HILTON HEAD — The Worldwide Marriage Encounter was a journey of enrichment for 31 couples Feb. 6-8.
For two of those couples, it was an especially golden time as they celebrated their 50th and 50-plus wedding anniversaries, according to a press release from Patricia Stewart, a participant.
Mrs. Stewart and her husband Jack will mark their 54th anniversary on Feb. 5, and Tom and Marma Kuczkow ski will be married 50 years July 11.
Wedded bliss was shared by a wide range of age groups, starting with those in their 20s all the way through to those in their 70s. Newlyweds of just over a year mixed with couples who have earned silver and gold status.
The eclectic mix of people were brought together at assigned-seating tables and provided with ice-breaker questions to discuss. The variety of ages and experience sparked lively conversation.
Worldwide Marriage Encounter is always special, and this one lived up to its reputation.
It was the first Marriage Encounter for the Stewarts. Despite being seasoned veterans of 54 years, they had never attended an encounter session before.
Mrs. Stewart said they did so this year because the timing seemed to command it.. She explained that they alternate anniversary trips between the mountains and the beach. Since they were at the beach this year during Marriage Encounter weekend, it was a perfect fit.
Father Frank Palmieri, pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Goose Creek, and three presenting teams took the couples through a variety of exercises designed to teach them how to make their marriages more meaningful and deepen their commitment to one another.
They wrote love letters to each other and held dialogues about what those letters meant. The couples participated in a personality assessment and learned how their character types affect their relationships.
Mrs. Stewart said the weekend started with a bang when the hotel fire alarm sounded at 7:30 a.m. The couple was dressing for Mass but joined the guests heading for the exits. She said everyone shivered in 40 degree temperatures until a fire truck arrived. Smoke could be seen pouring from a vent pipe. It turned out to be breakfast toast burning. The couples had to settle for cereal or bagels that morning.
Marriage Encounter has been in existence for over 40 years. Participants spend 44 hours focused on their relationships.
Being in a setting away from cell phones, watches and other interruptions provides the opportunity to focus solely on each other and the marriage. It fosters increasing dialogue and intimacy, Mrs. Stewart said.
On the last day, Adorno Father Palmieri arranged for an anniversary cake to be served at the Sunday noon dinner.
The final Mass was the official celebration of marriage where everyone renewed their wedding vows. The couples also witnessed Father Palmieri renew his priestly vows, which was a wonderful experience, Mrs. Stewart said.
As newcomers to WWME, she said they learned that priests make the Encounter also. They focus on the same principles as lay persons to help them with the people skills needed in their vocations.
The Stewarts came away from their Marriage Encounter with a sense of peace and confidence that they can carry on with the skills acquired from the exercises. They also discovered that they had been using some of the techniques taught by WWME all along. Mrs. Stewart said they felt honored that they were in touch with the same processes and could now refine them even more.
Married couples who have never attended a Marriage Encounter weekend should consider doing so, she said. It is worth the time and energy. It is enlightening, challenging, and a new way of relating to your spouse.
Upcoming WWME weekends will be held in Myrtle Beach May 1-3 and Sept. 25-27. Visit sc.wwme.org or your parish bulletin.