October 31, 2014

‘God is with you on this journey’: Marriage on Tap program strives to strengthen unions of Catholic couples

Steve and Therese Hartley stand in the narthex of St. Luke the Evangelist Church on Oct. 23. The couple is involved in the parish’s Marriage on Tap program, which aims to strengthen marriages among Catholic couples. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Steve and Therese Hartley stand in the narthex of St. Luke the Evangelist Church on Oct. 23. The couple is involved in the parish’s Marriage on Tap program, which aims to strengthen marriages among Catholic couples. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

(One in a continuing series of stories on marriage.)

By John Shaughnessy

Therese and Steve Hartley marvel at the gift their five children gave them to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary.

The gift started with Zach, Dan, Pete, Tommy and Catie pitching in to make dinner reservations for their parents at a nice restaurant, arranging for them to have the best table, and picking up the tab for the meal.

Then the Hartley children capped the celebration on Sept. 23 by sharing their thoughts about their parent’s landmark anniversary, including this post that 24-year-old Zach wrote on Facebook:

“Twenty-five years ago today, my parents committed themselves to each other for life. Through their commitment and love for each other—as well as their faith in God—my brothers, sister and I have been afforded a luxury becoming increasingly less common in today’s world. I’ve learned not to take for granted the loving and supportive home we were brought up in, and feel blessed for my family today. Love you, Mom and Dad! Congratulations!”

Naturally, the couple was touched.

“We told them that what they said and how they worked together meant so much to us,” Therese said. “We tend to think of marriage as just between two people. It hit home to me how important it is with our kids.”

That story about marriage, its connection to God, its importance to children, and the affirmation and support that can help sustain married couples is a timely one—especially considering the recent extraordinary meeting of the Synod of Bishops on marriage and family.

Those same qualities are also at the heart of a relatively new program that Therese Hartley and other members of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis are promoting to strengthen marriage among Catholic couples.

Called Marriage on Tap, the program borrows key concepts from Theology on Tap, an established program that includes a relaxed atmosphere, food and even a mug of beer or a glass of wine to strengthen the faith of young adults.

The St. Luke’s Marriage on Tap program is believed to be the first in the archdiocese.

Open to Catholics from all parishes, St. Luke’s Marriage on Tap program focuses on a monthly get-together at a restaurant for dinner, drinks, social time and a talk by a husband and wife who share their thoughts, challenges and successes in trying to strengthen their faith and their marriage.

“Part of the concept for Marriage on Tap is the idea of getting married couples together to support each other in a positive way,” Therese Hartley says.

“It’s a good approach for our Church to support the sacrament of marriage in the struggles that sometimes happen for couples before they can become permanently damaging. In a day and age when divorces are more common among Catholic couples than ever before, this type of program anticipates difficulties and supports the couple.”

In its second year, the program draws a range of married couples, from those who are newly married to those who have been married for decades, says Romona Camarata, chairperson of St. Luke’s Marriage on Tap.

“Whether it’s early in a marriage or whether a couple has been married a long time, the sustaining factor is that the connection you have with each other is bigger than you,” says Camarata, who has been married for 38 years to her husband, David James. “That’s the whole motivation of Marriage on Tap. It’s not just ‘date night.’ It’s to be in a room with other married couples—to breathe in hope, love and connection.”

The connection extends even further, Camarata stresses. There’s also the connection between the couple and God.

“God is with you on this journey,” she says. “You will be OK as a couple if you live in the presence and spirit of God.”

That focus on faith and its connection to marriage and family flows through a Marriage on Tap evening, which also includes a candlelight dinner, live music, the speakers, and one drink ticket per person—for $35 a couple.

Exercises for sharing and touches of humor are also part of the Marriage on Tap program—a program that St. Luke Parish has modeled after the one at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Carmel, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese.

“The first one David and I went to, I was starry-eyed and crying,” Camarata recalls. “Here you are in a room with other couples that are respectful to each other, and they’re appreciative that they have another half that fulfills them and guides them. That became very noticeable. I turned to David and said, ‘This is amazing.’ ”

Mike McLaughlin had a different expectation when he and his wife of 27 years, Ellen, attended their first Marriage on Tap dinner. The couple, who have four children ranging in age from 24 to 16, viewed it as a date.

“It was an excuse to go out and have dinner,” Mike says. “It was fun, and it became a social thing for us. Then it slowly morphed into something else.

“Now, it’s social, with a group of people who share a similar set of values. We’re a couple who have been married for 27 years. In society today, that’s unusual. Even in my family, there has been some divorce. Sometimes, it’s difficult to find people to talk about the same concerns and situations you face as a couple. You can do that with this group. Getting other couples’ perspective is a good thing.”

Conversations flow easily during the Marriage on Tap evenings, he says.

“You start talking about your kids and your family. It’s not a group that is going to shoot you down or make you feel nervous. So that helps to spur the conversation.”

The program has also made for interesting conversations on the drive home.

“We’ve talked about some of the things that have been brought up in the program on the way home,” he says. “[Marriage on Tap] has helped our communication. It makes you more engaged overall in your relationship.”

That’s the hope for the program, Camarata says. She also sees a certain symmetry in St. Luke’s most recent Marriage on Tap get-together—on Oct. 11—having occurred during the time when Pope Francis led a synod of bishops on marriage and the family.

“The pope and the bishops are allowing an opportunity for us to look at the importance of marriage,” she says. “The sanctity of marriage is a precious thing. It’s a gift from God.”

(For more information about the Marriage on Tap program at St. Luke Parish, or to sign up for the next get-together on Nov. 8, visit the parish website at www.stluke.org or call the parish office at 317-259-4373.)

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