Basilica seminar addresses issues particular to second marriages, blended families

| September 12, 2018 | 0 Comments

Remarriage preparationRemarriage preparation

What’s the difference between a first marriage and second marriage? More than one might think, said Nancy Keller, the director of marriage ministries at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis and a facilitator, along with her husband, Ron Keller, of the Basilica’s Remarriage/Blended Family Seminar. The Kellers launched the ministry more than 15 years ago to help people who are entering or in second marriages, with or without children, reflect on their feelings and common remarriage issues, and gain tools for addressing them. The informal, three-hour seminar is offered once or twice a year, with the next one scheduled Sept. 26.

Nancy Keller, a professional marriage counselor for more than 40 years, answered The Catholic Spirit’s questions by email. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q. What are some of the biggest challenges remarried couples or blended families face?

A. So many challenges: How to grow a strong marriage with a ready-made family that demands attention, time and energy right from the start; how to be a good step-parent and build a relationship with someone else’s children that did not ask for you in their lives; how to deal with complicated custody issues and former spouses who often are hostile; where to live that does not feel like “her house” or “his house,” [ut] “our” house — and so many more.

Q. How did you identify the need for a seminar specifically for remarriage?

A. Because of the high divorce rate and the even higher number of divorced people who marry again after a divorce, statistics tell us that there are many couples in our churches who are planning or are already in a remarriage. While churches have traditionally offered marriage preparation for engaged couples, not many offer any help for couples planning to remarry. This is what this seminar is designed to do.

Q. What topics does the seminar cover?

A. The seminar covers topics such as healing and closure from a past relationship or marriage; how to make your new relationship the priority; and dealing with finances, former spouses, custody issues, step-parenting, housing decisions and loyalty struggles. Most important, [the seminar addresses] making God the center of the new relationship, and the encouragement, direction and support that this can make.

Q. Why is it important for the Basilica to offer this seminar?

A. The couples who attend find a room of people who share their situation, struggles, fears and feelings. Many of the issues couples face in a blended family are never considered by others, and therefore there is very little understanding and support for these families. This seminar gives them a place to belong with others who experience what they do. [Attendees make] near-instant connections.

Q. Many Catholics who are divorced say they have felt unwelcome in the Church, and some mistakenly think divorce means they’re excommunicated, or cut off from Church life. Does this seminar address that?

A. We certainly try to make all feel welcome and part of the Church. We do talk about the Church’s teaching on marriage and divorce, dispel some myths and offer follow-up help to anyone who needs it.

Q. In his 2016 apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia,” Pope Francis called divorce an “evil,” but he also called for more compassion and “accompaniment” in the Church for divorced and remarried Catholics and blended families, including those that are “participat[ing] in the Church’s life in an imperfect manner,” meaning that they are civilly remarried without an annulment. How does this seminar reflect the pope’s instructions?

A. All are accepted in this seminar, and we hope that through sharing appropriate Scripture and prayer that we weave in throughout, that no one feels judged, but rather [attendees recognize] that we are all imperfect yet loved by God. Our goal is always to draw the participants closer to our loving God, who shows mercy to all, and to make even those who have drifted from the Church feel that this is a safe and supportive place to return.

Q. What role does annulment play in the seminar?

A. We inform participants that we have staff who work with the annulment process, educating those who may want to learn more about it. We can help someone begin that process if they choose, but we don’t take much time within the seminar to talk in detail about it. Participants also receive and work together with a workbook. We alert couples to the many topics covered in the book so they can read about topics that are not covered in the seminar because of time restraints, or because some topics are more important to only some of the couples. The annulment process is one of those topics in the book.

Q. Does the seminar also address remarriage for people who have been widowed? If so, are their remarriage needs different from those of people who have been divorced?

A. It does include them. They have some different issues and some the same.

Q. What feedback do you receive from participants?

A. Participants are always more than positive about their experience at the seminar. Again, spending time with other couples in similar situations, with similar issues, concerns and challenges makes all feel comfortable, understood and accepted.

Q. Why would you encourage a remarried couple to attend the seminar?

A. A remarriage or blended family has many more challenges than most couples anticipate, and it is completely different than a first marriage in so many ways. When you have found new love, it is easy to expect it will “all work out.” The divorce rates for remarriages are, unfortunately, higher than for first marriages. We think the main reason for this is being unprepared for the unique issues, feelings and situations couples will face. Knowing what to expect and having strategies for dealing with what comes along keeps couples from feeling like there must be something wrong with them, or that they must have made a mistake in trying marriage again. We have a God of second chances, and with God’s help and some good education and support, a remarriage or blended family can be a wonderful adventure and a great joy.

The Basilica of St. Mary’s next Remarriage/Blended Family Seminar will be 6–9 p.m. Sept. 26 at the Basilica’s Reardon Rectory, 88 17th St. N., Minneapolis. Cost is $25 per couple. Attendees need not be Basilica parishioners. For more information or to register, visit mary.org.

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