By Rev. Everette Chapman
Recently at the Chapel, we had a worship service dedicated to “Celebrating Marriage.” While doomsday denigrators of marriage gloomily announce “one out of every two marriages ends in divorce,” we recognized close to thirty couples who have been married for fifty years or more and twelve other couples who have been married for sixty or more years. No few couples were married for at least twenty, thirty, or forty years.
During the service, we joined in marriage Matt Dolan and Sandra King, who are thankful for the special providence that brought them to each other. As they pledged to “love and to cherish till death do us part,” all of us believed that their commitment would last that long.
After that service, someone asked me, “Do you have any idea how many couples you have joined in marriage?” I do not know exactly, but I would venture that I have performed upwards of 500 marriages in my fifty-three years of ministry. Interestingly enough, my first such marriage took place when I was twenty-four and the bride and groom were twenty-one. Jimmy Mattox and Nancy Brown Mattox will be celebrating their 52nd anniversary this year!
One of my happiest weddings in the Chapel provided the sweet end of a bittersweet sequence. Let me explain.
Several years ago, I walked with Bob and Margarete Burgess through some deep waters, as Bob succumbed to cancer. Bob was a wonderful man, who had played basketball at Presbyterian College for Norm Sloan, the coach who took North Carolina State to an NCAA championship. We faced it together, as Bob and Margarete exhibited uncommon courage.
Shortly after that, I walked with Nick and Kay Rutherford and their family through the agony of Kay’s also yielding to the ravages of cancer. A person of indomitable faith, she had already survived cancer once before and fought bravely during this second challenge. Unfortunately, she was called to the Father’s House in God’s own time.
As always when someone in our community loses a companion, we waited a while, and then all started looking around for a companion for each of them. The incorrigible matchmaker, I had formed my own short list for each of them, but before I could work my magic, Marion Krull, herself of blessed memory, turned the trick. She invited them to dinner the same night, and the rest is history, except for one small part I was allowed to play in the drama.
Having stood with each of them during those painful days of Bob’s home-going and of Kay’s winning through to ultimate victory, I was allowed to stand with them later at the Chapel altar as they celebrated a new beginning together.
Last week, Jenny and I dined at O’Charley’s in Spartanburg. At the next table were a pre-teen and her mother. We struck up a conversation, and in the course of it, I shared that we had lived in Lake Lure. The woman said, “I was married in 2002 at the resort there at the north end of the lake, in that pretty little church across from the golf course.” A few questions later, the light dawned on both her and us; I had performed their ceremony, and Jenny had directed their wedding! Interestingly enough, she remembered Jenny more than she did me.
I don’t know how many weddings I have done, but between that first one and the most recent one, God has allowed me to launch quite a few love boats. Thanks to His grace and to sacred vows honored, most of those are still afloat! EC