Posts Tagged ‘Marriage’

By Jim and Wendy Norvelle

For Lewis and Toni Myers, the road that winds from their childhood homes in the flat Mississippi delta to missionary and family life in Vietnam to retirement days in Richmond includes a very important bench outside a girls’ dormitory at Mississippi College in Clinton.

Day after day, Lewis patiently sat on the bench and waited for Toni to exit Jennings Hall so he could catch her eye. He wanted to make sure that she saw how serious he was about her—about marrying her.

“Every time I came out of my dormitory he was sitting on that bench, waiting for me,” Toni said, her eyes twinkling. Lewis smiled an impish grin, remembering that he would sit on the back of the bench and put his feet in the seat. He didn’t want her to miss him.

Lewis and Toni have been married for 65 years. For 42 of those years, they partnered with the International Mission Board, including 17 years in Vietnam. They arrived in Saigon in 1960, a couple in their mid-20s with their three children. One more child would be born there.

Lewis is from Skene, Mississippi, a delta crossroads community among cotton fields with a general store. Toni is from Boyle, Mississippi, about four miles away on Highway 61.

“It was helpful to be from a small rural area when we went to Vietnam,” Lewis said. “We went with the mindset to build close relationships as we were accustomed to in Mississippi. Vietnam was just opening up as a new mission field for Southern Baptists, and we thought the new work there would fit us well.”

The same could be said for their marriage—it fits them well. Many times during the interview they either began each other’s sentences or they ended them.

What’s their secret?

“We both are of one accord,” said Lewis. Toni nodded in agreement. “Sometimes I have a good idea, and sometimes she does. Our faith has deepened over the years. We have a togetherness. We are not running off and doing many different things.”

The ending of their time in Vietnam did present a challenge. They were back in the United States on furlough in 1975 when South Vietnam fell, ending the long civil war. Eventually Lewis joined the staff of the then Foreign Mission Board in Richmond.

“It was tough when I came to the board and, for the first time, we were not in ministry together on the field,” Lewis said. Toni found her mission field at Richmond’s First Baptist Church, getting involved in the college ministry and Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) as well as serving as a volunteer interpreter for Vietnamese refugees, especially at the City of Richmond Health Department.

For Toni and Lewis, their marriage and their faith have always been intertwined.

“I made a good choice,” Toni said. You could say that it was like two parts of the same bolt of cloth or two sides of the same coin.

“I don’t know how to pull our faith and our marriage apart,” Lewis echoed. “We’ve made a faith commitment to each other and to the Lord.”

Their routine is a key, they said. They rise early, share a daily devotional time, enjoy a cup of coffee and read the newspaper. A morning walk is usually next. Faithful church attendance is a given. They return to Vietnam each year for Lewis to teach in the Vietnam Baptist Bible Institute. Toni counsels students dealing with long classes and final exams.

The road continues for this loving couple who started in Mississippi, heard the call to serve God while in seminary, preached and witnessed in Vietnam, and today teach a Bible study class, work with the WMU and sing with the choir on Sunday mornings at FBC. Together. Intertwined.


Jim and Wendy Norvelle met at First Baptist Church and were married in 1983. Jim sings in the choir and serves as president of the Endowment Fund. Wendy serves as a deacon. The Norvelles have two daughters, Laura and Kate, and two grandchildren to spoil.

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Story by Rachel Allee. Photos by Worthington Photography.

In 2013, eight couples exchanged vows during their wedding ceremonies at FBC. Church policy requires couples who have their weddings at the church to undergo some form of premarital counseling before the wedding day. Steve Booth, Associate Pastor, Ministry of Formation, and Lynn Turner, Senior Associate Pastor, Ministry of Community, along with other members of the pastoral staff, invest hours each year helping engaged couples (including the many who choose to have their ceremonies at other locations) dig to the bottom of vital issues that can derail marriages.

