By SARA ARTHURS
It’s a magical, special day when a couple looks deeply into each other’s eyes and professes their love.
Pastors who have officiated as couples renew their vows have found the renewals as special as the day itself, if not more so.
The Rev. Dan Metzger has been a pastor for about 12 years, and began his service at St. Marks United Methodist Church in Findlay on July 1. He’s officiated about a dozen vow renewals and said sometimes, the couple chooses to renew their vows to commemorate a significant anniversary, like their 25th. But the services that stick with Metzger are when couples recommit to each other after going through a hard time.
As children get older and go off to school, a couple may find they’ve grown apart and “feel like they’ve become strangers,” he said. Or, sometimes there is infidelity involved. Metzger counsels them as they go through this tough time, not knowing if they’ll stay together. Sometimes it ends up in someone — usually the husband, according to Metzger — saying, “I want to ask you again, ‘Will you marry me?'”
Metzger said often the couples don’t think they will ever get there. Trust may have been destroyed and it seems like there is no hope. But over time they regain trust and feelings of intimacy, and they go from “I don’t even know if I want this person in my house” to a marriage proposal.
He said the couple must be able to say yes, in a healthy way — not just staying together for the kids, but to rebuilding “a feeling of security … am I safe with this person?”
Not every couple gets there, he said, but when they do — it may be time to propose again. And time to say yes.
Metzger has seen everything from a big vow renewal ceremony to a “really private” one in a chapel, “just me and them.” He starts with a reminder of why they are there, and a prayer.
Often the couple writes their own vows. Sometimes they repeat vows from the first wedding.
And, Metzger said, they add the word “still.” As in, “I still take you to be my wife.”
Often the first ceremony was a big white wedding. The second time around, “it’s not about that,” Metzger said. “It’s about, I’m choosing you again.” The dress isn’t as important — it’s about the commitment.
“Well, there’s less pressure,” said the Rev. Don Dennison, interim senior pastor at College First Church of God. He said weddings can “create a lot of anxiety,” and a vow renewal tends to involve less “pomp and circumstance.”
On the other hand, Metzger has heard from some couples who eloped for their first wedding. “They never got to do the big white wedding,” so now they feel it’s time.
Sometimes it isn’t because of a crisis, but a couple decides to reaffirm their commitment at the 20- or 25-year mark. They’ve entered into the marriage with hopes and dreams and desires, and now reality has set in, Metzger said. The couple reevaluates who they will be together.
Last year, Metzger renewed the vows of his wife’s mother and stepfather, on a beach in Hawaii. It was “a really special time for the whole family,” he said.
His wife had been in elementary school when the couple married, and was part of the wedding party. Now the whole family was celebrating the couple’s life together as it looked now.
Metzger said it was a small ceremony on the beach, the family in matching colors. His father-in-law had bought his mother-in-law a piece of jewelry and hid it for her in the sand. They almost didn’t find it.
A comment he heard over and over again from the attendees, who included grandchildren, was “I hope to have that someday.” Metzger said people hope they, too, are still in love after so many years together. And they got to see, “OK, love lasts and stays strong.”
Dennison, who pastored churches in Illinois and Indiana for 28 years before joining the denominational staff, has been in his current interim role since July, serving as transitional pastor.
He most recently renewed the vows of a couple he had married back in 1974. It was a surprise to the bride. Her husband called Dennison and said he wanted to renew their vows at the occasion of their son’s marriage — not at the ceremony, but earlier the same day, as extended family would be present.
“She was just floored by it. … It was such a joyous occasion,” Dennison said.
Dennison said he wishes vow renewals were done more often, “as a way of celebrating” lasting love in a time when many marriages do not last.
He and his wife have been married nearly 49 years. Dennison said they’ve talked about planning something special for their upcoming 50th anniversary, but have “no definite commitment.”
Metzger said he loves weddings, but finds renewals especially beautiful.
“There’s just such a hope for the future,” he said.
When it does come after a crisis or a difficult period, the ceremony itself involves “a lot of emotion.” Sometimes the couple are shaking their heads, saying they can’t believe they made it to this.
Metzger said it’s an honor for him to be a part of it, and he believes it matters to be able to say, “I still choose you.”
And, he said, there is “a reverence and understanding” that God is “apparently still in the business of resurrecting things that seem dead.”