When Warren and Elaine Lipka discovered Worldwide Marriage Encounter, they knew immediately they wanted to be involved. The other couples, they said, “were on a cloud, and you could see the love between them.” Photo courtesy of the Lipkas
When Warren and Elaine Lipka discovered Worldwide Marriage Encounter, they knew immediately they wanted to be involved. The other couples, they said, “were on a cloud, and you could see the love between them.” Photo courtesy of the Lipkas

When Warren and Elaine Lipka learned they were New Jersey State winners of Worldwide Marriage Encounter’s Longest Married Couple Project, Warren acknowledged, “It definitely took us by surprise.”

“I just went around from room to room shaking my head in disbelief. We were just so honored. We’re so humbled,” Elaine Lipka said.

She recalled the words of Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., during the annual Anniversary Blessings Mass in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, four years ago, sharing that those words continue to resonate with the couple.

“Bishop O’Connell said that the key to a long marriage was perseverance and persistence. That made me feel like a million dollars.  I thought, ‘Oh, yeah. I guess it really is perseverance and persistence,” Elaine Lipka said. The Lipkas were observing their 50th anniversary at that Mass.

The couple, who reside in Florence Township and are parishioners in St. Katharine Drexel Parish, Burlington, celebrated 54 years of marriage on Oct. 22. They have participated in Marriage Encounter since 1989 and are currently members of the South Jersey chapter of the group.  Over the years, they have not only participated in WWME experiences on their own, but have also mentored fellow married couples.

According to the WWME website, the organization began in 1952 “when a young priest in Spain, Father Gabriel Calvo, developed a series of conferences for married couples.”

Since that time, WWME has offered “married couples the opportunity to spend time together away from the ‘busyness’ of the world to focus on each other.  It offers tools for building and maintaining a strong Christian marriage in today’s world.  The Marriage Encounter experience is also available to priests and religious to enhance their sacraments.”

On Oct. 10, the Lipkas were celebrated virtually with members of their WWME circle, including Mary and Ed Cook, the South Jersey leaders who nominated the couple for the award, as well as family and friends.

“We were truly honored,” Warren Lipka said of being both nominated for and selected as the longest married couple in the Garden State.

“It was very moving,” Elaine Lipka agreed, considering all the kind words shared by family and loved ones who attended the virtual recognition. “I told them I needed to hang up now because I was going to start crying,” she said.

She reflected on the beginning of their 30-year journey with WWME and recalled seeing how acquaintances were seemingly changed after returning from a Marriage Encounter weekend retreat.

“I remember thinking, I want some of that. They were on a cloud and you could see the love between them,” she said.

Warren Lipka recalled their first Marriage Encounter weekend, saying, “It was a wonderful experience.”

“It was like a shot in the arm. You left there feeling like you wanted to make it as a couple,” his wife added.

And make it they did. The couple has resided in the Burlington area for years, where they raised their children and participated in the life of All Saints Parish, which eventually went on to merge with St. Paul Parish, Burlington, and became St. Katharine Drexel Parish.

“We were blessed with two children after 13 years of marriage – a boy and a girl,” Elaine Lipka shared, noting they are now grandparents to twins, a boy and a girl, and another grandson who resides in California.

The couple, who continue to participate in the Marriage Encounter meetings virtually, encourage couples who want to strengthen their marriages to explore a Marriage Encounter retreat weekend.

“It’s certainly something to look into if you want to strengthen your marriage and enter into loving communication daily with your spouse,” Elaine Lipka stated, echoing the words shared by her husband, “It’s just a wonderful, wonderful experience.”