by Marc and Julie Anderson
LEAVENWORTH — Many couples participated in Renew 2000, a parish-based spiritual renewal program that used small faith-sharing communities to promote prayer and study of the Catholic faith for the jubilee year.
Not many kept meeting after the program ended.
“We even went through the books a second time!” said Ellen Hustings, of Sacred Heart-St. Casimir Parish in Leavenworth.
It was probably that experience, she said, that led her and her husband Keith to join two other couples of the parish in founding a new ministry and outreach at their parish — a ministry that would serve the greater Leavenworth community at large.
Ellen and Keith Hustings had long belonged to the Leavenworth parish. But Mike and Elsa Robinson and Don and Susan Murphy and their families were later arrivals. Both men are retired army officers, and their final military assignments brought them here.
“We decided to look for something . . . that had to do with the parish doing something for the community — not the parish doing things for the parish,” said Mike Robinson.
His wife Elsa agreed.
“The little questions at the end of every little chapter for Renew kind of always asked, ‘What are you going to do? What is your role? What will your role be?’” she said.
“And we kept running into that question,” she added. “It never went away.”
One night, the three couples talked in-depth about those action-oriented questions and even made a list of their involvement in the parish and community. The list was long, as each couple was involved in parish life in a variety of roles as sacristans, choir members, lectors, greeters, community concern committee members and Fall Fest organizers.
Yet, all six agreed that none of those ministries, despite being important, satisfied their longing to do something more.
According to Mike Robinson, the couples were looking for something that would utilize the parish as a base, “spreading the word [of God] through acts of mercy and community support.”
By this time, the couples had also befriended Mo and Maria Minchew and their family, who had joined the parish in 2000.
The Minchews, like the others, were active in various parish ministries, as well as some of the same community service organizations. Maria also served on the community concerns committee at the invitation of Ellen Hustings.
Eventually, Don and Susan Murphy, along with Maria Minchew, took an idea to Father Phil Winkelbauer, the parish’s pastor. Now known as Shepherd’s Supper, the outreach ministry to the Leavenworth community provides an average of 300 meals, both on-site and carryout, to those in need.
On the fourth Thursday of every month, all four couples can be found at the parish hall, along with at least 20 to 25 other volunteers, preparing food, greeting guests, busing tables, serving desserts and visiting with guests.
It’s a system that has worked well for four years. But the couples are quick to point out that’s because they all play off one another’s strengths.
And they don’t care about who gets the credit — only about serving those in need.
“One strength that we have is something that we don’t have,” Keith Hustings said. “We don’t have anyone that’s out there for the glory or to be the leader. . . . We’re a team.”
Mo Minchew agreed.
Also retired military, he said he’s used to working in teams. And when working in teams, you always “support the leader [as well as all team members] and support what’s going on.”
Calling themselves one big family, all four couples also said they simply enjoy volunteering and ministering together with their spouses and with the other couples.
They all also believe their shared ministry as married couples strengthens their marital bonds.
“We’ve all been blessed with our health and with the time to give to other people, and it feels great to be able to do that,” Ellen Hustings said.
Susan Murphy agreed.
“It’s a bonus when you’re spending time together doing good and a unified purpose strengthens your relationship,” she added.
Don Murphy thinks that’s one of the graces of the sacrament of matrimony.
“When you do things together as a couple that bring satisfaction to each of us, plus benefits other people, it’s a blessing,” he said.
“That all comes from the sacrament of marriage,” he continued.
But it’s not only their own marriages they strengthen, said Sacred Heart-St. Casimir Parish secretary Sheila Thibault.
“You always see them together,” she said of the couples. They serve as a witness and inspiration to other couples, she said, and help to create a sense of family within the parish.
The military lifestyle they lived so long, said Elsa Robinson, might have started them down that road together.
She and her husband Mike are used to doing all sorts of activities together, she said.
“As military couples . . . our life is different [from that of civilian couples],” she noted.
“We’re not with our extended family,” she continued. “So [as couples], we’re very bonded. We rely on each other extensively.”
Mike Robinson said the two of them realized very early on in their marriage that, if they didn’t take care of their marriage, their life would be much more difficult as they moved every two years throughout his military career.
Maria Minchew agreed.
Although she says she is usually the one to initiate their activities, occasionally Mo is the one to say they should do something in particular.
“If you don’t do things together, then why do it?” she said. Maria hopes the example of always doing things together — especially their example of serving in church ministry together — will rub off on their children as they marry and have families of their own.
The other three couples have similar hopes for two main reasons: The first is because they’ve seen the blessings the joint service has brought about in their own lives.
Secondly, they hope to impart some of the same values their parents, grandparents and other family members gave them growing up. Learning the value of Christian service and the importance of healthy marriages is critical for society, they believe.
Susan Murphy said she remembers watching her parents, particularly her mother, always helping someone in need — whether it be opening their home to immigrants or providing food to someone who might be hungry.
“They were very generous in that respect,” she said. Her best advice to her children and other young couples?
“Stay committed,” he said. “Look for ways to enrich your relationship. Being strong in the church is really a strength in our marriage.
“It’s always been a rock for us everywhere we lived.”
Ellen Hustings’ advice was even simpler.
“Let God be a partner in your marriage,” she said.
She encouraged couples to start with something small.
“Take a small step. Do a small thing together, and see how it comes out,” she said. “Maybe you can go on from there.”
“The greatest gift we as parents can pass onto our children,” concluded Don Murphy, “is our faith.
“Live out your faith, and you’ll be fine.”