April Readlinger, Executive Director of CanaVox, discusses CanaVox’s international work in strengthening marriages through the use of reading groups, and how open and honest conversations about marriage with like-minded individuals can reestablish the idea of community.
JOHN RUSTIN: Thank you for joining us for Family Policy Matters. We often say that families are the building block of our society and that is so true. And fundamental to strong families are strong marriages. It’s no secret that maintaining a strong, healthy marriage can be tough work, but it also can be—and is really designed to be—one of the most intimate and rewarding relationships that humans experience. Our guest today works with an organization that has a unique approach to strengthening marriages: through friendship and reading. April Readlinger is the Executive Director of CanaVox, an international network of friends who seek to strengthen marriages through the establishment of reading groups. These groups currently exist in 37 states in the United States and 27 countries around the world. These groups bring people face-to-face to engage in the art of conversation, and reading group hosts lead others to study and discuss the beauty of marriage as one man and one woman for life. Members explore a variety of issues affecting marriage in a calm, thoughtful setting while building authentic friendships with other married couples. April, welcome to Family Policy Matters. It’s great to have you on the show.
APRIL READLINGER: Hi John, it’s so great to be here. Thank you for having us on today.
JOHN RUSTIN: Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to be with us. So as we begin our conversation, April, tell us what prompted you to get involved with CanaVox and where did the name CanaVox originate?
APRIL READLINGER: I got involved in CanaVox about a year after its founding in 2014. CanaVox itself was started in 2013 by a group of mothers who were all concerned about the erosion of the marriage culture, and what that was doing to the family and society as a whole. So they got together and they decided that they wanted to rally all of those who supported marriage and to do something constructive. They wanted to start these small reading groups, where like-minded friends could get together face-to-face to study and discuss the issues affecting the marriage culture. The name CanaVox actually comes from Cana, the wedding feast at Cana, and Vox is the Latin for voice—giving marriage a voices is sort of our tagline and what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to help people learn how to give marriage a voice.
JOHN RUSTIN: That’s great. Especially for many who did not grow up in a household with a strong marriage, it really can almost be a foreign concept. So I think it’s great that you’re doing what you’re doing and really working to build and foster strong marriages. So April, why do you pursue reading groups as opposed to other forms of engagement like marriage conferences or group date nights or political activism or some other activity like that?
APRIL READLINGER: That’s actually a really great question. We decided on reading groups because what we’re trying to do is bring people together and we want to give them an opportunity to be able to have open and honest conversations about marriage, and to empower them in a time when it’s become increasingly difficult to defend marriage. We found that people were feeling isolated and they were being shut down, and they were unable to discuss these important issues. So we wanted to give them the tools and the opportunity to have these discussions about marriage and all of the issues that affect the marriage culture. Ultimately, we want to help reestablish the idea of community. And we think the reading group model was the best way to do that, by getting people together face-to-face. We know that the decline of community is sort of one of the big things out there that’s causing us to have so many of these issues that we’re talking about in our groups. And so we thought, by having the people come together, in person, would be the best way to help reestablish that element of community. Other forms of activism are great, and ultimately, sometimes our people in our groups get so empowered that they go out and do activism. They get the tools from us, they learned how to talk about marriage, learn how to defend it, and they have these conversations. And once they, in our groups, have these conversations, they can take what they learn and they can go out there and may do some of their own activism. But our groups are not activists groups per se.
JOHN RUSTIN: That’s neat. So, I imagine that, as you said, the sense of community is so important and something that really is lacking in a lot of people’s lives, so it’s really key. But also, I expect that bringing together individuals who are married to relate and talk with and learn from other married individuals is really important to strengthening their individual marriages. And in also providing examples, especially for those who may be going through personal struggles in their marriages and things like that, that, hey, this can work! This is worth investing in. Talk about that a little bit. Why is it important, not only to bring individuals together, but married couples and married individuals together to strengthen and bolster each other?
APRIL READLINGER: We do have groups, we have married couples groups, and we have groups that are just women or we have groups that are just men, so we have a different mix of groups. It’s not always married couples together, but most of the people in the groups are married. And to your point about having friendships with married couples, I think that is super important because people influence one another, right? Friends influence friends. So if you and your spouse or friends with a group of people who are married and they support the historical understanding of marriage, that helps to reinforce your own beliefs about marriage. And there’s also great strength in being witness to one another’s marriages. And by that I don’t mean just the good, right? I mean—and that’s a very important part, all the good that we see in marriage—but also the messiness that comes with real-life marriage. And so I think this is such an important thing when you talk about having married friends, and people who are going to help you to maintain your marriage through thick and thin.
JOHN RUSTIN: Yeah, that’s great. How are these reading groups established? And give us a sense of how they work. I imagine they differ from group to group and from country to country possibly, beyond just language differences. So talk about that a little bit.
