LOUISVILLE, KY. — For 32 years, Carl Brecheen and Paul Faulkner have hopscotched the globe together, teaching thousands of couples how to strengthen their marriages. That partnership will draw to a close Dec. 2 with their final planned Celebration of Marriage seminar at the University church in Abilene, Texas. But the marriage enrichment icons, both 76, said they expect their six-decade friendship to remain strong. “Because we’ve been the closest of friends so long and enjoy being together so much, I think that’s been a major part of the seminar’s chemistry,” Brecheen said. “We probably know each other as well as our wives know us.” Brecheen has been married for 51 years, and Faulkner has been married for 54 years.
As they reflected on their lives and their ministry together, the two friends sat in identical blue suede chairs in the lobby of the Downtown Marriott hotel in Louisville, site of a recent seminar.
Brecheen and Faulkner — whose camaraderie began in 1948 as freshman roommates at Abilene Christian University — conducted their first marriage seminar three decades later at the former Sunrise church in Houston in 1974.
Faulkner vividly remembers the anxiety he felt the night before that first seminar.
“We were going to do something completely different from what had been done in Churches of Christ,” he said.
They would be using new and unfamiliar technology — overhead projectors, a giant 12-by-12-foot screen and cordless microphones. Participants also had to buy the marriage manual.
“We didn’t know how elders would feel about ‘charging’ for going to church, and we knew we had to be very careful about using the sex material,” Brecheen said.
But the seminars proved a success. So much so that Brecheen and Faulkner soon found their seminars booked three to four years in advance. Along the way, they spoke to more than 90,000 couples in 33 states and seven countries.
Thousands of people have watched their marriage enrichment videos and read their books, which include What Every Family Needs, Making Things Right When Things Go Wrong and Achieving Success Without Failing your Family.
When the seminars began, they lasted 12 hours. Brecheen and Faulkner later shortened them to 10 hours. But the message and format stayed the same. Designed to “make the good marriage better,” they covered such topics as communication, sex and mutual submission.
The pair began teaching at a time when most church members weren’t “ready” for a man and woman to do the presentations together, Faulkner said. Even as other seminars — featuring couples as the presenters — gained popularity, Brecheen and Faulkner remained in demand.
Tom Milholland, assistant provost and former director of the ACU Marriage and Family Institute, said there’s a simple reason for that: Brecheen and Faulkner’s seminar resonated with people.
“It’s non-threatening and generates a lot of encouragement to couples,” Milholland said. “As an enrichment seminar, it’s a ray of hope and sunshine, particularly when marriage doesn’t get much good press today.”
The Walnut church in Texarkana, Texas, hosted the seminar earlier this year. Minister John Cannon said of the presenters: “They are elders, researchers and professors, but yet they are good old boys.”
“Some of the material is pretty much the same as I first heard it 20 years ago,” Cannon said, “but they make themselves so vulnerable, and there is such a flow between the two of them, that it seems fresh and natural.”
While always educational, the seminars often were entertaining, too — particularly for the presenters.
Brecheen and Faulkner once traveled to Charlotte, N.C., in the dead of winter to present a seminar. When they checked into their room, they found it had no heat.
“Here were two big old boys who slept in their clothes and hugged each other all night long to keep from freezing to death,” Faulkner said.
“That’s right,” added Brecheen, laughing. “We snuggled.”
Another time, a travel agent mistakenly booked their flight to a city in Connecticut with the same name as the town in Indiana where their seminar was scheduled.
When they discovered the error, they were at a New York airport. After calling the church in Indiana to explain the problem, they flew to Detroit, rented a car and drove across four states. They arrived at 4 a.m. in time to begin a seminar, rescheduled to begin at 6 a.m.
For most of the past three decades, the two friends shared a room on their seminar weekends. “Only recently have we gotten two because I snore too loudly,” Brecheen said.
Their evening ritual was always the same. Brecheen finished his presentation first, so he would get to the room and call his wife, “Smitty.” Later, Faulkner would arrive and call his wife, Gladys. Then the two men would pray together.
“We’ve prayed together for 60 years, and I’m sure that is not about to stop,” said Brecheen.
Faulkner served as a distinguished professor of Bible at ACU for 39 years. He founded the department of Marriage and Family Therapy, a nationally accredited master’s program. Following his retirement 10 years ago, he and his wife moved to a 75-acre ranch about 25 miles southwest of Austin, Texas. Currently, he preaches for the church he planted in Dripping Springs, Texas.
Brecheen, who has served as professor of Bible and religion at ACU for more than 40 years, retires in January. He directed the annual Bible teacher’s workshop and Bible lectureship series. He lives in Abilene and serves as an elder of the University church.
“Truthfully, I’m a little disappointed that we are calling it quits. I had envisioned dropping dead with our boots on,” Brecheen said.
“Yeeesss,” said his friend, with his characteristic Texas drawl.
“Giving the seminars always gave us a huge boost, and we’ll miss it,” Faulkner said. “But part of me says you should transition before the wave crests.”
Dec. 1, 2006