Love Conquers COVID: First comes love, then comes online marriage prep

August 18, 2020

From left to right is Grant Berntsen, Bailey Berntsen, Kenneth Berntsen, Janet Berntsen, Megan Lix and Ashlynn Lix. (Photo courtesy of Kenneth Berntsen)

HOUSTON — When engaged couple Janet Golden Lix and Kenneth Berntsen selected a springtime wedding date, little did they know that their nuptials would fall right in the middle of the deadly Covid-19 pandemic.

Their priest at Prince of Peace Catholic Church, Father Ryan Stawaisz, a cancer survivor, offered to help them with marriage preparation online or in person.

A second marriage for both of them after receiving annulments, the couple did not want to cancel their May 23 wedding despite the uptick in coronavirus cases. So they decided on an intimate wedding yet still livestreamed it to share with a larger group of family and friends.

“You don’t know what will happen in life, so we didn’t want to delay. I can understand the younger brides wanting to postpone. But as long as we had our children and our priest as witnesses and we were at our church, we were okay with moving ahead,” Lix said.

Berntsen agreed, “What was important and continues to be is the Sacrament of Marriage. As a couple, we continue to pray together with our morning offering.”

Ricardo Medina, director of the Archdiocese’s Family Life Ministry which oversees marriage preparation, said such couples as Lix and Berntsen epitomize the journey to the Sacrament.

“Love doesn’t stop in times of crisis,” Medina said. “We are here to accompany engaged couples through the discernment process. We help them in their discovery of themselves individually and to elevate their love as a couple.”

Outside of sacramental preparation and public Masses, in-person events and trainings are not being permitted on parish campuses at this time. Medina’s office is reviewing different marriage preparation programs to be offered online rather than in person as the pandemic continues. But love continues to conquer COVID-19, especially during the big summertime wedding season, Medina said.

For example, St. Jerome Catholic Church recently hosted a marriage preparation retreat in person for 25 couples from different Catholic churches from July 18 to 19. But there were major safety considerations put in place for the 50 people plus the marriage preparation team.

Deacon Pedro Salas, helping to lead that team along with Monsignor Dan Shields, said, “We have a newbig parish hall activity center, so we were able to put each couple at their own table. Everyone was wearing masks, and we were sanitizing everything, including two or three microphones after people spoke.”

“It was more work than normal, but it was worth it. We thank God for giving us that opportunity, even in the middle of a pandemic. God is still calling people to marriage,” Deacon Salas said.

For couples discerning marriage, they can call the church where they wish to hold their wedding. A marriage coordinator will help guide them through the process that includes a compatibility study. Several different programs are used, including the FOCCUS compatibility study or the Prepare/Enrich Study to identify specific areas in which their relationships are strongest or most challenged, including such intimate topics as sex and finances, Medina said.

Then they will meet four or five times with clergy and possibly a married couple who have trained as mentors. One of those meetings will include a worship meeting to choose selections from Scriptures and prayers, choice of music and vows for the ceremony at least two months before the wedding. They will also be given options for a weekend retreat offered in English and Spanish.

After completing that process and sharing their vows in May, Lix and Berntsen have moved in together at their Cypress-area home with their children. With her work as a CPA and his as a computer software developer, they both work from home.

“We may not have been able to do a get-away honeymoon with the virus still around, but we are definitely spending more time together than most newlyweds,” she said of their canceled honeymoon cruise.

“Yes, we just finished up a walk together around the neighborhood lake,” Berntsen said and chuckled.