By Shelley Mahoney
WHITE MARSH, Md. — Pastors, planters, and ministry leaders from sixteen churches around Baltimore gathered together on the weekend of February 21 at the Hilton Garden Inn for the “Refine Us” marriage conference. This event was the first marriage conference the Baltimore Baptist Association (BBA) has hosted, and more than 106 guests eagerly poured into the conference to invest in their marriages and build relationships with those around them.
“Our goal going into this weekend is that couples would receive encouragement, healing, and forgiveness, and that they will be strengthened in their marriages,” said Theresa Sassard, the BBA Executive Office Administrator.
The retreat started with a time of fellowship over dinner in a ballroom elegantly decorated with candles, white tablecloths, balloon garlands, and wooden pallets. Couples from churches throughout the greater Baltimore region enjoyed conversation with other church members and with their pastors. Matt Robinson, the pastor of Bethlehem Church, brought thirty church members with him. Austin O’Donald, planter of The Gates Church, along with his wife, Meryl, brought six couples with them to the event.
“We’re excited to be here. A lot of the people in our church have never been able to attend an event like this, where they can invest in their marriages,” said O’Donald.
After dinner, Trevor and Melissa Chin, planters of Epiphany Church, led in a time of worship. BBA Executive Director and Pastor of Captivate Church, Tally Wilgis, then welcomed the attendees and encouraged them to allow the Lord to work in their hearts and marriages over the course of the conference. He told them they would have an opportunity to be raw, honest, and transparent as they were challenged by the speakers they listened to and the discussions they would partake in.
“I encourage you to make your prayer, ‘Lord, change my heart’,” Wilgis said. “Not ‘change my wife’s heart’ or ‘change my husband’s heart,’ but rather ‘change my own heart.’”
Couples were then encouraged to pray together out loud, holding one another and asking God for a productive and helpful weekend.
The first session started with Justin and Trisha Davis, who shared their stories and perspectives about marriage. The Davises are speakers, bloggers, and founders of RefineUs ministries; their goal through RefineUs is to ignite “a movement to build healthy marriages and families.”
Using warmth, humor, and raw honesty, the Davises related to their audience by sharing about everything from their disastrous honeymoon to their early days in the ministry and eventually, they moved on to discuss the immense challenges they dealt with that almost destroyed their relationship. The couple lamented the fact that they decided to “settle” for ordinary in their marriage as they built their ministry together and this repeated decision to avoid open communication and settle in an unhappy situation eventually led to major problems.
“From the outside in, it looked like we had it all together,” Justin said. “We had become really good ministry partners and really bad marriage partners.”
After sharing their story, the Davises went on to lead sessions on relational intimacy, sexual intimacy, and forgiveness the following day. They encouraged couples to ask hard questions and be willing to share everything about themselves with their spouses.
“You cannot experience transformation without transparency,” Justin said.
In between sessions, Wilgis led couples in times of prayer and hosted games that allowed couples to show off their knowledge of their spouses by raising a shoe to answer a question. Everyone who participated in the games got gift cards to Chick-Fil-A, and the winning couple received a heftier Target gift card. Colleen Smith, founder of the Restoration Experience, a women’s ministry which partners with Captivate Church, registered women for their upcoming conference and gave out door prizes.
Attendees also had an opportunity to submit questions, which the speakers answered onstage.
“This has been an amazing retreat that’s been really eye-opening,” said Ray Quade, a member of Haven City Church.
“With so many distractions in everyday life, having a moment of intimacy with your husband is great,” said Melissa Chin of Epiphany Church.
Over the course of the conference, Wilgis reminded attendees several times of the many benefits the BBA offers to ministry leaders, including free, anonymous counseling services with certified counselors; free gym memberships; and free massages for pastors’ wives.
“Our motto is ‘you are not alone,’” Wilgis reminded the audience. “That’s the message we really want to drive home to you. We’re here to support you and help you support one another.
“The Baltimore Baptist Association wants to provide a space for pastors’ wives and ministry leaders to be fully known and fully loved. We exist to equip and serve church leaders and their families, and we hope that this marriage conference is another avenue we can use to accomplish this goal,” Wilgis said.
This article was written for the Baltimore Baptist Association and is used with permission.
Note: If you missed this conference, stay tuned! The BCM/D will host a marriage conference this spring. More information will be forthcoming.