Better than chocolate: a vow renewed

(Editor's Note: This story was updated Feb. 13, 2014.)

There will be quiet romantic dinners and passionate embraces laced together with heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, bouquets of flowers and probably a few sparkling jewels.

Couples College 101 session at First UMC, Orlando
Life coach Dwight Bain works with 21 couples signed up for Couple's College 101 at First UMC, Orlando. Photo from First UMC.

But those feelings and expressions of love should not be put away and forgotten after Valentine’s Day. They need to be embraced and strengthened year-round, says Dr. Kevin James, senior pastor of Palm Coast UMC.

His congregation spreads that message through an annual renewal of marriage vows on the weekend before Valentine's Day. Last year, at the inaugural ceremony, 74 couples said "I do" again as they stood in the church sanctuary amid heart-shaped balloons and surrounded by the love of families and their spouses.

This year, more than 80 couples re-committed to their marriages. And nearly 40 couples attended a seminar on "The Art of Marriage." They shared a lunch on Saturday and a "sweethearts" dance Saturday evening.

The seminar identified six stages in a relationship: Love happens, then fades, dances, interrupts and sizzles before leading to the last stage, dubbed “Love Always.”

"I try to tell them that love will find a way," James says. "It's more than a piece of paper."

Other churches also took the opportunity to focus on marriage as Valentine's Day approached. At First UMC, Orlando, 21 couples enrolled in Couple's College 101, a Saturday seminar open to the public on how to strengthen relationships.

Technically, Adam and Eve had an arranged marriage. The concept of linking romance to marriage is relatively new. Click here to read an historical perspective on the institution of marriage and how to make it work today.

Leading the session were motivational speakers and life coaches Dwight Bain and Christine Hammond of the Winter Haven-based The LifeWorks Group.

"We think this is a really good time for couples to have a date time and work on their relationship and invest in themselves," says Chris Meyer, one of the seminar's organizers.

Prayer is an important part of the relationship, says Meyer, who will celebrate his 18th wedding anniversary in March.

Statistics show nearly half of all marriages end in divorce, but Meyer says, "Couples that pray together each day have a divorce rate of one out of 1,000. It's just building a relationship that has God at the center."

Marriage seems to have gone out of style for many people, he notes, so it is important for the church to offer support.
"[For] this generation, it seems that there is not as strong a covenant," Meyer says. "People are living together, having kids and not getting married."

The seminar was sponsored by the church's First Men's ministry and Mothers of Preschoolers, or MOPS. Child care was provided; refreshments, including some chocolates, were served. Giving up part of Saturday for a seminar might not be the easiest choice, but Meyer says, "This is a great gift for Valentine's Day and you get bonus points for coming."

Next year, the congregation is thinking of holding an advanced course, Couple's College 201, or maybe a beginner's course, Parenting 101.

Palm Coast UMC Sweethearts dance
In addition to its annual renewal of vows ceremony,  Palm Coast UMC held a Sweethearts Dance, above, and "The Art of Marriage" seminar, below, to shine a spotlight on marriage for Valentine's Day. Photos from Palm Coast UMC.
Palm Coast UMC Art of Marriage seminar participants

Vow renewal around Valentine's Day has become a tradition also at Lakewood Park UMC, Fort Pierce.

"Two years ago, we did the wedding vows renewal as part of the Sunday worship service and it was beautiful," says Rev. Jacqueline Leveron, senior pastor. "The couples came down the aisle as the wedding march was played and then renewed their love and commitment for each other.

“This year, we are asking the couples to come to the altar, and I will be praying a prayer of blessing upon them."

Not every congregation chooses Valentine's Day to celebrate marriage. New Year's Eve is chosen each year for vow renewals at Trinity UMC, Gainesville. This past year, eight couples pledged their love in the chapel.

"It was very small but intimate. It was helpful to do reflection, realize how you met and your wedding day," says David Leonard, the church's adult pastor. "It goes a long way to helping couples re-bond."

Sherry and Jim Rimstidt, who helped coordinate the marriage seminar at Palm Coast, celebrated 50 years of marriage last year. They met in high school in Rock Port, Ind.

"We were young and in love," she remembers.

If there is a secret to a long marriage, she says, it is based on commitment, humor, love and faith.
"Every once in awhile a new car needs a little tune-up. Marriage, from time to time, needs fine-tuning.”

Couples at the Palm Coast seminar covered a wide range, from those married for decades to almost newlyweds, and even one engaged couple.

There also was diversity of all kinds at the renewal ceremony on Sunday. Different ages, years of marriage, race and ethnicity were represented, James says. "Now isn't that wonderful."

And next year, James says the church will add something new to the seminar: a session of the old television show "The Newlywed Game."

"I can't wait to do that," James says. "It should be fun."

-- Kathy Steele is a freelance writer based in the Tampa area.

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