By Sybil Davidson
All marriages need attention, effort, and nurturing. That's why the marriage ministries of Ben Hill UMC, Cascade UMC, and Central UMC are hard at work preparing for the 10th annual Heart of Marriage Retreat.
To celebrate a decade of meaningful ministry, in 2016 The Heart of Marriage Retreat will go "Back to the Basics," using the same scripture, Ecclesiastes 4:12, that was the foundation of the first retreat.
Back in 2007, church leaders from Ben Hill considered that it had been a number of years since the church had held a marriage retreat. A committee set out to plan one that year. The retreat was excellent, and toward the end the facilitator asked about plans for next year.
"We hadn't planned on making it an annual event, but went ahead and started making arrangements for 2008," said Mike Watkins who is part of the retreat committee and a Ben Hill UMC member.
The event continued to prove valuable, and one year a couple from nearby Cascade UMC's marriage ministry attended. They asked about partnering and offering the retreat to both churches.
A few years later, the same thing happened as members of Central UMC in Atlanta's marriage ministry attended. They asked about Central joining in to collaborate on the retreat.
Last year was the third year that all three churches have collaborated. More than 120 couples attended.
Each year, the retreat committee brings in outside facilitators and the strong reputation has attracted participants from across the U.S. as well. The event is open to all.
"God is at work here," said Watkins. "It takes a lot of planning, but we are very intentional that this is a ministry and to let God lead us."
The planning committee works year round.
"There are families that are struggling and couples who are really struggling, who benefit from this time together," said Watkins. "We believe God is at the heart of every successful marriage. A cord of three strands is not easily broken. That was the founding scripture of our original retreat and this is what we believe."
Watkins and his wife Joy are recognizing another anniversary in 2016. Not only is it the 10th anniversary of the event, in April they celebrated the 10th anniversary of Joy being cancer free.
"[Facing cancer] was truly the most difficult period of our marriage and while life continues to present ups and downs we know that having gotten through this struggle we can face any challenge with God’s help," said Watkins.
The 10th Anniversary retreat, "Back to the Basics," will be held September 9-11 at the Atlanta Evergreen Marriott Conference Resort. Register and make reservations at http://www.