undreds of married couples in the Archdiocese of Detroit are praying together daily and experiencing a deeper intimacy with God and each other, thanks to a new parish-based program that teaches them how to pray comfortably and consistently.
Deacon Bob Ovies, former director of Detroit’s Family Life Office, and his wife, Kathy, developed the Together With Jesus Couple Prayer Series after speaking about their own daily prayer habit at a diocesan marriage event. They were bombarded by couples asking them how to get started praying together, and realized there was a hunger.
One year later, during Lent of 2003, they held the first six-week Couple Prayer program for 50 couples in their parish, St. Margaret of Scotland. Another 60 couples were put on a waiting list. The program spread quickly to other parishes and even Protestant churches. To date, more than 1,000 couples, ranging in age from early 20s to late 80s, have participated in the program.
“I felt like I stepped off the front porch and landed on a train,” says Deacon Ovies, who was caught off guard by the speed with which the program spread. “We’re 2,000 years into [Christianity] and we have really good Catholic-Christian couples who don’t pray with their spouse because they don’t know how, or they’re afraid of what their spouse will think of them.”
The Ovieses, who have been married 41 years, started praying together soon after the first of their six children, Mark, died of crib death. It was awkward for them at first, but they eventually developed a deeper prayer life and greater trust in each other.
Men, in particular, feel more awkward and inadequate if they reveal weaknesses or issues they’re dealing with at work. The Ovieses spent months designing the program to ease couples into a habit of daily prayer, where the intimacy begins to form.
“Couples have to establish the biggest common ground they’ve got — Jesus,” says Deacon Ovies. “We felt like the Lord was saying to us, ‘You help get people to come to Jesus, and I’ll take care of the rest.’”
A Way of Life
Ken and Maureen Soens started praying together for the first time in their 30-year marriage after attending Couple Prayer at St. Andrews in Rochester Hills, Mich. It made God the center of their marriage and their personal lives.
“Initially inviting God into your relationship is uncomfortable, but the more you do it, the more you realize God wants to be part of that relationship,” explains Ken, who admits he didn’t get much out of the series even though he signed them up. At the time he was dealing with health issues and a job loss, and didn’t feel God’s presence at work. The Soens persisted in nightly prayers and soon began sharing more of their thoughts. This sparked Ken to start praying with Scripture every morning. He eventually had a breakthrough: He felt God was responding.
Praying together becomes a way of life, says Maureen, who wishes they had prayed together years ago, more than just with their kids when they were little.
“As a couple you’re intimate in every other way — physically, emotionally. Prayer is one of the most intimate things you can do together because you’re vulnerable,” she says. “I didn’t realize we didn’t have that level of intimacy until we started to pray together.”
Jim and Mary Fisher of Our Lady of Sorrows parish in Farmington Hills, Mich., were married eight years and had three young children when they attended a Couple Prayer series in 2003. Their middle child, not yet three, could not hold down food and was not gaining weight. Doctors were unable to diagnose her condition.
Mary was growing in her faith, but was angry at God for not providing answers. Jim, an admitted “Sunday-only” Catholic, just wanted to wake up one day and find their daughter better. After Couple Prayer, things started to change.
“Once I found out how God works in our lives, I started praying that he just let our daughter be happy,” says Jim. “And that is what happened. She is the happiest one in our family.” Jim also developed a personal prayer life and started joining Mary in praying with the kids. He got more involved with the men in his parish, and now understands his role as spiritual leader of the family.
The Fishers, both in their mid-40s, raising three children under age 11, admit that some days are better than others. But they don’t give up. In fact they help facilitate Couple Prayer programs, which helps them stay involved.
“Sometimes I think it’s ridiculous that we’re doing it because we are so not perfect,” says Mary. “But it’s not about technique, it’s about a relationship.”
Angelita Fenker, who has a doctorate in spirituality and served three years on the U.S. Bishops’ Committee for Marriage and Family, says the Couple Prayer series is the best she has ever seen in 60 years of ministering in family spirituality. It not only gives practical suggestions that anyone can follow, she points out, but is spiritually deep and gets to the heart of the marital relationship.
“It’s not surprising that couples have to be shown what to do. How do you take things like ‘love is patient; love is kind’ out of the abstract and make it reality?” she says. “Christ cannot be the center of the family unless He is first the center of the parents’ lives.”
The Ovieses are encouraged by what has happened in the Detroit Archdiocese, as well as the requests coming from other parts of the country. They just completed a facilitator’s package for parishes and small groups and are completing a home edition for individual couples that will be available this summer.
With their pastor’s approval, Tony and Carol Aemmer are now in the process of launching the program at their parish, Our Lady of Perpetual Help in New Albany, Ind. Before becoming Catholic, Carol was Lutheran, and also belonged to Pentecostal and Assemblies of God churches, where prayer is more natural between married couples.
“I think it’s the one thing God wants all married couples to do because Satan is trying to tear at the root of our families and if he can keep husbands and wives at a distance, than their prayer might not be too powerful,” she says.
Aemmer sums up the need for couple prayer with a quote from Ecclesiastes 4:12 — “A three-ply cord is not easily broken.”
Barb Ernster writes from
The Couple Prayer Series is on the Web at coupleprayer.org