Encounter Texas Conference gives ‘families a chance to grow together’

North Texas Catholic
(Jun 21, 2019) Local

Courtesy photo from the 2018 Encounter Conference

GRAPEVINE — What do you get when you mix a great family vacation with Adoration and catechetical teaching for all ages? Answer: the Encounter Texas Conference Aug. 16-18 at the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine.

For the first time, the Diocese of Fort Worth will host a large-scale conference with activities for the whole family.

Marlon De La Torre, diocesan director of evangelization and catechesis, said the conference has taken two years to plan. The diocese is partnering with Adore Ministries and Steubenville Conferences to host the family-centered event.

“The diocese is shifting all our education to families,” De La Torre said. “We want to give families a chance to grow together.”

Prioritizing families is what the Encounter Conference is all about, said Peter Fontana, special events coordinator for Adore Ministries.

“There’s really nothing like this,” Fontana said. “This is a true high-quality spiritual conference at a vacation resort.”

Instead of having separate conferences for youth, adult men, adult women, couples, or singles, the Encounter Conference includes everyone, he said.

The event runs Friday evening until noon on Sunday and includes a family concert featuring Matt Maher, keynote speakers, workshops, and Adoration and Mass. Bishop Michael Olson will preside at the closing liturgy.

Fontana said the first keynote message will explore the radical nature of God’s love and how it goes far beyond what we can comprehend. Workshops take the teachings and lives of the saints and show how those messages apply to modern topics. For instance, one workshop relates the life of Mother Teresa to time management by looking at how we can integrate our faith into daily life, Fontana said.

Saturday’s keynote will focus on healing and connection leading up to the celebration of the Eucharist. The day ends with a wedding reception.

“The best party anyone has been to is a wedding reception,” Fontana said. “We celebrate the reality of our union with Christ.”

As the conference wraps up on Sunday, those who attend are encouraged to “find your own Calcutta” because every believer is called to missions.

“God already has you in your mission field,” Fontana said. “How can you engage in that with the body of Christ?”


Combining fun and connection

In addition to impactful messages, there is plenty of time for people to have fun, Fontana said. The Gaylord offers a waterpark for guests and several different spots for friends to meet.

“This is a place where you can vacation together that also has an aspect of connection with an authentic Catholic community,” he said.

Several events combine fun and connection.

On Saturday morning, Katie Hartfiel will give a women’s reflection session called, “Mary, Martha, and Mimosas.” Hartfiel's husband Mark Hartfiel presents a men’s session at the same time.

Throughout the day on Saturday, Hartfiel hosts the Ladies Lounge, a place where women can visit with one another while making crafts, getting foot massages, or having their nails painted. If nursing moms prefer, they may watch a live feed of speakers from the lounge.

Hartfiel has been part of Encounter Conferences for the last three years, when Adore Ministries hosted them in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

“Encounter is probably my favorite weekend of the year,” she said.

Now a mom to kids (ages 10, 7, 3, and 10 months), she looks forward to seeing young adults she used to lead in youth ministry, fellow moms, single friends, and empty nesters who have supported her over the years.

“This is the only thing out there that ministers to all of them,” Hartfiel said.

Her kids also look forward to the weekend.

The conference includes activities on Saturday for children from 3 months to 17. Adore Camp is geared toward ages 7 to 17, with games, swimming, and other fun activities. Kidventure features games, costumes, and make-believe play for ages 3 to 6. Certified babysitters provide care and age-appropriate fun for ages 3 months to 2 years old.

Teens are welcome to come with their parents to any of the regular sessions, Fontana said.

The per-person cost is $159 through July 16 and $179 after July 16. For babysitting or camp activities, the cost is $55 for each child. After paying for four children, additional siblings are free.

Accommodations at the Gaylord Texan are available for an additional fee.

Organizers expect people to come from all over Texas and the surrounding states. Fontana said last year’s Encounter Conference in Houston drew Catholics from 23 states and Canada.

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