By SHEILA OJENDYK
GREER — Grace Metros tells callers up-front that divorce ministry is not a singles group. The divorce recovery ministry at Prince of Peace is a 10-week educational seminar to help people become whole again after losing a love relationship.
Metros and Sue Harris are co-coordinators of the program and head a team with six facilitators. The program is based upon the book Rebuilding When Your Relationship Ends, which was written by Dr. Bruce Fisher, a recognized divorce therapist, author, and teacher.
The seminar is closed to outsiders to maintain privacy for the participants. This reporter met with team members at Metros’ home, not at a session.
Metros reported that 53 percent of first marriages end in divorce, and between 70 and 80 percent of second marriages also end in divorce unless both parties go through a rebuilding program. Then, the divorce rate drops to about 20 percent because people have learned what makes a relationship successful or unsuccessful and how to make better choices.
The rebuilding program is very spiritual but not scriptural. There is acknowledgment of a higher power, but the concept is not further defined because participants come from varied faith backgrounds.
Facilitators begin each session with centering and lighting a three-wick candle. The three wicks symbolize the individual, the group, and the higher power. There is a one-hour presentation by team members that draws from both source material and life experience. Participants then break into small groups, each led by a facilitator.
Participants are mixed by age and sex because each brings a different perspective to the small group. They stay with the same group throughout all 10 weeks to maintain continuity and to build trust. Anything discussed within a small group stays within the group. Team members refer to the groups as “being a safe place to share.”
Members of the small groups are encouraged to keep in touch between sessions. Many people maintain the friendships they develop during the seminars long after they finish.
The sessions cover eight topics. The first topic is adaptation. This session addresses the behavioral patterns people bring with them from their childhood and family of origin. The team members stress how important it is to understand the dynamics of the family of origin.
Next is the grieving cycle. People go through the same stages of grieving with a divorce as with a death, but the grief and anger are different. In addition, many divorced people find their friends have chosen sides or drifted away.
At the second or third session, the grief box is introduced. Participants are encouraged to drop burnable memories, such as wedding invitations, into the box. The grief box remains part of the program to the last session.
The group devotes an entire session to anger, the third topic. Anger after a divorce is unique, and participants learn how to deal with anger constructively instead of turning it inward or against others.
The fourth session covers self worth. Divorced participants may feel guilt or rejection depending upon who instigated the divorce; facilitators stress the importance of not being judgmental. Nobody is responsible for somebody else’s behavior.
The next topic is transition and deals with continued growth and self acceptance.
A potluck dinner is scheduled halfway through the seminar. The participants are making noticeable progress, and the potluck is a time to relax and celebrate.
The sixth session is about openness, and participants learn about trusting again. They are encouraged to speak with confidence inside their small groups.
The seventh session is about love, defined as learning to love oneself. David Fillion, one of the facilitators, said, “One of the things emphasized is to do something for yourself. It’s very hard to be allowed to give yourself permission to be good to yourself.”
The eighth session is about relatedness and learning how to build healthy relationships.
At the last session, the grief box is burned — with dignity — as a lesson in letting go. Then, the participants write on balloons the things they want to let go of, and the balloons are released outside.
Fillion says of the first night, “you can feel the tension in the air.” Many people cry the first night, but they are laughing again by the 10th night. Ingrid LaCasse, another facilitator, says, “It’s great to see the change. It’s a life-altering experience.”
Participants take a test, the Fisher Divorce Adjustment Scale, at the first and last session to measure their progress. The test does not change, but the results do. Metros refers to the test as a snapshot to help participants determine what they need to work on.
Some people come to the rebuilding seminars on referral from counselors or clergy, others are referred by employee assistance programs, and a few come on their own. They come from all over the Upstate, and many drive an hour or longer each way. Participants have ranged in age from the early 20s to the early 70s, with marriages lasting from several months to more than 40 years. Metros says that most were in long-term marriages.
Prince of Peace is the only parish in the Diocese of Charleston with a divorce recovery program of this depth. The program was begun in 1995 by Franciscan Sister Margie Hosch with strong support by Msgr. Chet Moczydlowski, the pastor at the time. Metros and Harris have been running the seminars twice a year since Sister Hosch left Prince of Peace to run Catholic Charities for the Piedmont Deanery. Both Metros and Harris are members of the North American Conference of Separated and Divorced Catholics.
The current seminar runs through the end of March, and the next seminar begins on September 13. The fee is $60 and covers materials and expenses. People can attend the seminar more than once, and many do. The fee to repeat the seminar is $15.
For more information, contact Grace Metros at (864) 609-0691 or Sue Harris at (864) 292-1065.