Pastor challenges parents, offers incentive to tie the knot - Word&Way

Pastor challenges parents, offers incentive to tie the knot

By Rod Frisco
Religion News Service    

HARRISBURG, Pa.—Daneisha Dunbar was never so happy to see her children cry.

But there they were: 13-year-old Jheran, 10-year-old Aryn and 5-year-old Taryn, shedding tears and squealing with joy at the news that their mommy and daddy are getting married.

“All of their friends who had married parents had questions about why their mom and dad weren’t married,” said Dunbar, is marrying her longtime boyfriend, Aaron Yancey, this month. “They’ll never have to answer those questions again.”

Reclaim the Streets Ministries in Harrisburn, Pa., is offering a no-cost wedding to unmarried couples with children. Participants included (left to right) Daneisha Dunbar, Angel Baio and Jerry Scheib, Lakeya Taylor, Jason Green and Ashley Thompson. Dunbar is marrying Aaron Yancey, who is not pictured, and Thompson is marrying Robert Folks, also not pictured. (RNS photo/Gary Dwight Miller/The Patriot-News of Harrisburg, Pa.)

Better yet, except for the rings they exchange, the wedding will be at no cost to the couple. Dunbar and Yancey will marry at Reclaim the Streets Ministries in Harrisburg, along with three other couples.

Love might be the primary reason those four couples—all of whom have stayed together since having children—decided to take the marital step. But it took a push from the church and Pastor William Jones Jr. to put the “do” in “I do.”

Jones, senior pastor of Reclaim the Streets Ministries, borrowed a concept that developed in New York—Marry Your Baby Daddy Day.

“We wanted to celebrate marriage in Harrisburg,” said Jones, who has been a minister for two decades. “We wanted a vehicle to push marriage in Harrisburg.”

Jones has partnered with another Harrisburg faith-based organization, Firm Foundation of Pennsylvania, and several businesses to provide the no-expense weddings.

There are catches:

• The cohabiting couples must be committed. The four Harrisburg couples have been together an average of eight years.

• Their children must be their own. There are 11 among the four couples.

• They must commit fully to marriage itself, not just the ceremony.

Only after a lengthy screening and counseling process did the couples get to hear the magic word—free.

“All of the couples were enthusiastic, possibly the women more so than the men,” Jones said. “Of course, one of the things that attracted them the most was the ‘all expenses paid’ part.”

The couples didn’t argue the point.

“We’ve been making plans,” said Jason Green, who has been with Lakeya Taylor for four years and has four children. “We just didn’t feel we could afford the kind of wedding we wanted to have.”

Jerry Scheib and Angel Baio, a couple who have been together eight years and have three children, echoed that sentiment.

“We’ve been a couple for a long time,” Baio said. “But we also felt that marriage would provide a better foundation for our children.”