My parents married 50 years ago at the church they grew up in, that I grew up in, and where my husband and I also got married. It’s a special place, with wonderfully imperfect and lovable people.
On their actual anniversary, we were able to worship there together as an extended family, and then we went to brunch. My parents, who joined the ranks of the 6% of couples who reach a 50th anniversary milestone, asked for us not to throw a party in their honor.
So we placed yellow roses and sunflowers in an arrangement on the altar, made mention of the occasion in the worship bulletin, and filled a pew at their church. My parents were the bookends, one sitting on one end of the row and the other at the far end. The pastor of course noticed that, commenting from the pulpit that the key to spending 50 years together must be to stay as far apart from each other as possible. The congregation laughed in recognition that the words might hold some truth.
Marriage is, at least in part, an exercise in learning to walk away but not out.
After the service, we took a few photos on the front steps where the bride and groom had been photographed 50 years before, and at brunch we looked at photos of them at their wedding and the years since. We listened to a few stories.
I went home grateful.
I’m grateful for my parents who have persevered together and shown us the importance of showing up and sticking it out. Marriage is not always pretty, or easy. In fact, it can be far from that. But to me, in most circumstances it’s worth it. I’m grateful for others who’ve also helped show us the way, including my in-laws, my grandparents, and our aunts and uncles.
I’m grateful for my husband, who sees the world differently than I do and still puts up with me (almost) daily. Like every other married couple, we’ve had our share of difficulty and differences, and it’s both alarming and comforting to know that another human being knows all of my quirks, faults, habits, abilities, and insecurities really well.
I’m also grateful for the church community that’s nurtured my parents, my larger family, and me for decades, and for the also wonderfully imperfect and lovable congregation that nurtures my own little family now.
Community has changed tremendously in the 50 years since my parents said “I do.” So has religion. Back then, with several generations of the same family living within close proximity to each other, the church often was the social hub of the community. Going to church was just what we did. I sat alongside my grandparents and aunts and uncles each week, just about as bored as my children are today. But I felt loved, and accepted, and connected.
Now, religion has lost much of its prominence. Community can be difficult to come by. In our fractured, busy lives, we have to seek out authentic community; we’re no longer automatically just part of it. These days, it’s all too easy to move into a new home, not know your neighbors, not be related to anyone, and not have any true connection.
We’ve lost something there.
To be sure, we have more choices now for how we can get involved and create communities – be they online or in person. But there’s still a place for the church, for a community where people know your name and your story, where you search for deeper meaning, where you address your doubts, where you seek answers for the tough questions, and where you find hope, acceptance and connection amidst life’s uncertainties.
And for this, too, I’m grateful.
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