Presenting With My Wife At Engaged Encounter

This past weekend, Sidney and I strengthened our marital vocation in the most blessed way. We presented at our first Engaged Encounter retreat. 🙏

Many of you know that Sid and I prepare engaged couples within our parish for marriage on an individual basis. But in June 2022, we joined another marriage-based ministry—Engaged Encounter. This is an international Catholic organization that stages weekend-long retreats for engaged couples. Our pastor, Fr. Jeff Lewis, invited us to join the Spokane Diocese chapter.

After a year of attending our Engaged Encounter monthly meetings and serving in support roles at the retreats, we timidly told our chapter’s leadership that we wanted to present at one. In June of 2023, Ric and Cindy Gaunt came to our house and planted the seeds for doing so. They ran us through what was expected, highlighted the presentations we would be responsible for, and provided us the materials to start preparing. We circled the March 1-3 retreat on our calendar!

We told our Engaged Encounter leadership that we wanted to present.

The next eight months passed quickly, with the latter half of those months heavily devoted to Engaged Encounter retreat prep. Sidney and I had to write our presentations, build slide decks, and practice! By the time this past Friday rolled around, although nervous, we were chomping at the bit to present.

The retreat took place at the Immaculate Heart Retreat Center in south Spokane. Although the quarters were a little cramped, I sure enjoyed having the time away with Sid.

Engaged Encounter retreats are presented by two couples and a priest at the Immaculate Heart Retreat Center in south Spokane. There is a senior couple and a junior couple. We served as the junior couple and were paired with an incredible senior couple with 38 years of marriage under their belts—Joe and Natalie Schroeder.

Sidney and I at our Engaged Encounter weekend retreat. After months of preparing, we got to present!

Completing our weekend team was a priest who I had looked up to for a long time. Fr. Pat Kerst, who will celebrate his 34th anniversary of ordination in May, sacrificed a busy Lenten weekend at his home parish of St. Thomas More to serve at this retreat. As a boy, I would listen to him say mass at St. Francis of Assisi in Walla Walla while I sat in the pew with my grandparents. During my last couple years in Myrtle Beach I would listen to a podcast he contributed to. By the time I moved back to Spokane, he was the pastor at my parents’ home parish. Known for his personal and impactful preaching style, Sidney and I knew we would have to bring our “A” games to keep up with him.

We had 13 couples attend our retreat weekend, a healthy number for the current state of the Engaged Encounter ministry in eastern Washington. It was a lot of fun to meet these 26 soon-to-be newlyweds and learn about when and what church they were going to get married in. But after the introductions and the well-wishes concluded, reality set in: We now had to actually provide these couples with something useful.

Sidney and I were responsible for six presentations throughout the weekend. Using specific examples from our own marriage, we delivered talks on understanding oneself, communication, decision-making, unity, conflict resolution, and betrothal. The Schroeders presented on a host of other equally important marital topics while Fr. Pat provided his invaluable insight during each presentation. As a person who can get nervous enough just doing one presentation, doing a half dozen seemed pretty daunting. But with Sidney on my team and God’s abundant grace, it was much more of a blessed experience as opposed to a scary one.

Sidney presenting at the March 1-3 Engaged Encounter weekend while Fr. Pat Kerst and Joe Schroeder look on.

But the weekend wasn’t just about presentations. We watched videos, shared meals, and did activities. Confession was offered and the chapel was always open for prayer. On Saturday night, Fr. Pat offered mass. It was an intimate and beautiful way for our group to come together and celebrate the source and summit of Christian life.

It was gratifying to see the 13 engaged couples respond so well to everything we threw at them. Sidney and I really enjoyed getting to know the couples better as the weekend went on. We admired the overall humility, appreciation, and faith that was displayed. It wasn’t lost on us that they were giving up an entire weekend to sit inside the walls of a 1950s retreat house when they could be doing so many other things. Thanks be to God for their prioritization.

We had an incredible group of committed couples who brought plenty of faith and willingness to learn to the retreat.

Besides becoming acquainted with the couples preparing to be married, it was a complete pleasure to bond with the other members of our team. Collaborating with the Schroeders was extremely rewarding. They supported us immensely through our first weekend and we learned so much from the presentations they gave. The marriage that Joe and Natalie live out is one that Sid and I aspire to emulate. To share the stage with Fr. Pat was a thrill. Like I said, I have spent my whole life watching him and listening to him. But those nearly 34 years in front of congregation after congregation has surely not inflated his ego—Fr. Pat is as humble as they come! It was so special to see that up close.

This was our March 1-3, 2024 Engaged Encounter weekend team. What a pleasure it was to present with the Shroeders and Fr. Pat Kearst.

As I write this after allowing the weekend’s adrenaline to wear off and the significance to sink in, I just feel blessed for the opportunity Sidney and I were given. Thanks to Fr. Jeff for inviting us into the Engaged Encounter community, Ric and Cindy Gaunt for giving us the opportunity to present, Joe and Natalie Schroeder for teaming up with us, Fr. Pat for leading our weekend team, and everyone else in our EE chapter who so warmly welcomed us. Special thanks to my wife for being the best presenting partner ever! And, of course, praise to God for the grace to undertake such an intensive but worthwhile ministry. We can’t wait to present again. Don’t Blink.

Leave a Reply