Sacred Weekend

It started as a “what are the chances” vision when Paul suggested we invite Gary Thomas to do a marriage seminar in New England. Several years ago, we were introduced to his books Sacred Marriage and Sacred Parenting, and Gary Thomas shot to the top of our list of recommended authors whose focus is marriage and family. His message resonated with our hearts at the deepest level and we loved the articulation and honesty with which he presented Biblical truths with reckless abandon of political correctness.

But great authors are not always great speakers, so on faith, we issued the invitation to him to speak. We were at least mildly surprised when he responded enthusiastically to our invitation, explaining that New England was unchartered speaking territory for him and that he’d love to have the opportunity to do more than run the Boston Marathon in New England. So we sealed the deal.

And then we heard him speak.

Paul and I were workshop presenters at the annual Pro Athletes Outreach (NFL) conference in February ‘09 and were thrilled to see that Gary Thomas was the keynote speaker. We were captivated by his talks. He was practical, profound, and provocative in an engaging manner and our expectations regarding the potential impact of him coming to New England increased.

The planning and preparing began and Paul’s vision took shape. Why not bless local pastors with a getaway night with their spouse and treat them not only to dinner and an overnight at a great hotel, but give them an audience with Gary Thomas himself? Our H.I.M. Board got “on board” with the idea, and board member Carl Blatchley and his wife Cathy began contacting pastors and extending the invitation, along with a complimentary copy of Sacred Marriage.

And it happened. An intimate gathering of 80 people experienced a night to remember on Friday the 13th as they were fed physically and spiritually at the Peabody Marriott. A great meal was followed by worship led by Danny and Rayna Oertli, and then the evening culminated with an hour-long encouraging and challenging talk by Gary. One pastor wrote:

“I thought I died and went to heaven this past weekend. What a blessing to the body of Christ! That was just off the charts in terms of ministry and encouragement and in offering hope and bringing couples back to each other and . . . you don’t have time to read it all! You bless me. You bless my wife. Be encouraged in all that you do for the kingdom. God is using you to change lives for eternity.”

Paul welcomed the pastors and their wives at the “pastors only” event Friday night and briefly explained H.I.M.’s vision for partnering with local churches.

Gary Thomas spoke right to the hearts of the couples in attendance.

At the end of the evening, the ministry couples enjoyed interacting with one another...briefly!

Another pastor wrote:
“I wanted to say thank you again for including us in the pastors dinner and overnight. As I noted in our evaluation, we found Gary Thomas to be a great source of wisdom and inspiration. A source which we’ll mine further and recommend broadly. This retreat came in a season when my wife and I are giving more attention to how our marriage is doing, as opposed to how everybody else’s marriage is doing, so we especially felt God’s touch in all of it.”

Friday’s pastors event was followed by a packed out all-day seminar on Saturday. In spite of heavy rain, over 500 people filled the fabulous sanctuary at Calvary Christian Church in Lynnfield, and the day was off and running.

It couldn’t have been a better day.

Gary Thomas delivered four inspired talks that were anything but “run of the mill.” Throughout the day, he developed the tag line of his Sacred Marriage book, which reads “What if God designed marriage to make you holy more than happy?” He challenged us to exchange the cultural message that “marriage is about me and my happiness” for the counter-cultural Biblical message that “marriage is about God and His design.” A gifted story teller as well as a prophetic teacher, Gary effectively communicated a compelling case for allowing God to use marriage as a vehicle for personal sanctification.

Gary was extremely well received by the over 500 conferees.

Besides Gary’s teaching, worship was lead by Danny and Rayna Oertli, whose music has worked its way into many New England hearts over the past few years. Workshops were also offered in the afternoon, giving practical handles on a number of areas specific to marriage.

Danny Oertli touched many with his original song, “Would you marry me again?” as he wrapped up the conference.

Jim and Sue Martis served as the event coordinators and did a thorough and excellent job. They also catered the lunch, launching their new business “MJM Catering.” Their team of volunteers came through in every area, from parking to making lunches, to posting signs, to tending book tables. Barbara Steele did all of the printed material for the conference as well as registration, and as always, did an “above and beyond” job. Allison Nash contributed her creative artistry with stage and foyer decorations. The team helped the day run smoothly and well, which facilitated the program and set the stage for the spirit of God to work.

Volunteers cheerfully prepared lunches for 500.

“Big Jim” Martis directed the catering operation, and successfully fed the “multitudes” efficiently in a short period of time.

Barbara Steele handles registration with a smile.

Evaluations confirmed that God had indeed used the day to further His kingdom purposes in the lives of many married couples. It gave us great personal joy to see the broad spectrum of couples in attendance, from those whose marriages have really struggled in the past and who are on more solid ground now, to those whose already strong marriages were reinforced. We feel confident that God did a work that Saturday which will have ongoing impact in the months and years ahead. More than ever, we believe that God wants to change the marriage at a time. Saturday’s conference contributed to building into those marriages in a big way. All praise is His!