The Boston University School of Theology Library has received an extensive collection of books related to marriage and family ministries, thanks to Jane P. Ives, an active United Methodist layperson and wife of Bishop S. Clifton Ives. Jane has a deep commitment to and passion for marriage and family ministries, born out of her personal family experience and nurtured through the church. Here is her story:
My parents divorced when I was nine years old, and my father pretty much disappeared from my life, except for very occasional cards and notes. Nobody explained to me what was happening, as I remember, and I learned about the divorce by overhearing my mother tell my two older brothers. We left New Jersey, where we had been living, and went to live with my grandfather in Maine. Only later in life would I realize how my grandfather’s ability to provide a home for us prevented the economic disaster faced by many single-parent families.
Equally important was the role played in my life by the church we joined, a small Methodist church halfway up a steep hilly street. There I found an active youth group and a circle of adults who loved me, inspired me, guided me, and otherwise filled in the gaps left in my broken family. Although I made new friends in Hallowell, the church provided my closest relationships; and in my teens I began to get involved in district, sub-district, and conference events. I was hired to work summers in the craft shop at the conference church camp, and there I felt a call to ministry. However, I also wanted to marry and have children, and I saw no role models then (in the ‘50s) for married women pastors.
Happily, the young man with whom I fell in love decided to become a minister. I rejoiced that I could have it all: marriage, children, and a ministry as a pastor’s wife. However, we did not simply “ride off happily into the sunset,” as I anticipated. After about ten years of marriage, although we generally thought of ourselves as blessed and happy, I occasionally found myself unreasonably discontent, irritable, and prone to slamming cupboard doors. Cliff didn’t understand my anger, and actually I didn’t either. We had three amazing children, were serving a wonderful local church, enjoyed many friendships, and had so much to be thankful for. Cliff usually retreated from my angry outbursts, as he had not yet learned to “active listen,” just as I had not yet learned to give “I messages,”
Fortunately we had an opportunity to participate in a marriage enrichment retreat. That event – and others we have attended through the years – changed our marriage and our life. Having grown up in a family that didn’t talk about feelings, I had been struggling to suppress and often tried to blame someone else for my inexplicable anger. I was stunned to learn that anger is a perfectly normal human response, indicating that something needs attention. I learned to tune in to my anger to figure out what I needed and to express my feelings and needs without attacking or blaming. Cliff learned to stay present when I seem upset, to ask with empathy if I need something. We went home and began to live a transformed life, as we practiced “I messages” and “Active Listening” with our children and in other relationships as well.
That event took place almost 50 years ago. We went on to become Certified Marriage Enrichment Leaders and Trainers through the organization now called Better Marriages (formerly the Association for Couples in Marriage Enrichment). Every time we participate in or lead a marriage enrichment or relationship education event, we still learn something new about ourselves and about the baggage we brought into our marriage – my fear of abandonment and Cliff’s lack of knowledge about how to deal with a woman’s feelings. We learned – and continue to learn how to express love deeply and openly, how to share our feelings and needs, and how to manage the conflicts that are inevitable in any intimate relationship.
When Cliff was elected to the episcopacy, we wondered if we would be able to continue leading marriage enrichment retreats and training events. As it turned out, we found couples eager for the training. They discovered that the experience not only gave them skills to share with others, but also improved their own relationships. In the meantime, through several acts of grace, I, who had always wanted to be a writer but chose teaching as a profession, was invited to compile a collection of stories about marriage ministry for the General Board of Discipleship. After completing that project, Couples Who Care, I proposed a second collection, Couples Who Cope, and proceeded to write and publish that as well. Then came an opportunity to write a spiritual guide for volunteers in mission, which was published in 2001, along with the opportunity for Cliff and I to revise and update the Growing Love in Christian Marriage Pastor’s Manual,
Working on the GLCM Pastor’s Manual, which focused primarily on marriage preparation, deepened my growing conviction that it is not enough for a church to offer effective pre-marital counseling and education. If we are serious about “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” we must equip people to build and nurture healthy relationships. In order to slow the trend toward family breakdown and mitigate its devastating effects on our communities, churches can offer relationship education for children, youth, and adults; marriage preparation, education, and enrichment; and ministries for families in crisis, transition, and special situations. I began to work on an annotated list of various resources recommended by United Methodists, which has grown into an extensive compilation of “Best Practices” articles and resource lists, still in process. I also began collecting and collating contact information for persons trained in various kinds of relationship ministries, creating a United Methodist Marriage and Family Ministries Directory. The Directory, articles, and resource lists are posted at www.marriagelovepower.net, www.gbod.org/marriage, and www.gbod.org/family, along with a list of Upcoming Events and Training Opportunities. The General Board of Discipleship now pays me a small stipend for researching, writing, and updating these documents and for responding to inquiries from individuals and churches.
Because I have received complimentary copies of some resources and purchased many others to review, I began donating curriculum materials to the New England Conference Resource Library and books to the Bangor Theological Seminary Library. When the BTS library closed in June, 2013, the Boston University School of Theology agreed to accept “The Ives Collection,” keeping those books available through inter-library loan from local libraries everywhere. These resources are listed in a document titled “Marriage and Family Ministry Resources Available in New England,” posted at www.neumc.org/marriageandfamily. I am grateful to all who have helped make these resources accessible, and I pray that they will help increase the flow of love through our families, churches, and communities into all the world. I am eager to hear about other resources churches have found helpful and about effective marriage and family ministries around the United Methodist Connection.
Jane P. Ives, United Methodist Marriage and Family Ministries Consultant
10 Quaker Lane, Portland, ME 04103, 207-799-8930, (cell) 207-210-7876, JaneIves@aol.com