week. 

Stage 2: Engaged Couple Enrollment 

Once you have your Foundation Team, you are ready to start enrolling engaged couples. We strongly recommend that you don’t offer engaged couples options of other courses; simply state “in our parish we use the SmartLoving online course with a sponsor couple”.   

  1. First Contact with the Engaged/ booking the church  
    1. Explain and complete the required paperwork. 
    2. Register the couple for SL Online – Engaged. The couple can use their own credit card to enroll. If you have an all-inclusive fee structure, purchase coupon codes from SL or use a parish credit card at the eStore checkout.  
    3. Arrange a Sunday Mass time for them to receive their Betrothal blessing and meet some available sponsor couples.  
      1. If there are more than one Sponsor couple available, let the engaged couple choose their own sponsor couple – someone with whom they feel a natural rapport. This will facilitate the establishment of the friendship and gives the engaged a sense of ownership in the course. 
      2. Explain what will happen at the Mass and afterwards. 
    4. Make sure that they have Workbooks to be presented to them at the Betrothal blessing. These can either be: 
      1. purchased from the SL estore by the couple 
      2. purchased in bulk by the parish for use by sponsors and engaged 
      3. printed from the PDF download available in the online platform and bound by the parish administration 
  2. Sunday Mass – Betrothal Blessing 
    1. Parish Notice (below) 
    2. Script for Betrothal Blessing (below) 
    3. After Mass, introduce the engaged couple to some sponsors-in-waiting from which the engaged can choose one. These Sponsors will initially be your Foundation team. Second generation sponsors should be: 
      1. Validly married in the church at least 5 years, preferably with children 
      2. Regular mass goers, preferably both Catholic, but may include couples with mixed faiths provided that they both support the teachings of the Church.  
      3. Not a close relative or friend to the engaged. 
    4. Make sure that a Sponsor is chosen and they have everything they need to get started (exchange contact details, workbooks, SL account (or the coupon code issued with the Engaged couple enrollment to the Sponsor course)).

Bulletin Notice 

Betrothal  

Congratulations to N. and N. who are engaged to be married in [month 20XX].  

They will be participating in SmartLoving Online with a parish sponsor couple. This multimedia course offers dynamic lessons that combine Catholic theology with the science of relationships. Please keep N. and N., and their sponsors, in your prayers. 

Betrothal Blessing  

[Invite engaged couple to the sanctuary.] 

N.and N.are preparing for marriage in our SmartLoving program.  After Mass, I will be introducing them to some of our married parishioners who have signed up to become Sponsor Couples.  

All of us need God’s blessing throughout our life. When we are in formation to receive a Sacrament for the first time, we are in particular need of grace. Today, N. and N. begin their marriage catechumenate. Entering into Matrimony is a life-long commitment to die to self and to live for the other. We pray this blessing as they prepare to give themselves totally to each other in Matrimony on their wedding day.   

Blessing 

Let us pray, then, for God’s blessing to come upon this couple:
that as they await the day of their wedding,
they will grow in love and in mutual respect for one another;
that through prayer and the support of we, their faith community,
they will prepare themselves in mind and heart,
to freely vow their permanent, total and faithful self-gift on their wedding day. 

Heavenly Father, you call N. and N. to the communion of life and love
that binds the Christian family together.
We ask for your blessing to come down upon them.
Fill them with your grace as they begin their formation for Matrimony.  

[Present the workbooks] Bless these workbooks that will become a precious record of their journey together as N. and N. prepare themselves wholeheartedly for Matrimony.
May they serve as a reminder of their intention
to fully explore all that the Lord calls them to be
between now and their wedding day.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen  

Stage 3: Engaged – Sponsor Learning 

The course generally takes around 3 months to complete when lessons are spaced at 1 per week.  

