In 2019, First United Methodist in Columbus, Indiana, celebrated Valentine’s Day by offering couples the opportunity to renew their marriage vows. Now the service has become an annual tradition.
“The idea first came to us during a staff retreat where someone asked if our church should doing anything special over the week of Valentine’s Day,” said the Rev. Howard Boles, senior pastor. “Eventually we landed on the idea of hosting a renewal of vows service for married couples.”
The Valentine’s Day service is free and open to all couples who wish to renew their vows -- whether they are members of the church or not. The first year the church hosted the service, 15 couples participated. Some had been married less than 10 years while others were celebrating almost 50 years of marriage. The church hopes to have more this year thanks to increased publicity. Boles adapts the Order for Reaffirmation of the Marriage Covenant found in the United Methodist Book of Worship.
“We ask couples when they come up how long they have been married and recite the traditional marriage vows and do a blessing of the rings," said Boles. “I usually point out that the rings may have scratches or nicks from years of wear that can be a symbol of the trials that come with marriage, but (are) also indicative of the strength of the couple’s covenant.”
Robin and Don Campbell have been married 49 years and renewed their vows when First UMC began offering the service last year. They enjoyed the experience so much they decided to do it again this year. The Campbell’s daughter-in-law The Rev. Sarah Campbell is the associate pastor of the church, and their extended family was present at the service.
“Our anniversary happens to be the week after Valentine’s Day, so we were thrilled when the church announced it was offering to renew marriage vows,” said Robin Campbell. “It was very emotional for me because the words take on a whole new meaning when you’ve been through so much together for so many years. We were so young when we got married, but have been through so much together and cannot imagine life without each other.”
“It’s a great experience that I think all couples should do. It was wonderful to have our children and grandchildren there with us this time around,” said Ron Campbell.
The church holds the service in the chapel rather than the sanctuary to help better utilize that part of its building. The chapel does not host weekly services and, according to Boles, many members were barely aware of its existence before last year. The church puts up a big wedding banner and takes a picture of each couple after they renew their vows.
Even though the service itself is free to anyone who wishes to participate, the church encourages couples and other guests to donate to its preschool program, which hosts a general fundraiser throughout February. Most couples are happy to contribute a little to support the program.