By Christine Daniel (FL UK Director)
We’re all well aware of the massive global challenges as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The “lockdown” in our country meant we had to cancel our spring/summer programme of live events, our A Day Together seminars, which we typically hold across the country in partnership with local churches. This couldn’t have come at a worse time because the experience of lockdown is tough on relationships; we’re created for connection but not 24/7, so the need was and is great. But the situation has also led to innovation, and in the UK we have been experimenting with an online event delivered via Zoom, “Couples Talk,” which has proved tremendously successful.
FamilyLife UK is very much a movement of people, who have experienced transformation of their relationships and seek to pass that on, to be what we call “ripples.” Allison and Junior Angel (yes, it’s their real name and they are pretty special!) are a volunteer couple with us making ripples in Manchester. When the restrictions started, they immediately said that they wanted to help couples survive lockdown with their marriages intact. We were keen to empower them to use their entrepreneurial skills.
On April 3 they teamed up with Odette Clayton (FamilyLife’s Manchester and the Northwest Coordinator) and her husband Mark to host an informal event via Zoom. They were joined online by 14 other couples to explore how lockdown was affecting them and encourage one another.
Everyone said they wanted more. So, we organised another, and then another.
On April 30 and May 25 the Angels hosted more Couples Talk sessions, this time interviewing us about our favourite subject: conflict. It’s not really our favourite topic (!) but it has been one where God has given us a lot of experience; we had our first major argument on our honeymoon. Three months into marriage we almost split up and again hit crises at 7 and at 23 years.
In April there were 72 Zoom screens and 60 in May. Many joined to watch without video, and many were visible on screen, participating actively via the chat function. During the evenings we wove together stories, principles, and testimony, ending with a time for questions.
Feedback from the evenings was incredibly positive:
“A very good blend of personal transparency in the contributors, and clarity and sharp focus on some clear-cut, identifiable how-tos.”
“We really enjoyed the session last night and it was good to hear your honesty about not having the perfect marriage but having the tools to navigate the issues when they arise.”
“It’s been great. Our big takeaway is communication, creating a safe space to talk together. It’s never a win/lose situation—it’s growing together.”
Then on June 22 we switched things around again and Mark and I hosted Couples Talk, interviewing another couple from the FamilyLife UK movement: Etienne and Karen Van der Poll. We titled the evening “Strengthening Your Marriage.”
The couple came close to divorce after they moved from South Africa to the UK in 2000. Their family life was rocked following a tragic accident two years ago, which once again tested their marriage. But Karen and Etienne are coming through that exceptionally challenging period with an even stronger marriage, resilience, and gratitude for what they have. It was an exceptionally powerful evening.
Here’s a comment from a young couple who attended that evening:
“I joined in to listen to Karen and Etienne’s story with around 70 others, all in our little Zoom boxes, either with video on or off (absolutely no pressure there!), intently listening to what this inspiring couple had to say. And what they said…wow…it was raw, jaw dropping, amazing! It was such an honour to hear from this couple who had and are still overcoming some extreme obstacles and experiences in their lives.”
We’re planning an autumn programme of Couples Talk events and want to keep it fresh with a variety of topics, different couples to interview, and rotating hosts.
Covid-19 is here to stay and we are keen to continue learning and growing to help other couples build strong marriages and point people to Christ. The following feedback encourages us to keep going:
“From a personal perspective—we want to be intentional about investing in our marriage (especially) during the good times! We’re keen not to wait until crisis points… and although this is something we talk about, we’re just very thankful you sent us an avenue to practice what we preach. The conversational and story-based style of interview worked really well and kept it really engaging. It is a very sensitive but powerful/real sharing of the gospel—would feel comfortable inviting non-Christian friends to this.”