The clergy of nearly 30 churches from Kenai, Soldotna, Kasilof, Nikiski and Sterling are gathering together and cutting across denominational lines this weekend in an attempt to decrease the high divorce rate on the Kenai Peninsula.
"The divorce rate on the peninsula is 82 percent," said Washington, D.C., based Mike McManus, who along with his wife, Harriet, co-chairs the nonprofit organization U.S. Marriage Savers.
McManus said those numbers were compiled from court clerk records. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, in 2003 there were 5,529 marriages and 3,191 divorces in Alaska.
McManus and his wife are in town to sign a Kenai Peninsula Marriage Savers Covenant, in an effort to "help pastors in this area radically reduce the divorce rate," he said.
"I think the central problem of our time is the disintegration of marriage," McManus said.
It is a diverse group participating in the event. In addition to Lt. Gov. Loren Leman, there will be representatives from several churches involved, including Baptist, Lutheran, Meth-odist, Nazarene, Assembly of God and Grace Brethren.
"You can do more with a network of churches, than just one church can do individually," McManus said.
Chuck Thornton, pastor of Peninsula Grace Brethren Church and chair of Kenai Peninsula Marriage Savers, invited McManus and his wife to attend the function.
"The devastation of divorce in my own family and my church persuaded me that we needed to do something new," Thornton said.
"The church has a responsibility not only to its people, but to the community at large to build strong, healthy marriages. If not the church, who?" he said.
McManus said at present, most churches are "wedding factories," but by signing the covenant, clergy are agreeing to reform the way they conduct marriages.
These reforms require couples to undergoing a minimum four months of marriage preparation, taking a roughly 150-question premarital inventory and studying "God's Plan for Marriage," a book by McManus, prior to permitting the actual nuptial ceremony.
Another reform is to train "mentor couples" to help counsel other couples who are engaged, newly married or are experiencing marriage difficulties. Local clergy and mentor couples were trained by McManus and his wife Friday evening and all day Saturday.
"Young couples want to make their relationship work, they're just not sure how to do it. They're hungry for knowledge and those who have solid marriages are the best skilled to teach solid marriage skills," McManus said.
The Kenai Peninsula Marriage Savers Covenant signing is today at 6 p.m. in the Renee C. Henderson auditorium at Kenai Central High School. All are welcome to attend.
According to a USA Today article, McManus was at the center of controversy in January for receiving money from a federal agency the Department of Health and Human Services to promote marriage initiatives of the Bush administration.
Federal law bans the use of public money on propaganda.
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