Callout-weddingsSteve and Lynn are trained and certified in Prepare/Enrich, an online relationship inventory and assessment tool. They use it to measure engaged and married couples’ strengths and weaknesses and to provide valuable feedback and teach relationship skills. Though not all the staff ministers use Prepare/Enrich, Lynn and Steve enjoy the program and consider it helpful.

bride300px“I have found it to be really thorough and a good stepping off point when we‘re starting off with couples,” Lynn says. The Prepare/Enrich online survey assesses couples in ten core relationship areas, such as finances, spiritual compatibility, and extended family relationships. The survey categorizes the couples’ separate answers into areas of compatibility and incompatibility, and then suggests exercises to shore up the weaknesses. “If they are really struggling with, let’s say, three out of the 10, then there are some suggested things they can do to work on those specific areas and it gives biblical references and scriptural background for how they can incorporate the Bible or the spiritual nature of some of those things into them,” Lynn says. She requires at least four sessions of an hour and a half each: one to introduce and discuss the material, two to work through the results, and one to discuss wedding day plans.

Time after time, Lynn has witnessed the benefits of premarital counseling in the lives of couples. Some have contacted her later and admitted that issues that popped up during counseling turned out to be sticky spots in their marriages. One couple even came to the decision to postpone their wedding and work through some issues that arose during counseling. Lynn encouraged them to get the help they needed, and after a year and a half, they contacted her to say that God was leading them back into marriage.

Steve agrees that premarital counseling has a way of uncovering bigger issues. Common topics that often present problems, like finances, intimacy, or future plans for having children, are usually symptomatic of deeper issues, such as a lack of self-awareness. If there’s time, he likes to help trace an issue back if a counselee doesn’t understand “why something gets kicked up in them every time a particular issue comes up. It might be related to the family of origin or some wound along the way, and they’re just not tuned in enough to know that’s why they get hooked and respond in a certain way to their fiancée.” Another deeper issue is communication and conflict resolution. Often, Steve says, “Couples can’t hear each other. They’re talking a lot. There’s a lot of conversation, but they are not really hearing each other.”

Couples can be fearful of counseling sessions, but Lynn likes to tell them that there are no right or wrong answers. Honesty is the best policy, and it’s best to remember that the real work comes after the vows have been said, though that doesn’t negate the value of introducing potential hot-button topics before the wedding day.

Melissa Brooks, who married her husband, Justin, at FBC in 2009, is open about the benefits and limitations of premarital counseling. “Although I appreciated the premarital counseling because it forced us to think about topics that we may not have discussed openly with each other … the real work of a marriage happens long after the wedding,” she says. “Once babies and houses and job changes and money and extended families start to work their way into the marriage, it leaves your relationship vulnerable to circumstances you never would have imagined. Marriages are hard, even for the best matched pairs. You’ve got to work at growing together and toward God in your marriage or it becomes very, very easy to grow apart.”

Steve agrees that a better support system for married couples is needed at FBC, and he hopes that Prepare/Enrich can be implemented church-wide in the future. “Think of it as a checkup program,” he says. Couples would take the Enrich part of the inventory (designed for those who are already married) and then meet together for video feedback and discussions one night a week over multiple weeks. “We are way overdue for offering something to our couples that allows them to focus in on their marriage,” he says.

In the meantime, the FBC pastoral staff does its best to provide a safe, healthy environment for couples to explore some of the unknowns of marriage. Lynn offers up a piece of advice she frequently shares with her counselees: “What if every day, every night, after you get married, before you put your head on the pillow, you turn to the other person and say, ‘How could I have made your life easier today?’ In that way you open the door and give the other person permission to say things that maybe you don’t want to hear. There’s something about that that draws you together. It keeps things open and honest.”

Editor’s note: If you or a family member was married at FBC, please share one of your memories in the Comments box below.


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By Nancy Mairs. Photos by Paul Bickford and Susan Brown.

