By Steve Reeves
Those who attended the NACC Minister and Spouse Retreat arrived at the Ridgecrest Conference Center, just outside of Asheville, North Carolina, with a spirit of anticipation and maybe even a little apprehension. After all, it was the year of the much-discussed regional conferences, it was the first-ever NACC marriage retreat, and the sign in our room read, “Bear Alert.” No kidding!
In part, the flyer read, “Black bears have been seen in this area recently,” and “What to do if you meet a black bear.” To my knowledge, no bears were seen during our stay, which is just one of the reasons our anticipation and apprehension turned into overwhelming appreciation!
Here are just a few of the comments:
• “This retreat may be the most
significant event for affecting our ministry together.”
• “Thank you for being there when we needed you most! The Minister and Spouse Retreat has offered us an oasis in the midst of a very difficult period in our ministry.”
• “Time to rest, be a part of God’s beautiful creation, time to be restored and renewed—I feel ready to go back and serve with new, great things to offer.”
The worship leader, Damian Thompson, was a gifted, engaging brother in Christ who serves with the Northshore Christian Church in Everett, Washington. He set the tone for our 43 hours together by being so real. He looked at us and said, “I’m just going to be honest. You scare me!”
We knew what he meant because, generally speaking, we “minister types” are as critical of worship styles as the people who sit in our churches. But there were no “worship wars” at this retreat. Instead, 600 adults connected with God and each other in one of the best events in NACC history (at least in my lifetime). Why?
Reason 1: The People
The folks in this region of the country were as warm and beautiful as the mountains surrounding us. And the fact that we were, as Acts 2:1 says, “together in one place,” just made our fellowship sweeter.
Reason 2: The Pace
The first words uttered, in unison, by those in attendance were, “I’m relaxed because I’m not in charge.” The Executive Committee planned a schedule that was designed to provide much free time, laughter, and relaxation.
Reason 3: The Program
Russ Blowers, senior minister at East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis for 45 years, opened the retreat by sharing the touching story of the 59-year journey he and his wife, Marian, had together. Marian suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and journeyed to God’s presence in August 2004. Their story reminded each couple just how fortunate we are to still be writing our stories together. When Russ concluded with the words, “Write it well,” the holy silence in the room was deafening.
Dr. John Walker, executive director of Blessing Ranch, and Dr. John Trent, president of StrongFamilies.com, spoke to us on Wednesday morning about the need to look at ourselves honestly that we might give ourselves more completely to each other in marriage.
A panel of eight ministry couples shared practical insights and answered questions just before lunch . . . and then the real fun began.
The afternoon provided time to shop, sightsee, hike, play, or just kick back in a rocking chair as gorgeous, misty rain descended on the Smokies.
The highlight for many was “Couples Night Out.” The evening began with a candlelight dinner followed by some of the best bluegrass and jazz music east of the Mississippi.
By the time Christian comedian Jeff Allen took the stage, we had given each musical group much-deserved standing ovations. As it turned out, we were just getting warmed up. Jeff proceeded to make us laugh ’til we cried for 75 minutes! If laughter is good medicine, we left “well healed.”
Thursday morning, Dave and Kim Butts, of Harvest Prayer Ministries, led a timely and extremely practical session on “Praying Together as Couples.” Following their teaching, every couple spent time praying together all over the campus.
Dr. John Trent inspired us, at the last session, to make the small changes that can lead to enhanced relationships. Then the couples renewed their wedding vows before we prepared to head home.
One couple summarized our thoughts as the retreat ended: “This was one of the most enjoyable events! Plenty of teaching, relaxation, entertainment—economical and beautiful. Let’s do it again!”
If 2005 will be remembered as the year of “the regionals,” for the couples privileged to attend the Minister and Spouse Retreat, it will remind us of “that summer in the Smokies with my sweetheart.”
Here’s hoping the NACC Board of Stewards will plan another retreat . . . and soon!
Steve Reeves ministers with Brownsburg (Indiana) Christian Church and served as an NACC regional vice president for the Minister and Spouse Retreat.