Engaged Encounter gives couples spiritual, practical guidance

MAULDIN — Brian and Darlene Hansen have been appointed as the Upstate coordinators for Catholic Engaged Encounter, an increasingly popular program designed to help engaged couples learn more about each other prior to marriage.

They recently took over the position from Jim and Elizabeth Driscoll, who led the statewide program for two years. The Hansens are members of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and have one daughter, Haley Rose.

Catholic Engaged Encounter (CEE) is an international organization founded in 1975 as a ministry to “pre-married” couples. It’s an independent group staffed completely by volunteers and funded through donations. According to the CEE website, the program is now offered in nearly every diocese in the United States.

Engaged Encounter events take place over weekends throughout the year and include group and private discussion, and opportunities for spiritual reflection and worship.

During the weekends, the couples use a process of writing, listening and dialogue to share their feelings with each other about aspects of life including marriage, family, faith, finances, goals and ambitions. They also address their strengths and weaknesses, both as couples and individuals. Participants hear presentations from married couples and a priest to learn more about what is needed to create a successful and spirit-filled marriage.

The events are open to Catholics and non-Catholics.

Brian Hansen said that he and Darlene attended a weekend in 1999 and learned so much from it that they decided to volunteer with the organization after their marriage. They served as presenters for two years until being asked to take over the leadership of the South Carolina program this March. He said the two-year term will be challenging because of the organization and time that’s involved but they consider it worthwhile because of what CEE offers.

“It’s an opportunity for couples to get away from the pressures and influences of society and spent some time really learning about each other and preparing for marriage,” he said. “You learn that you’re preparing for a life with the church and with God.”

Darlene said she and her husband still use some of the writings they prepared during their encounter weekend when dealing with issues that arise in their marriage. Two that she finds particularly useful are some rules they wrote up for how to handle an argument, and guidelines they developed for how to make long-range plans.

“Engaged Encounter really helps couples to improve their communication skills,” she said. “You find a lot of times that couples will be faced with having to address issues they haven’t touched yet, like how to deal with in-laws and methods of how to deal with an interfaith marriage.”

Brian said most couples who attend CEE weekends are either both Catholic or have one member who is Catholic. Increasingly, however, he said that couples from other denominations are attending the weekends because of the combination of down-to-earth communication and spiritual instruction that is a standard of Engaged Encounter.

Hansen said the age range of couples who attend ranges from those in their 20s to people in their 50s and 60s who are either marrying for the first time or beginning a second marriage.

“It’s an absolutely fabulous program — there’s really not enough we can say about it,” said Greenville resident Elizabeth Driscoll. She attended an Engaged Encounter weekend with her husband Jim in 1997. Their experiences that weekend led them to become involved with Engaged Encounter after their marriage. The Driscolls served as local coordinators for two years and plan to stay involved as junior presenting couples at upcoming weekends.

Elizabeth said that the experience helps couples on many different levels.

“It helps them get off on the right foot when they get married,” she said. “You especially learn about communication, and about how important it is to have God at the forefront of your marriage. You learn how important it is to pray together.”

The majority of Engaged Encounter events in the diocese take place The Oratory in Rock Hill, but others have been held at Camp Hope in Clemson and the White Oak conference center near Columbia.

Upcoming weekends in South Carolina will be held at Camp Hope Oct. 20-22, and at The Oratory Nov. 10-12. The cost is $200 per couple (non-refundable), and the fee includes separate overnight accommodations for men and women, meals, and materials used during the weekend.

Anyone interested in learning more about Engaged Encounter should visit the program’s web site at www.engagedencounter.org. Specific information about the program in South Carolina is available at www.engagedencounter.org/dist3/CommunityWebPages/Greenville.

To contact the Hansens, call (864) 288-9789 or e-mail ceecommunitysc@ yahoo.com.

For reservations, contact Mike and Kathy Hennessy at (864) 232-1222 or katchow@charter.net.