HARTLAND — About 85 couples attended the first Light Up Your Marriage Conference at St. Charles Parish, Oct. 10. The nine-hour event featured talks on the sanctity of marriage.
The conference was the brainchild of mother-daughter Shari Lester and Kristina Erdmann during a lunch conversation in March.
“It really was the Holy Spirit moving us,” Lester said. “We wanted to do something to strengthen marriage because it’s being attacked. We really felt called to bring the message out to the community.”
Lester, Erdmann and a team of organizers planned the event, which featured Deacon Burke-Sivers, founder of Aurem Cordis (Latin for “Ear of the Heart”), a Portland, Ore.-based Christian evangelization and apologetics organization devoted to promoting Catholic values.
Deacon Burke-Sivers, who serves in the Archdiocese of Portland, Ore., speaks at men’s and family conferences throughout the world.
“I enjoyed my time (at the conference) very much,” said Deacon Burke-Sivers, who spoke of God’s plan for marriage from Genesis 1 and 2 and what can be done to restore it. “I really hope this impacts strong, healthy life-long marriages.”
Deacon Burke-Sivers’ desire struck a chord with Tory and Natalie Schultz of Milwaukee. The Schultzes, who have children ages 4 and 2, said the conference reminded them of life’s priorities.
“We don’t always put enough emphasis on our marriage because life gets crazy,” Natalie said. “(The conference) helped us grow spiritually as well.”
For Tory, the conference was as much about preserving his young marriage as it was in growing in his walk with Jesus through his Catholic faith.
“I want to get more of a drive to know Jesus and grow in my relationship with Natalie,” Tory said. “It’s all about having those flames to get closer to faith and do more together.”
Natalie said she came to the realization during the conference that people of faith who demonstrate a healthy marriage are critical in a society where marriages all too often break apart or flounder.
“It put a lot more weight on making time together,” Natalie said.
Other speakers were John Buri, a professor of psychology at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., and author of “How to Love Your Wife”; Marybeth Hicks, an author heard on Relevant Radio who has written extensively on culture and family issues; and Fr. Don Hying, rector of Saint Francis de Sales Seminary.
Lester said she was gratified by the feedback she and Erdmann have received from attendees.
“It’s been very positive, and we’ve been told to try and bring back some of these people,” Lester said. “We’ve been told this is helping people.”
While Lester had hoped for larger participation, she said the conference served its purpose.
“We really want this as something the lay Catholics will embrace and bring out into our whole communities,” Lester said. “We’ll let the Holy Spirit grow it.”
Deacon Burke-Sivers said the environment was positive, particularly for an event that made its debut.
“The Holy Spirit is going to bring who he wants there,” he said. “This is a grassroots effort. Let it start small and grow as people spread the word so that marriages can be sustained and nurtured. You start to build a groundswell.”
Erdmann and Lester said it is likely Light Up Your Marriage will return in 2010.
“We’re certainly praying about it,” Lester said. “We’re asking the Holy Spirit where to go from here. But we want to leave that up to him. God-willing, we plan to do it again next year.”