Story by Reagan Scott
(SNR) - Since 1981, the Engaged Encounter community in Lincoln has played a vital role in preparing engaged couples for marriage in the Diocese of Lincoln.
The current community, made up of 23 married couples and eight priests, has 580 years of experience living their vocations, which they all use to help engaged couples prepare to live out their marriage vocation.
When an engaged couple goes through marriage preparation in the Diocese of Lincoln, they are required to attend an Engaged Encounter retreat. These retreats are held at Our Lady of Good Counsel Retreat House in Waverly and provide opportunities for the participants to grow in their relationships with God, and each other.
“The most important aspect [of the retreat] is that couples develop a really strong relationship with Christ, it’s really an opportunity for spiritual transformation,” Father Sean Kilcawley, chaplain for Engaged Encounter, said.
As the chaplain for Engaged Encounter, Father Kilcawley is primarily responsible for the spiritual formation of the couples in the Engaged Encounter community, as well as the community’s activities. Sometimes he might even speak at the weekend retreats.
Each retreat weekend, two couples involved in Engaged Encounter will each give a series of eight talks pertaining to different aspects of married life. A priest will also be present to discuss the theology behind the sacrament of marriage.
“Engaged Encounter is not about the events of the [wedding day], it’s about how to deal with finances, religious differences, communication styles or anything a marriage needs to be healthy,” Jude Werner said. Werner and his wife Stephanie of St. John the Apostle Parish in Lincoln are coordinators for the Lincoln Engaged Encounter community for 2017.
“Engaged Encounter is an important and beautiful part of marriage preparation,” Bishop James Conley said. “Through Engaged Encounter, couples have the opportunity to share in personal encounters with Jesus Christ, and to make Christ the center of their relationships, and the basis for their communication, their love, and their future family life. Engaged Encounter weekends provide engaged couples the tools, and the vision, to fully live the vocation of marriage as a reflection of Christ’s love for the Church.”
The bishop reminded that the Church teaches that Christ “makes man fully manifest to man himself and brings to light his exalted vocation.”
Engaged Encounter reveals Jesus Christ, he said, and “brings to light” the beautiful and holy vocation of marriage.
One aspect of the retreat that is unique is that couples are asked to try to remain off their mobile devices during the weekend.
“From most of the feedback we’ve received, it’s the only weekend these couples have spent together without technology,” Father Kilcawley said.
The experience allows couples to spend time together without distractions from the outside world.
“It’s rare to have 40 hours to discuss your relationship and God’s role in it,” Werner said. “At Engaged Encounter, some couples are praying together for the first time.”
“We help people realize [marriage] is going to be a challenge,” he continued, “but we give them the tools to help them work through difficult times. For some couples, this is another step of growth but for others it’s much more transformative.”
For many couples, the weekend retreat is an opportunity for them to see Catholic marriage in a new light.
“We want to give couples a realistic look of what Catholic marriage can be. Some don’t get that growing up in broken homes,” Werner said.
Engaged Encounter stemmed from Catholic Marriage Encounter which began in Detroit in 1974. The original organization expanded to include engaged couples. Since 1981, the Lincoln Engaged Encounter community has held 461 weekend retreats, reaching 8,797 couples. It is obvious that the team has done great work in reaching so many people.
“We have one of the strongest Engaged Encounter Communities in the entire nation,” said Bobbie Rappl, an Engaged Encounter team member. She and her husband Mark of North American Martyrs Parish in Lincoln have been serving the Lincoln team since 2011.
Even Father Kilcawley commented on the youth of the Engaged Encounter team in Lincoln.
“This is where these couples are focusing their apostolic work,” he said.
Despite the fact that there are many young couples involved in Engaged Encounter, the group is estimated to have an average of 18 years of marriage experience between them.
“The members of Engaged Encounter all bring a wealth of experience to share with these young couples,” Werner said.
Sometimes, the couples involved in Engaged Encounter need some spiritual rejuvenation of their own. This is where the National Engaged Encounter Conference comes in to play.
Every two years, the five Engaged Encounter districts in the United States take turns hosting a conference for all couples who are involved in the organization. In 2018, the conference will be hosted in district four, the district including Nebraska and nine other states.
After putting in a pitch, Omaha was chosen as the host city for the conference, making 2018 the first time that a National Engaged Encounter Conference will be held in Nebraska.
Both the Lincoln and Omaha Engaged Encounter communities will host the conference from July 27-29. The theme will be “Marriage: Getting Back to the Good Life” and it is estimated that around 300 couples will attend.
“We are beyond excited and honored at the opportunity to serve the National Engaged Encounter community in this capacity,” Bobbie Rappl said. Rappl and Mikaela Kidwell, another Lincoln Engaged Encounter member, are co-coordinators for the event.
“We just really want to cover marriage and bring in speakers who will talk about the sanctity of marriage, especially when it’s under attack,” Rappl said.
According to Werner, the goal of the conference is also to help couples reenergize their marriages, as well as teach older couples how to communicate with millenials.
“We want to help Engaged Encounter couples to be able to be able to do their job better, with new energy,” Werner said.
With the upcoming conference next year, it’s obvious that the impact of the Lincoln Engaged Encounter community is soon to grow to national proportions, impacting couples from across the country; but at the heart of it, their mission is simple.
Father Kilcawley said, “We are helping couples to enter into a new relationship with our Lord in the midst of their new relationship with each other.”