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Trinity, 2015: Mark Regis

(Supplied Photo)

In his ministry as associate pastor at St Paul’s Bloor Street in Toronto, Mark Regis helps prepare couples for marriage. Sue Careless asks what he has learned about marriage from the course he leads and from his own 8-year marriage to Ruthia.


TAP: What is your role in preparing couples for marriage?

MR: There is a four-stage process:

I meet with the couple interested in having their wedding at St. Paul’s to discuss the process, make a pastoral contact, gather an initial sense of the couple and pray for them.

They participate in our five-week Alpha marriage preparation course, at which I facilitate and act as a pastoral contact if any needs arise during the evening. It’s a DVD & couple-conversation based curriculum, and I do very little instruction. I welcome people and set the stage for the theme of the night, often offering some of my own personal experiences in marriage as they relate to the theme.

They participate in our five-week Intro to Jesus course, along with other members or new members of St. Paul’s. This course is a core way in which people are welcomed into the community at St. Paul’s, as well as being brought into a discussion-based approach to encountering Jesus.

They fill out the FOCCUS questionnaire – an inventory of about 170 questions,  which is helpful in further articulating the character of the couple’s relationship. I facilitate a discussion with each couple based on the results of the inventory. We have three meetings. In the first I give an overview of the inventory and explain how to fill it out. During the second we study the results of the assessment, taking a broad look at some key areas of concern or importance in the couple’s relationship as it pertains to their future marriage. In the last meeting we dive into particulars. We also discuss the wedding vows and explore a larger vision for biblical marriage.

TAP: Was your theological training in pastoral counselling?

MR: I did do a PCE (Pastoral Counseling Education) unit (a full-year program) which included over a hundred hours of individual and couple counseling, and completed several elective courses in counseling for my Master of Divinity.

TAP: How many times have you taught the marriage prep course? 

MR: Six times – all at St. Paul’s.

TAP: How often does St Paul’s offer the course?

MR: In the past couple of years we’ve moved from offering it twice per year to three times.

TAP: How many couples attend?

MR: Generally people take the course several months in advance of a summer wedding so the Fall course numbers are generally the highest with about 8-12 couples.

TAP: Do couples come from other churches? 

MR: Yes – through referral, or the internet search engine.

TAP: Does Ruthia also lead?

MR: She is not involved in the course at this time – having our little ones makes team effort difficult, especially given that the courses take place in the evening.

TAP: How is a typical evening structured?

MR: Couples arrive at 7pm to a dimly lit, romantic atmosphere with round tables and soft music.

I then introduce the evening & theme, reminding them that this is a time to enjoy one another and grow in their relationship without group discussion.

A great meal prepared by our St. Paul’s chef is provided, and for 30 minutes the couples eat and chat together. A highlight for all (me included).

7:30pm – the DVD material commences with couples watching together. There is a pause in the material where couples move off to a private corner of the room to discuss the relevant questions related to the video. They return to their seats at the round tables to watch another segment, and so on.

About 8:15 dessert is brought out, which is a welcome break.

9pm wrap up, with me tying together some of the themes and mentioning the following week’s theme.

I stay for conversation or to discuss any issues that arise.

TAP: What area of the course seems to be particularly appreciated?

MR: The meal! But more than that, the way in which the material, the layout of the room, the emphasis on the couple all help to open channels for communication, exploring key areas of relational life that may lie unexplored or feared. In several instances, openness about central areas of difficulty was shared between the couple and with me. Also, the format allows for encouragement in areas that are already strong.

TAP: How does the FOCCUS questionnaire work? Is it helpful?

MR: The FOCCUS questionnaire is broken down into as many as 17 subgroups that discern a particular aspect of the couple’s relationship. This inventory is helpful in further articulating the character of the couple’s relationship, revealing areas for growth and celebrating strengths. This is not a pass/fail exercise but one which encourages communication and discernment between the couple. I am simply there to facilitate a discussion between the couple based on the results of the inventory, offering observations, encouragement, and ways to interpret the results.

TAP: How many couples decide not to go through with a wedding after taking the course?

MR: None in my experience, other than one in which a spouse, sadly, died. My predecessor had experience with couples not going through with marriage.

TAP: Do the course graduates have any sort of reunion -- say a year later – after their weddings?

MR: There is no organized reunion, but I make it my aim to stay in touch with the couples. Recently we ran a feature in our newsletter on couples who were married, checking up on them to see what they’ve learned, what surprised them, how community life at St. Paul’s has been helpful, etc. This is an area that could use some further development at the church.

TAP: Have you also led the Alpha marriage enrichment course?

