When Andrew and Terri Lyke of the Archdiocese of Chicago travel the country pitching their Arusi Network enrichment program for Catholic African American married couples, they sometimes meet resistance.
After all, say pastors and leaders in black parishes, they work in communities coping with economic distress, gang violence, the struggles of single parents and racism. They sometimes think marriage enrichment is a luxury item. Why spend precious church resources on just a segment of the parish community?
The Lykes, of course, beg to differ.
"Marriage ministry makes sense," says Andrew. "You get a lot of leverage with it." The Lykes operate under the theory that couples in dynamic marriages provide role models, are more likely to get involved in improving their neighborhoods and are less likely to produce children who get involved in gangs or drugs. Such couples are also more likely to get involved in parish ministries. "The beneficiary is the entire community," says Andrew.
The Lykes practice what they preach. The parents of two college-age adults, they have been married since 1975 and have been involved in marriage ministry since 1978. Long active in marriage ministry and in wider church concerns, Andrew Lyke is a former member of the National Advisory Council for the U.S. Catholic bishops and is currently coordinator for marriage ministry for the Archdiocese of Chicago. Formerly active in Marriage Encounter, the Lykes look back fondly on the positive impact that church renewal effort had on their relationship and on the friendships they developed with other couples.
Founded by a Spanish priest in the 1960s, Marriage Encounter sponsors weekend retreats and follow-up programs in which couples are encouraged to dialogue and share feelings with one another. While active in the Marriage Encounter community, and thankful about the support they received from it, the Lykes felt a need to tailor its principles to the struggles of African American couples.
So they founded the Arusi Network, which thousands of couples have experienced. Through weekend retreats or regular church gatherings, the Arusi Network offers a chance for spouses to share with each other about the joys and struggles of married life. The issues addressed are vitally important to African American couples, says Andrew.
Their focus, based on principles developed in the African American celebration of Kwanzaa, is based on the role of the couple in service to the community, as well as developing interpersonal skills necessary to form a strong marital bond. Sessions focus on concepts such as unity, self-determination, work and responsibility, creativity and faith. Prayer and social activities are also part of the Arusi Network, usually formed in small groups of parishes or in individual dioceses interested in supporting black Catholic couples. The program builds upon the oral traditions of the African American community, as couples are encouraged to tell the stories of their successes and problems. It also emphasizes the Catholic concept of marriage as sacrament.
In the process, couples experience positive reinforcement in their efforts to strengthen their marriages. The program, much like Marriage Encounter, is based upon the premise that "Couples draw strength from other couples as they mingle," says Andrew.
The goal is that married couples "be a witness to marriage" in a culture where, Andrew says, that very basic social institution is under attack. "We encourage couples to do more together as a couple, so they can be an example of married life," says Terri. Andrew adds that the role of example is vitally important, noting that more than 60 percent of African American children are born to single mothers and that marriage failure is at an all-time high in the black community.
"The data is quite scary," he says, noting that studies indicate that young black people, lacking role models of stable marriage, are more inclined than ever to eschew long-term commitments. That tendency, common in the wider American culture, is felt even more strongly among African Americans, says Andrew.
The couple notes that most Arusi Network programs start slowly, with only a handful of couples involved. Yet, in places such as the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, interest has increased as the program enjoys the fruits of positive word-of-mouth.
Still one particular concern is reaching husbands, who are frequently reluctant to join in marriage renewal efforts. Andrew says that too often men are seen as the problem in marriage. The Lykes prefer to see men as at least half the solution in the development of healthy relationships.
"When guys hear about marriage enrichment, they think, ‘someone is trying to fix me,' " he says. As their participation in the program increases, however, the Lykes say that men begin to feel a stake in the success of their marriages and family lives. They begin to realize that marriage is too important not to make it a top priority in their lives.
More information on the Lykes' ministry can be obtained by viewing their website at www.lyke2lyke.com. Their mailing address is PO Box 652, Matteson, IL 60443-0652.