Chena Ridge Friends Meeting (CRFM) in Fairbanks, Alaska started sponsoring biannual Couple Enrichment Workshops in the mid-1990’s, hosting five different leader couples from the Lower-48. This effort had been discerned by Ministry and Council as a concrete way to honor its commitment to supporting couples married under the care of the meeting. Meeting covered the workshop fees for these couples and invited any other interested member/attender couples to participate. In 2006, Scott Bell and Cathy Walling of CRFM went through formal Couple Enrichment leader training and began offering one or two local workshops per year and in 2015, Tom and Sharon Baring did the same.
Given so many opportunities, most interested members and attenders of CRFM had participated in several workshops by, say 2008. As a happy outcome, when people from the wider community inquired, having learned of CE from their Quaker friends, leader couples felt liberated to open their workshops beyond Quakers and to reach out intentionally.
As of 2017, we have offered several workshops in the Unitarian Universalist (UU) Fellowship facility with many UU participants. Last spring, the UU Fellowship asked Scott and Cathy if they would offer a workshop for its congregation, and the Fellowship handled the workshop logistics. This fall, Sharon and Tom scheduled a one-day intro course at a local Presbyterian Church. It was a joy to connect with the Presbyterian Pastor and community and plan the event.
We are building connections to the wider community and feel we are spreading the peace-making gifts of couple enrichment: the appreciations, trust and risk-taking exercises, and reflective listening dialogs. We also feel we’re sharing a bit of ourselves. Friends’ approach to Couple Enrichment is informed by the Quaker clearness process, and while non-Quaker couples sometimes feel stretched by the novel opportunity to dialog in the presence of witnesses, most usually come to respect the healing and spiritual power of sharing in community. Also in line with Friends’ values, all committed couples, including unmarried, interracial, same-sex, and those with nontraditional or evolving gender identities are welcome. If this is a stretch for some participants, over the course of a workshop, we come to know each other as individuals and the significance anyone may have given superficial characteristics recedes as our common humanity, joys, and challenges are revealed.
We plan to continue reaching out to different populations of Fairbanks, feeling enriched and stretched, ourselves, as we do this work which we find so valuable.
— Submitted by Tom Baring, Sharon Baring, Scott Bell and Cathy Walling