by Fr RON BENNETT
Many families plan their day around the kitchen table. So it was that, 50 years ago, around a kitchen table in New York, USA, that a few couples and a priest planned a movement that would radically transform the sacraments of marriage and priesthood in our Catholic Church.
The results of that kitchen table conversation have now been experienced by 2.5
million people in 97 countries.

Marriage Encounter came to New Zealand from Australia. From June, 1978, couples and priests would forgo their holidays to travel to Auckland or Wellington for a weekend then return home to their families, all at their own expense. By December, 1978, Marriage
Encounter in New Zealand was getting to its own feet, and by February, 1979, was giving its own weekends.

The New Zealand national team of Neil and Francie Ivamy and Fr Ron Bennett (left)
cut a celebratory cake.

In the last 40 years, weekends have  been held all over the country, from large cities to small towns, sometimes with as many as 30 couples, at other times with much smaller numbers. New Zealand, in its turn, has had out-reaches to the Cook Islands and Tonga. There has also been an Anglican expression, and the Korean community had their own weekends.

On August 11-12 this year, 40 years later, couples and priests gathered in Palmerston North to remember and celebrate the dream of that “kitchen table” group so many years before. The dream has resulted in the enrichment of both the sacrament of marriage and of priesthood, which is something quite unique.

For marriages, it has created a closeness and daily growth in the relationship; for
priests perhaps a new understanding of their love for their people and their people’s love for them.

Thirty-two couples and four priests attended the weekend. The oldest married couple was Margaret and Russell Haddock (Whanganui), with others there who were more than 50 years married. The youngest couple was Kelly and Luana Durston (Napier). Special guests
were Eric and Ma Narayan from Fiji. Many came from Auckland and Tauranga. Although
Marriage Encounter came to New Zealand in 1978, it had been preceded by a sister group — National Marriage Encounter which had been in Christchurch and Dunedin, and couples also came from that expression of the movement.

One of the highlights was the roving mic, where couples and priests shared their own experiences of the weekend. This was followed by Mass, celebrated by four priests, and with the opportunity to renew marriage or priestly vows, followed by a wonderful dinner, cutting of the cake, and dancing into the night.

A little like a wedding day!

Sunday began with Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, where Msgr Brian Walsh thanked the Marriage Encounter Movement for all that it has done in fostering the sacraments of marriage and priesthood.

Couples and priests left knowing that Marriage Encounter in New Zealand is in good heart and looking forward to meeting again for the 50th Anniversary. To know more about Marriage Encounter in New Zealand or to do a weekend, phone 0800 362 686 or go to http://www.marriageencounter.org.nz.

The present national team of Neil and Francie Ivamy (Tararua) and Fr Ron Bennett (Karori/Wilton) has come to an end of their term, and the new National Team will be Mike and Kathleen Williams (Upper Hutt) and Fr Carl Telford, SM (Ngaio).

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