MR: We haven’t offered the course in over two years. I’ve tried to launch it twice but people haven’t taken to it. There is still a need for marriage enrichment (of course!) and I have worked with couples ad hoc, but am discerning how best to encourage/equip folks for healthier marriages.

TAP: Do you also do any private marriage counseling?

MR: I have worked with couples in an abbreviated way as my schedule doesn’t allow for any lengthy work. I have used the FOCCUS questionnaire as a tool for a married couple to great effect.

TAP: Which two or three books on marriage would you highly recommend?

MR: To be honest, I haven’t read many books on marriage – mostly articles. But I would certainly recommend these:

The Marriage Book – by Nicky & Sila Lee. They are the couple that developed the Pre-Marriage Alpha course, as well as the corresponding Marriage Course.

Sacred Marriage – by Gary Thomas. A helpful way to develop a spiritual and biblical vision for marriage.

The Five Love Languages – by Gary Chapman. Time-tested findings into what makes spouses experience love and understanding most effectively and satisfyingly.

TAP: What are the three best pieces of advice you have gleaned from the course?

MR: 1.) Communication is a habit! Intentional practicing of listening and sharing is key.

2.) Conflict is often rooted in family of origin patterns – growing in understanding of each other’s early formation helps to depersonalize areas that are hot-button issues.

3.) Take time to keep the spark of your relationship alive. Again, it’s a practice, a habit that doesn’t happen by itself.

TAP: What was the best advice you were given before your own marriage about the wedding and marriage?

MR: Take the time to focus on one another and our relationship in the process of preparing for the wedding and during the wedding ceremony itself. As for the marriage – this may sound a bit obvious – but the best advice I got was: “You only have one. One!”  This helped both of us focus on one another and revisit our promise to continue to love one another more openly, honestly and deeply as the years go on. It’s a process.

TAP: What three myths do engaged couples have about weddings and marriage?

MR: Often that it’s justifiable to spend an inordinate amount of time prepping for the marriage day, and not for the lifetime that follows.

Being in love can provide a future template for life that doesn’t correspond to real married life! The experience of being in love is great, as a gift from God, but it isn’t self-perpetuating.

This isn’t really a myth, but rather something unaccounted for: the degree to which children (if the couple plans for them) dramatically shift the dynamics of married life. In my experience, it is children more than being married that is a real game changer, as a couple.

TAP: What did you learn from your own parents about marriage?

Stick it out no matter what.

• Support one another in a shared goal of family.

•  Communicate! Work on family of origin issues together.

•  Love your children deeply, and raise them with structure.

• Pray with your family and provide kids with opportunities to explore their faith and learn about Jesus.

• Realize that married life is the real hub of family, and not the couple’s parents or other extended family.

• Share financial resources and concerns.

• Recognize that intercultural marriages have their own challenges.

TAP: Tell me about some of the challenges your parents faced in an interracial marriage.

As an interracial couple (Black & White), they endured more challenges than I do with Ruthia. In the 1970s it was still not common or popular to marry outside a cultural or racial group and therefore there wasn’t a lot of experience or, in some cases, support to draw from. Cultures weren’t used to ‘mixing’ let alone marrying into one another. So although my parents had very similar core values, which included a high honouring of marriage, they went about it together in different ways because they were formed by different cultural narratives. They love one another and remain together, having built a strong bond over 40 years. But I feel they had to ‘write their own story’ with respect to interracial marriage, especially when so many tended to fail.

TAP: What challenges have you and Ruthia faced in your own interracial marriage?

MR: By the time Ruthia and I met in cosmopolitan Toronto, thankfully it wasn’t really a big deal to be with one another. Of course from my point of view, being mixed-race, I didn’t have a choice but to have an inter-racial marriage! With Ruthia, there was a different story as her family and church community were Korean and there was a natural expectation that she would keep that going into the future – culture & history, language, food, values, etc. She didn’t come to really appreciate the significance of this until well after we were married and had kids [two daughters aged seven and five].

What helped make sense of all this was an even deeper identity as being first children of God, and not solely of one’s culture. The challenges of our relationship have much to do with semantics & communication, similar to my parents, around the same core desires and values for life. But I also believe that there are massive levels of diversity within any married relationship, being distinctly formed by one’s family of origin and early experiences. The longer Ruthia and I are married, the more importance we place on a shared prayerful relationship with God as the One who takes our vulnerabilities, proclivities, histories, our brokenness, and shapes them into his likeness through the life of our marriage. That’s the type of shared culture that we believe is most important for us and our children.    TAP 


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