It’s no secret that I love weddings. I’m a romantic at heart, and I spent a good 5+ years of my life investing in my passion for all things love, wedding, and marriage. For a while, I was being enlisted as a vocalist for friends’ and acquaintances’ ceremonies, and later, my attentions shifted to the coordinating aspect of the industry as I helped my best friend plan her wedding, coordinated a few others, and executed my own big day in 2013. Now that I’m a couple years in, I understand more fully than ever before how much more important preparations for MARRIAGE are than for the wedding day itself.
One of the very best things Caleb and I did during our engagement period was attend an Engaged Encounter seminar. I blogged about it then, on the wedding-related blog I was writing at the time in conjunction with my wedding coordinating business. Today I’m basically just reposting that account of our experience, in hopes that it will inspire you to consider attending a Marriage or Engaged Encounter weekend, or to encourage someone you know to do so!
April 18, 2013 – Caleb and I, along with fifteen other engaged couples from PA, MD, NY, and VA, traveled to Kenbrook Bible Camp in Lebanon PA this past weekend, with a common goal of gaining insight and skills that we hoped would help build a solid foundation for a healthy and happy marriage.
Our pastoral team recommended that we attend one of these weekends, known as “Engaged Encounter,” and since we’ve also heard lots of positive comments from family and friends who’ve attended in the past, I’d been looking forward to it ever since we got engaged.
You can read all about the history of the Marriage Encounter/Engaged Encounter movement here.
Before I go any further, let me just say that, on our way home on Sunday, Caleb and I agreed that this weekend was one of the best things we’ve experienced since we got engaged, maybe even since we first started dating. And for us personally, the timing couldn’t have been more right, the material more relevant, or the time/money any better spent. We also agreed, even before the weekend was halfway over, that we’d be singing the praises of this seminar for probably years to come and that we definitely planned to recommend it to our siblings and other friends who aren’t married yet.
Whether you’ve never heard of Engaged Encounter, have heard of it but are wondering how relevant it would really be for you, or are already planning to attend and are just curious of what to expect, this post is for you!
We had been told to arrive at Kenbrook by 7:00 p.m., so we rushed there directly after work last Friday. Signs directing us towards “Engaged Encounter” as we navigated our way through the entrance to the camp gave us a first glimpse of how detailed and thorough preparations had been made for the weekend. We parked our car and as we stood outside debating whether we should carry our suitcases in or walk in empty-handed at first, a voice called to us from the doorway with the answer. We were given nametags and shown to our rooms. Caleb and I shared two rooms which were directly across the hall from each other with another attending couple, the girls in one and the guys in the other. I was delighted to recognize familiar names on the doors of a couple from our area who we didn’t know well but at least knew “of.”
Once all the couples had arrived, the “presenters” (Nevin & Denise Horning of Lititz and Joel & Anita Zeiset of Ephrata, speakers for the weekend) began the weekend by introducing themselves and then having us introduce ourselves. We were instructed to share one of the first things that we’d found attractive about our fiancé(e), along with our names. From there, we delved into the first two sessions of the weekend, “Encounter with ME” and “Encounter with WE,” which were, as the titles indicate, basically self-analyses of ourselves as individuals and as couples.
These “sessions,” of which there were about fifteen throughout the weekend, each consisted of maybe 20-30 minutes of speaking by the presenters, after which each couple would split up for a time (around 10-15 minutes) of solo writing based on thought-provoking questions in our workbooks, then come together for a time (maybe 15-20 minutes?) of intimate discussion. Each couple had one room assigned to them as their “discussion room,” and the guys and girls would take turns writing in either their own discussion room or else spread out within the larger meeting room. Then, at the signal of a bell, each would join their partner in their respective discussion rooms. The topics included Openness in Communication, Signs of a Closed Relationship, Sex and Sexuality, Family Planning, Finances, Loss, Marriage is a Vocation, Decisions in Marriage, Betrothal, Wedding – The Beginning of our Covenant, Two by Two, Sharing the Vision, and Forgiveness and Healing in Marriage.
All were well thought-through and well-executed. Nevin & Denise and Joel & Anita both shared many, many personal stories and experiences and we so appreciated their willingness to be so humble, open, and honest. I think we finally began to realize the reality that marriage is hard work!
Meals took place in the dining hall in another building just a short walk down the hill. And I must say, Kenbrook served to us better food than I’ve had at any other camp/outdoor retreat center! The presenters set nametags on our tables for each meal so that we sat with different couples each time.
That was a highlight of the weekend for us–meeting and learning to know and spending time with so many other couples who were in the exact same stage of life as we are. Such a feeling of camaraderie! We swapped wedding dates and details, proposal stories, honeymoon plans, and our future homes, all weekend long.
Halfway through Saturday afternoon there was a break in the schedule from sessions and a chance for recreation or relaxation. My own sweet Caleb was gracious enough to let me nap, but others enjoyed volleyball, pool, and Kenbrook’s hiking trails. (Note: if you’re the athletic type, you’ll want to bring athletic clothing along for this time!)
After supper and the last two sessions on Saturday, we all gathered in a less formal setting downstairs, with pillows and candles, for the “Wrap Session.” There was a time of discussion of several questions that had been submitted by the couples earlier in the day, and then we had a time of symbolic candle-lighting as couples, and a chance to be prayed over by one of the presenting couples. This was a special, intimate time for us as couples to be “alone” even while we were surrounded by other couples. Afterwards, everyone enjoyed ice cream floats together before retiring for the night.
Sunday morning began with the final four sessions of the weekend and ended with a special worship service that included singing and then sharing Communion together with our future spouses. This signified our place and calling for our marriage relationships to be like “little churches” and was very meaningful and special.
The whole weekend was so well thought-through, so well-executed; the time frames were just right, never too long, but not much too short, either. The entire structure could hardly have been more perfect or more fitting.
If you know a newly-engaged (or almost-married) couple who would enjoy a weekend like this, or if you’re already married and are interested in learning more about a Marriage Encounter weekend, check out the Mennonite & Brethren chapter’s website.
Caleb and I are currently serving on the Board of Directors for this ministry, and we count it a privilege to be involved in furthering the Kingdom by building strong marriages. If you have been blessed by this ministry or want to stay in touch, you can follow along on Facebook: Marriage Encounter and Engaged Encounter.