Archived Sections, Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Congregations team up to provide in-depth marriage counseling

Suzanne and Barry Stoltenberg

Suzanne and Barry Stoltenberg

Unique consortium brings depth to a traditional ministry.

For over 20 years a pan-Lutheran group in Minne-apolis suburbs has been offering a marriage preparatory course that provides two significant benefits.
* It supplies about 10 hours of in-depth training for couples planning marriage — more time than most would receive in their own churches.
* It is a timesaver for pastors who otherwise would have to carve blocks of time out of already busy schedules.
Offered under the theme “Readiness for Marriage,” the workshops are scheduled four times a year — February, April, June and September.
Weekend schedules include two hours Friday evenings and five hours both Saturday and Sunday. These three-day events are led by Suzanne Stoltenberg and her husband, Barry, who’ve worked with the program nine years. Suzanne is a marriage and family therapist with Lutheran Counsel-ing and Family Services. Barry is an electrical engineer with a variety of leadership experiences in the community and church. They are devout Lutheran Chris-tians and members of St. Michael Lutheran Church in Bloomington.
The Stoltenbergs find their reward in seeing young people — as well as some in their 50s — use the tools and techniques they teach. One of the key points in the Stoltenbergs’ workshops is having a “game plan” for marriage.
Suzanne says some people think everybody knows what to do in a marriage. “Our workshops are designed to help couples keep their marriage alive, healthy and growing. Many people head into a marriage without setting goals — either verbalized or written. We feel a game plan should include personal, couple and family goals. We believe a game plan helps remove the rose-colored glasses many couples have.
“Marriages get into trouble if people think they can breeze through it. Marriages need regular maintenance,” she maintains.
Workshop programs ad-dress 14 different topics related to marriage — each with a Christian perspective. Subjects include communication, family of origin, spiritual issues, parenting, finances, sexuality and intimacy, and personality issues.
Couples still meet with their own pastors to plan the wedding service and cover other topics the home pastor may wish to emphasize, says Pastor Randy Sherren of Berea Lutheran Church in Richfield.
Berea and St. Michael were the original members of the consortium sponsoring the workshops. Other member congregations now include: Cross View, St. Peter’s, Lutheran Church of the Atonement and Advent Lutheran, all south suburban congregations.
Pastor Sherren feels the collaborative effort is a good example of how ELCA and LCMS congregations can meet the challenges of doing parish ministry today. He added, “It is a creative way to help pastors provide this service to their members within the confines of their crowded schedules. It would be nearly impossible for a pastor to provide 10 hours of counseling for each of the couples he marries.”
In addition to that, Pastor Sherren observed, “It allows couples freedom to discuss and learn in a setting they may perceive as less intimidating than [when] meeting with their pastor.”
For midsize to smaller parishes, the program is a cost-effective way of providing an in-depth counseling program. Congregations may join the consortium for $100. For couples from member congregations the cost is $75 for the workshop; for non-members, it’s $100. Pastor Sherren notes that the workshops offer a certificate to couples who will be obtaining a marriage license; when they take that certificate to the courthouse, they get a $50 deduction in the cost of a marriage license, an indication of the state’s belief in the value of premarital training. That discount cuts the cost of the workshop for members to just $25.
Though the originators of the program were Bloom-ington, Edina and Richfield churches, workshop enrollees now represent congregations in Osseo and Blaine, as well as Concordia University in St. Paul.
Current member congregations sponsoring the workshops are looking to expand that membership.
Questions about the program may be directed to Pastor Sherren at Berea Lutheran Church, 612-861-7121.