  1. First Contact(usually after Mass after the Betrothal blessing)
    1. Sponsor & Engaged exchange contact details 
    2. They arrange a meeting time to discuss their insights from Lesson 1.  
    3. Sponsor & Engaged do Lesson 1 at home before this meeting, or they can meet to do the first lesson together. 
  2. Engaged – Sponsor Meetings 
    1. Below are the ‘ideal’ format for these meetings. However, parishes may decide to adjust these for pragmatic reasons. 
      1. Frequency: Ideally after each lesson (9 meetings) but if the engaged couple is not local, or the sponsors are especially busy, fewer meetings may be advised.   
      2. Location: Ideally in the sponsor’s home (domestic church) but may be in a parish facility, park or café. 
      3. Mode: Ideally face to face but may be by phone or VOIP such as Skype/Facetime/Hangouts, if the engaged couple lives remotely from the parish, or there are child care issues for the engaged. 
      4. Size: Ideally couple to couple but may be in groups (eg several engaged with one sponsor and/or with the priest) 
      5. Sponsor: Ideally a parish couple but could be a couple from a neighbouring parish, a member of the parish staff (eg sacraments minister, deacon) or a ‘half’ couple (husband or wife). 
  3. First Meeting:  Refer to the Sponsor Guide notes for tips on what to do during the meetings. The first meeting needs to include a discussion on confidentiality, the role of the sponsor and a plan for the remaining meetings. 
  4. Last Meeting: At end of the course, the Engaged couple completes the Assessment for the celebrant. 
  5. Sponsor Resources 
    1. SmartLoving is available for any support the sponsor couple might need via the online hub, email or phone. 
    2. Refer to the Sponsor Guide resources for additional tips and documentation. 

Stage 4: Celebrant Review 

  1. Certificate and Report 
    1. At the end of the course, the engaged couple completes an online ‘assessment’ of short answer questions. Their answers are formatted into a PDF document with their completion certificate on the front.  
    2. A copy is emailed to each fiance and, if they provide the email address, a copy is also emailed to the celebrant/supervisor.  
  2. Make sure you also have a copy of the Celebrant Guide (click to download) which: 
    1. outlines the key content of each lesson  
    2. provides an ‘ideal’ answer to each question 
    3. provides the learning objectives for each lesson 
    4. additional questions if the celebrant wishes to unpack the concepts further 
  3. Review their report before the meeting so that you can identify: 
    1. any areas where they seem confused or in error 
    2. their openness to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, learning Natural Fertility or becoming a Catholic 
    3. any potential issues with their ability to enter into Matrimony 
  4. Sponsor – Celebrant Meeting 
    1. The Sponsor Couple debriefs with the celebrant on their experience. 
    2. Celebrant notes any relevant items in the engaged couple’s case file. 
    3. The Celebrant may request the Sponsor couple to provide additional support to the couple such as wedding liturgy assistance. 
  5. Engaged – Celebrant Meeting 
    1. The Engaged couple meets with the celebrant (or supervisor if marrying overseas) to discuss their report  
    2. The Celebrant makes any additional arrangements such as: 
      1. Reconciliation for the couple 
      2. Wedding liturgy planning & rehearsal 
      3. Referral to other professional services such as Natural Fertility instruction, counselling, spiritual direction etc 
      4. Referral for RCIA if appropriate 

Stage 5: Immediate Pre-Wedding & Wedding 

  1. 1-2 Weeks Before the Wedding:  
    1. Parish invites Engaged and Sponsor couple to Sunday Mass to be blessed by the community. (see blessing below) 
    2. Sponsors (and possibly Engaged) give a short testimonial of their experience, inviting potential sponsors to make contact. (see notes below) 
    3. Bulletin Notice announcing the wedding. (see below) 
  2. Wedding Rehearsal 
    1. If the couple is receptive to Reconciliation or it has been some months since their last Reconciliation, it could be offered at the Wedding Rehearsal, or in the week before the wedding. 
  3. Wedding Day 
    1. While Sponsor couples should not feel obliged to attend the wedding, a parish presence at the church ceremony is a wonderful opportunity to extend the welcome to the extended family and friends.   
  4. Sponsor next steps 
    1. Sponsors may sponsor another couple, but ideally, a new sponsor couple will be sourced for each engaged couple. This helps renew the marriages of more couples in the parish and frees sponsor couples to take up other related ministries. It also makes the invitation to become a sponsor less onerous if the commitment is only for one engaged couple.
    2. Sponsors can continue contact with their engaged couple to encourage connection with the parish and to be available should the newlyweds wish to revisit any of the material from the course. 