The First Baptist family is a diverse group of individuals, joining together as one body of believers seeking their paths with Christ. The story of three different couples – Spencer and Caroline Budwell, Carl and Ann Evans, and Todd and Robin Ritter – highlights how this seeking also brings a deeper friendship with other believers. And sometimes even marriage.

The Budwells

The Budwells

Spencer and Caroline Budwell. Photo by Paul Bickford.

Spencer Budwell was involved with other singles in forming a new Sunday school class at First Baptist. So involved that it didn’t occur to him that through this involvement he would meet his future wife.

At the time, several of the young singles felt a growing need for a class that would provide them friendships with others who had been on their own for some time – with a goal not of meeting their life partners, but of sharing their experiences of seeking Christ.

Caroline Budwell, a lifelong Baptist, was attending another church in the area, but was looking for a deeper fellowship with others at her same stage of life. She decided to visit First Baptist, and attended the new Sunday school class where she found what she had been seeking. In the class, she and Spencer became friends, but it wasn’t until they both participated in a mission trip that their friendship began to deepen.

Through activities with the mission team and the Sunday school class the Budwells found their friendship was blossoming into a romance that later led to marriage and the arrival of their two daughters.

The Evanses

Carl and Ann Evans met through their involvement in a Sunday school class that was started by participants in the Divorce Recovery Workshop (DRW).

The Evans

Carl and Ann Evans. Photo by Susan Brown.

Carl was the first to attend FBC, learning about the DRW from an old friend at a high school reunion. “The friend encouraged me to go to First Baptist and check out Divorce Recovery,” Carl remembers. It was some time after this that Ann visited DRW through the urging of some of her friends. After attending her first meeting she knew she would come back. “I walked into the meeting feeling all alone and could see immediately that there were 150 to 200 people in there that were o.k. I knew I would be o.k. too!” remembers Ann.

Both Ann and Carl had attended other churches in the area. But as they became involved in the DRW, particularly in the small groups formed as part of the program, they found FBC was starting to feel like home.

When they joined the Sunday school class, neither had any intent or thought of meeting someone special and getting remarried. Through the closeness of the class and particularly their participation in many of the activities outside of the class, the Evanses developed a special closeness which led to marriage.

Now their “community is expanding and growing,” they explain. They volunteer with the DRW, are part of Fellowship Friends, help with Grace Fellowship, go on mission trips, and through Carl’s love of motorcycles, are part of First Riders.

The Ritters

The Ritters

Todd and Robin Ritter. Photo by Susan Brown.

Todd Ritter’s theatre job led to his moving to a new town each year for the first several years after college. When he settled in Richmond, he remembers his mom kept urging him “to go to a big church so I could meet a nice girl!”

Todd emphatically told his mom that he was not planning on going to church just to meet a girl, but did decide to visit First Baptist since it was the church nearest his home. Some months later he visited again and decided to attend one of the Sunday school classes. Todd found a friendly, close-knit group of folks seeking a relationship with Jesus. He began attending regularly.

Robin had grown up in another Richmond church, but decided to visit FBC on her sister’s recommendation. Robin visited the same Singles Sunday school class as Todd and also liked the closeness of the group.

It wasn’t long before both Todd and Robin were joining with many of their friends from the class in other activities – but still with no thoughts of pursuing any type of romantic relationship. It wasn’t until they attended a weekend retreat that they realized they had much in common and that they were starting to have deeper feelings for each other, feelings which eventually led to marriage. Todd laughs today at the thought of how his mom was right after all!

The common thread among all three couples is that they came to First Baptist to find Christian fellowship. Through their involvement in small groups, such as Sunday school classes, they found a group of friends to share with their love of Christ. As Ann Evans puts it, “it really was through the small group fellowship that I found a ‘family’ here at First Baptist.”

Nancy MairsNancy Mairs joined Richmond’s First Baptist Church more than 20 years ago and is a member of the Disciples class. She works in the Regulatory Affairs group at Dominion Virginia Power, and enjoys hiking, canoeing, traveling, and spending time with her husband, Jim, and son, Jack.

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