Marriage is a life-long vocation and embraces all members of the family. The church understands that while marriage is a truly human and social institution it is also a sacrament. This means that when a woman and a man choose to consecrate their lives to each other before God, Christ is present. At its deepest level and in all the realities of married life, a couple can seek and to hope find Christ and his love in each other. They are become ‘ministers of grace to one another’ and together they participate in the mission of the church.
Parish marriage and family life ministry initiatives bear witness to the critical importance of healthy marriage and family life for couples, for families, for society and for the Church. This relatively new area of ministry was first defined by the bishops attending the 1980 Family Synod, who wrote: ‘Family ministry is of very special interest to the church. By this we mean efforts made by the whole people of God through local communities, especially through the help of pastors and lay people devoted to pastoral work with families.’
Marriage and family life ministry encompasses a range of coordinated activities at diocesan and parish level which are geared towards supporting and affirming families at every stage of their life together, in order to strengthen the love between them, their relationship with God and their service to the wider community.
The role of a Diocesan Coordinator of Marriage and Family Life Ministry was formally recognized by the Bishops’ Conference in 1993 and continues to be defined by two guiding principles:
In England and Wales the precise role and responsibilities of a diocesan or parish family ministry coordinator or worker varies but will usually involve some of the following activities:
The Marriage and Family Life Network is divided into three regions (North, South East and South West) and is the collective voice of Catholic Diocesan Marriage and Family Life Ministry in England and Wales. Regional meetings and national residential gatherings provide opportunities for resource sharing, collaboration, prayer, reflection and formation. The network is served by the Marriage and Family Life Office and has representation on the Bishops’ Committee for Marriage and Family Life. Under the direction of its Chair, the Bishops’ Committee for Marriage and Family Life supports the bishops in the delivery of their priorities for the pastoral care of Marriage and Family Life. The Committee supports and resources the range of Church ministries dedicated to promoting a deeper understanding of the evangelising role and mission of the Christian family. It also fosters a collaborative approach with other like-minded ecumenical bodies and organisations and promotes excellence in all its working practices.
From 2008-2019 the MFL Network was represented by FAMILIAS (Association for Catholic Diocesan Marriage and Family Life Ministry, England and Wales). During its lifetime FAMILIAS awarded small grants and bursaries to support members’ formation and hosted annual Friends’ Events on topical themes. FAMILIAS’ members voted to close the Association in November 2019.
In 2006 the Bishops of England and Wales launched a £12 million Faith in the Future fundraising campaign and the success of this campaign enabled the bishops to invest both in post-graduate training in Leadership for Family Ministry and Faith Formation and a capacity building programme of marriage and family life ministry diocesan projects from 2008-2011, and again from 2014-2018. The grants were awarded in line with the national priorities of: Everybody’s Welcome, Home is a Holy Place and Passing on the Faith and more latterly to support training and development in marriage preparation provision, the pastoral accompaniment of families and formation for family ministry.
In 2006 the Bishops of England and Wales launched the £12 million Faith in the Future fundraising campaign. The success of this campaign made it possible for the bishops to fund 13 dioceses to undertake capacity-building family ministry projects from 2008-11. These projects sought to strengthen parish communities and encourage families as leaders. The success of this work attracted further donations, and the bishops have since funded 17 more diocesan family ministry projects. The capacity built through this wide range of pastoral initiatives is serving to increase understanding of family ministry and adding to the pool of experience and skills in the service of marriage and family life.