CORALVILLE– In traditional Valentine’s style, candles flickered, soft music wafted and words of romance were whispered between couples in love.
It was no less romantic that this Valentine’s Day, these couples spoke their vows in a church sanctuary within earshot of about three dozen strangers.
The Coralville United Methodist Church hosted a vow renewal ceremony on Saturday, Feb. 14, one event in the church’s year-long commemoration of its own 50th anniversary.
Lisa Beal is a church member who organized the vow renewal ceremony.
“I wanted this to be a great event because I believe in it so much,” Beal said in an email communication. “I met my husband in this very church and we are going on seven years of marriage.” Beal, who is involved with the church’s Praise Band and choir, said the church means a lot to her personally. Also, Beal noted the church is beginning a Capital Campaign to expand the church in a few years.
“This means that the sanctuary that all have been married in will be torn down. It was a last time to stand up with your spouse in that space, so to speak.”
Beal sent a notice to all the couples who had been married in the Coralville United Methodist Church and later opened it to all couples, inviting them to gather on Valentine’s Day to renew their vows.
Karen and Dave Fesler were united in marriage at the church a little more than 15 years ago. When Karen opened the letter from Beal– it resembled a wedding invitation– she showed it to her husband with a measure of doubtful uncertainty.
“To my surprise, he was the one who wanted to do this,” Karen said. “He agreed to it right away.”
Dave said he had long wanted to renew their wedding vows, though admittedly, he had dreamed the ceremony would take place on a balmy beach somewhere tropical. Since Dave has attended the church since he was six years old, he decided, “this will do.”
Dave Fesler took his place among the 17 grooms waiting at the altar as their brides filed in one by one, and each man ushered his wife to a pew to watch a slideshow of wedding photos, listen to songs performed live and hear the sermon offered by Pastor Doug Williams. Doug’s wife Alecia is a pastor at the First United Methodist Church in North Liberty, and the married couple, both adorned in their officiating robes, took part in the vow renewal ceremony as well.
“Love is not something you fall into,” Doug Williams told the couples. “It is clearly something you choose. Just the fact that you have both chosen to show up here tonight bodes well for your marriage.”
Williams invited each couple to turn to one another and speak their own personal vows at the same time. Some hugged and most held hands. Some kissed, and some wiped away tears. But invariably, everyone smiled as they re-pledged their hearts.
Karen Fesler said when she found herself getting “weepy-eyed,” Dave rescued her by telling a funny story from their own wedding ceremony.
“It made me laugh, and kept me from getting too emotional,” she said.
After the sermon, each couple came to the altar to light a candle and share a story about their marriage, how they met and how long they have been together.
Beal and her husband Monty told of meeting at that same church, on that very altar, seven years before.
“We were both part of a children’s sermon, and when he touched my hand, it was as if God was telling me I had found something,” Beal said.
One couple, identified as Phyllis and Dan, announced they were celebrating their 58th year of marriage. On their first anniversary, recalled Dan, they made a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park and together climbed the park’s highest peak. They repeated the attempt on their 26th anniversary, and again on their 50th.
“We gave it a shot and made it halfway up,” he said. “But that was enough to keep us going.”
Afterward, couples stayed to enjoy dinner and dancing in the church’s fellowship hall.
“ I thought it was very nice,” said Karen Fesler. “We enjoyed it. It meant a lot to us because we were married in the church and Dave has a long history there.
“It made for a special Valentine’s day,” she added.