By Chris Reynolds
CCL Executive Director
A papal encyclical can have a wide-reaching impact, which is certainly true for us. Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae inspired the very creation of the Couple to Couple League, which today is the nation’s largest provider of natural family planning training.
John Kippley was a theology teacher in Minnesota when the encyclical was released. He read it and felt called to act on it. John felt the Church shouldn’t put out a challenging teaching without providing the day-to-day support to live it out. And so he began to imagine an organization directly informed by the words of Pope Paul VI and devoted to the instruction of NFP. In particular, John was struck by this passage, subtitled Family Apostolate:
Among the fruits that ripen if the law of God be resolutely obeyed, the most precious is certainly this, that married couples themselves will often desire to communicate their own experience to others. Thus it comes about that in the fullness of the lay vocation will be included a novel and outstanding form of the apostolate by which, like ministering to like, married couples themselves by the leadership they offer will become apostles to other married couples. And surely among all the forms of the Christian apostolate it is hard to think of one more opportune for the present time (38).
Aha! Here was the structure, laid out so clearly by the pontiff: married couples sharing their experiences with other couples, “like ministering to like,” couple to couple. It could be, as Pope Paul VI suggested, “a novel and outstanding” apostolate – NFP the way it is meant to be learned.
John couldn’t deny that it was an opportune time to launch such an apostolate, so he worked closely with his wife, Sheila, and consulted Dr. Konald Prem, former chairman of the Obstetrics and Gynecology Department of the University of Minnesota Medical School. They devised an organization that would train and certify married couples to teach other couples – which stood in contrast to the typical instruction, where a single woman or medical professional provided instruction.
In 1971, the Couple to Couple League was officially founded. Over the decades, it has flourished. Last year we taught couples in all 50 states! While some other NFP organizations also now teach couples, we remain the only one that trains couples to teach other couples.
We love the couple-to-couple model. As an organization, we build up married couples in every way. We encourage them to practice NFP as a team, and we often hear from men who take an active role in monitoring their wives’ fertility signs, whether it’s getting out the thermometer every morning or helping interpret or taking a lead in conversations about responsible parenthood. We make a point to be compassionate, welcoming couples from every walk of life. We talk about NFP as a powerful tool to guard marriage in an age of divorce. Indeed, Humanae Vitae is the only solution to the troubled state of romantic affairs. It can heal so much heartache!
My wife, Cecelia, and I have been gratified to join in the League’s life-changing work, teaching CCL courses for a decade and serving as chapter coordinators. Now I am honored to be the executive director.
We’re up against such dark forces, but our ministry has never been more needed. When I get discouraged, I look at the Bible verse framed above my desk: “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength” (Phil 4:13). And every day we hear new stories about the transformative power of NFP – not just a method of family planning but a lifestyle. As Pope Paul VI put it so well, “among the fruits that ripen if the law of God be resolutely obeyed,” this vibrant couple-to-couple apostolate – knit together by generous teachers, rich friendships and fervent prayer – is “the most precious.”
Chris Reynolds is the executive director of the Couple to Couple League. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-800-745-8252 Ext. 1045.
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UPDATE 8/3/2016: John Kippley was kind enough to contact me about a couple of misstatements in my post about the founding of the Couple to Couple League. The Kippleys were living in Regina, Saskatchewan at the time Humanae Vitae was published. John immediately wrote a book to uphold the received teaching and to show the error of the dissenters’ theology. It was when that book was published in 1970 that he felt obliged to do what he could to provide practical help to lift what many were calling a burden. See Luke 11:46. That led to the formation of the CCL in the fall of 1971. Also, the Kippleys’ current organization, Natural Family Planning International, trains couples to teach other couples.