APRIL READLINGER: They are very different. It’s important for the people who are running groups, to run their groups in the way that works best for their community or their group of friends who are doing the group. We want to provide the tools and the materials to help them do these groups, but we want them to feel comfortable to run their group how they see fit. So, people usually come to CanaVox through word of mouth. That’s how we’ve been getting the message out up until this point for the last five years. They hear about our program through a family member or through a friend who has been involved in a group. And if there’s a group nearby to the person who is interested, they might be able to join that group depending on the makeup of the group. But if there’s not a group nearby, they can also start their own group. So in that case, what we would do is we would get them set up with all the training that they need to do and we’d give them materials and they would take it from there. So as I mentioned earlier, we have groups that are women’s groups, we have men’s groups, we have college groups, we have some couples groups, and we really just let our group leaders structure their groups the way they think will work best. They’re usually held once a month. One of the things that I think is important to note for people who would be interested in being part of one of the groups, or leading a group, is that our group leaders are not lecturers. They’re not teachers, they’re facilities of conversation. And so anyone really can do it. It’s something some people hesitate and they say: I’m not really all that good. I can’t do that. I can’t lead a group, or I’m not a teacher. I don’t do that. And we say: That’s great because you don’t have to. We provide you with the tools and the materials. We help you go through a training, so you know how to run a group. It’s really just a matter of you getting the people together, finding a location and sending out the information. People read before they come to the group, generally! Sometimes,ll you know, all the people in their groups, they’re usually busy parents, and so sometimes they don’t read, but we would like people to come in and read, and then they have conversations about whatever particular topic is they’re studying that month.
JOHN RUSTIN: What types of books and other materials do the groups read, and how are those selections made?
APRIL READLINGER: The readings that we have are all on our website, and we currently have 22 sessions in English, and then we also have 20 sessions in Spanish. So, we’ve got both. But what we do is we really take the best materials that are out there, that are already created on the web, and we cull them together, and we create a session based on an academic piece, and then two or three personal narratives that really help bring the academic piece to life. So for example, on our website in “The Importance of Fatherhood,” we have an academic piece based on the importance of fathers, talking about the studies that we have that we know fathers are very important to their children’s lives. And we also have another piece talking about how marriage makes men better fathers. But then we have a few personal narratives that are on there. We have a great video from a correctional officer talking about his life, and how fathers are just so key to their children’s lives. That’s really the recipe that we use when coming up with our readings.
JOHN RUSTIN: That sounds great. I liked the academic and then the kind of putting it in a practical context for people to apply it and make it relevant to their lives. So that seems like a real meaningful basis on which to have these conversations and understand better how these issues affect marriages and so forth. So that’s great. April, what is your kind of long term hope, prayer, goal for these reading groups? Where do they go after they may have worked through most of the materials that you’ve recommended? What’s the ten year plan in your eyes?
APRIL READLINGER: So, what we would really love for people to do is we have a group and some people in that group decide we’re going to start our own, after we finish our group, we’re going to start our own groups. But often the groups get together and they create such a great community, they like to stay together, which is good too, because one of our goals is creating community and so we’ve done that. But people— when they do that, when they stay in the group like that, what we actually do is we review our syllabus, we’re continuing reviewing it for new materials and adding sessions where we think they need to be added. So right now I said, we’ve got 22 sessions, which would take people through, if they meet once a month, and then often our groups take breaks during the Christmas holidays and then in the summer because we kind of follow an academic schedule, then that usually gives them a couple of years worth of material, two to three years, depending. Some groups decided that like to do it biweekly, and so they go through the materials quicker than that. But then also groups do like to revisit certain topics because when you’re meeting and—our groups usually only meet for about an hour and a half—So when you’re only meeting for an hour and a half and you’ve got ten or so women trying to have conversation about the topic, you could easily come back to that next month and talk again about it because there’s so many, you know, some of the topics you could really talk about several times because they’re tough issues that we’re dealing with. Like right now, pornography is a particularly hot topic, right? And so that something that you can always revisit and talk about because there are always new things happening that you need to find out and know about. Also like the sex ed in the family and the sex ed in schools. These are always issues that come back again that people want to talk about.
JOHN RUSTIN: Absolutely true. April, we’re just about out of time for this week’s program, but before we go, I want to give you an opportunity to let our listeners know where they can go to learn more about CanaVox.
APRIL READLINGER: Sure, thank you. They can go to our website at www.canavox.com or they can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org as well.
JOHN RUSTIN: Okay, great. I want to encourage our listeners to take advantage of these resources. If you’ve been particularly prompted to interest from the conversation that we’ve had today, definitely go to canavox.com, and if you don’t have a group in your area, learn how you can start one. April, so grateful for all that you’re doing to help strengthen and bolster marriages, not only across our country but across the globe. So thanks so much. And with that, April Readlinger, I want to thank you so much for being with us on Family Policy Matters today, and for your work to support and strengthen marriages.
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