During the first few years at my current congregation, I used to be in charge of Small Group Ministry. I trained leaders and thought of small group ideas, and actually led some small groups, too.
One of my favorite small group ideas was a marriage enrichment group for couples called "Empowering Couples." I think I had three smalls groups of couples that met about six times, using a prepared book that listed couples strengths and ways you could strengthen your relationship in about twelve different areas. At the first meeting, the couples always chose the five areas they most wanted to work on.
I say it was my favorite small group idea, but it was hard to get couples to join. When I finally got a group together, we had a good time, but I think people were nervous about trusting each other at first.
One fall, I had just two couples who were committed to meet together. A man from the congregation called up one day, and asked if he and his partner could attend.
I had to admit (to myself), I hadn't even considered the idea. I knew that this man was in a committed same-gender relationship, although his partner attended a different congregation. (Like many couples, he preferred traditional worship, but his partner liked a more contemporary service.) But it never occurred to me that they might want to, you know, work on their relationship, make it better. It had never occurred to me that they might care about things like communication, conflict resolution, money, role relationships, spiritual values.
I told him that because the numbers were few, and it was important for the couples to be able to trust and share with one another, I would have to ask them how they would feel if he and his partner joined the group. He said he understood that, and asked about the different components of the program.
I may have said something dumb, but I'm pretty sure he forgave me. I'm thinking that I probably said something about being surprised that they would be interested in the group, to which he replied, "Well, you know, we're not that different."
In other words, we have fights, want to communicate better, share our faith, bring our work home, try to figure out who does what in the home, care for children and pets, navigate family relationships, fight about money: all of the things that all couples do.
"We're not that different."
In the end both couples said it would be okay for this man and his partner to attend. But, in the meantime, they both decided to buy the books and do the study on their own. I suppose they didn't want to make an issue of it then. They just wanted to improve their own relationship, and I hope this book helped them.
They are still together.
And now, because my state has legalized same gender marriage, they are getting married, although not in my church.
I wish them well. Because I know that marriage is a hard work, but it is a blessing to have someone by your side, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do you part. It's hard work, learning to communicate and resolve conflicts, to share finances and trust, to navigate family relationships and household chores, and trust in God, too. And it's a blessing to have someone who will pray with you, rejoice with you, make you soup when you are sick, hold the ladder for you when you are painting the house, go to church with you, walk with you every day of your life.
We're not that different.