Bulletin Notices 

Wedding 

Today we pray for N. and N. who will be married at NAME OF CHURCH on DATE at TIME. Special thanks to N. and N. who were their Sponsor couple. Please keep them in your prayers over the coming weeks as they prepare to commit their lives to each other in Matrimony. 

Become a Sponsor to an Engaged Couple 

Starting out in Catholic marriage can be tricky. We want every engaged couple who prepares for marriage through our parish to be accompanied by a Sponsor Couple, a couple who will meet with them several times throughout their engagement to share their life experience and offer prayerful support. Using SmartLoving Online, Engaged and Sponsors simply work their way through the online course material at home, then use the Discussion Questions to review each lesson together. No training required. Sponsors should be validly married in the Catholic Church at least 5 years and regular church goers. For more info, visit www.smartloving.org/sponsor  

Announcement & Prayer 

[Invite the engaged and sponsor couples to the sanctuary.] 

Next week N. and N. will marry at [Name of Church]. They have been part of our SmartLoving formation course and have spent the time of their engagement faithfully preparing themselves in mind and heart to commit themselves to each other for life. They have been accompanied by N. and N. who are their sponsor couple, sharing their wisdom and encouraging each other to grow deeper in their love and in their faith.  

Weddings give our community hope. It reminds us of the great promise of God: that he loves us with greater intensity and urgency than even the most passionately in-love couple.  

Today, we invite N. and N. (sponsors) to pray over N. and N. (engaged). The Response is: Lord help us to remain in your love. 

Prayer 

Sponsors: Heavenly Father, you call us into love and make us your beloved sons and daughters. We call upon you now with confidence. 

R/. Lord, help us to remain in your love. 

Sponsors: You sent us your divine son, Jesus, to be our bridegroom, and to call us into communion.  

R/. Lord, help us to remain in your love. 

Sponsors: You pour out your grace on us that we might grow in faith and in love.  

R/. Lord, help us to remain in your love. 

Sponsors: You call N. and N. to the communion of life and love that binds the Christian family together, mind and heart.  

R/. Lord, help us to remain in your love. 

Sponsors: Lord God, be with N. and N. over the coming weeks
as they walk towards their wedding day and in the weeks that follow.
May they know your love and draw strength from your grace.
Bless them with deep faith that in their joys and sorrows
they might always remain in your love. Amen. 

Priest: And may Almighty God bless you etc 

[Invite couples to give a short testimonial max 1 min each] 

[Couples return to seats, and priest invites any couples interested in learning more to approach them after Mass] 

Testimonial Notes 

Your testimonial should focus on how you have personally benefited from the course. Keep your words under 200 (~1 minute) and simply answer the question:
What is one insight from the course that you have found particularly relevant. How has it impacted your relationship? 

Stage 6: Review/Consolidation 

  1. End of Review Period 
    1. At the end of a suitable period (eg 1 year), all couples (sponsors, newlyweds/engaged) and clergy gather to celebrate and share fellowship. 
    2. Hospitality is important for building community so always include food and drink of some kind (eg wine & cheese, supper, coffee/tea & cake, pot luck dinner etc). 
    3. Open and close with a simple prayer. 
    4. Invite couples to share on the question: What is one insight from the course that you have found particularly relevant. How has it impacted your relationship? 
    5. Review the experience of couples: What worked well? What could be improved?  
    6. If the group is large (eg more than ten couples) it might be better to break into smaller groups for sharing, then have a spokesperson report to the large group. 
  2. Sustainability – the M-Team 
    1. Establish a coordinating team of 2-3 couples (The M-Team) to plan and execute initiatives for marriage and family in the parish. 
      1. Marriage Prep: Engaged-Sponsors program (help recruit, induct & support sponsor couples) 
      2. Celebration of milestone anniversaries 
      3. Special gatherings (eg St Valentine’s day) 
      4. Regular gatherings of couples to continue the growth 
      5. Promoting marriage enrichment initiatives in the diocese 
      6. Building a support network with counselling referrals 
    2. Put a time frame for commitment (eg 2 years) and plan for a staged rollover so that the M-Team does not stagnate.