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Rain can’t dampen spirit of Little Brown Church Marriage Reunion

Rain can’t dampen spirit of Little Brown Church Marriage Reunion
The Rev. Drew McHolm and his wife, Jesse Boatwright, sing during the annual Little Brown Church Marriage Reunion held Sunday at the church near Nashua. Enterprise Media photo by Bob Fenske
Rain can’t dampen spirit of Little Brown Church Marriage Reunion
Sean and Adrienne O’Neill of Charles City renew their wedding vows at the Little Brown Church Annual Wedding Reunion, held Sunday at the church near Nashua. Enterprise Media photo by Bob Fenske
Rain can’t dampen spirit of Little Brown Church Marriage Reunion
Howard and Patricia Elliot or Farragut, who were married in the Little Brown Church in January 1953 – nearly 70 years ago – returned to the church Sunday for the annual Marriage Reunion, and were given the honor of ringing the church bell at the end of the service. Enterprise Media photo by Bob Fenske
By Bob Fenske,

Couples came from near and far Sunday to renew their vows, hear a sermon on not just love but trust and tell their stories at the annual Little Brown Church Marriage Reunion.

The reunion, which is usually held inside and outside the church just east of Nashua, was mainly an indoor affair after the area received more than 3 inches of rain overnight, but it didn’t matter to the couples, some who had been married for decades and some who were near newlyweds.

“We’ve been praying for rain, but maybe we needed to be a little more specific,” said Jesse Boatright, the wife of the famous church’s pastor, Drew McHolm.”

Adrienne O’Neill of Charles City said the event means a lot to her and her husband, Sean.

“We’re relatively new to the area, but we’ve enjoyed becoming friends with Drew and his wife, and we really appreciate their words about marriage,” O’Neill said.

Many of the couples in attendance had been married at the historic church, while others were married elsewhere but have found a bond in the “Church in the Wildwood.”

For the O’Neills, Sunday’s event with its reaffirmation of marriage vows was an early anniversary gift to each other. On Aug. 17 they will celebrate their 32nd anniversary.

“It’s a wonderful service, and the words we heard from Drew, the love we saw on the faces of the other couples, it was so meaningful to both of us,” said Sean O’Neill.

Other marriages reaffirmed included Howard and Patricia Elliott, who had exchanged vows in the Little Brown Church on Jan. 31, 1953.

They returned to the church where it all started 69½ years ago and had the honor of ringing the bell at the end of the service.

“It was a nice service,” Patricia said. “And you know, we still love each other after all these years.”

The couple traveled to Nashua from the small town of Farragut, which is located in far southwest Iowa.

“It’s almost a 300-mile drive, but it was worth it,” Howard said.

They were asked the secret to their long marriage and they both smiled and said in almost unison – “We listen to each other.”

And then there was Paul and Carol Meyer of Cedar Falls, who were married at the Little Brown Church on June 19, 2021.

“We wanted to celebrate our one-year anniversary here and we certainly weren’t disappointed,” Carol said. “This place means the world to us.”

Her husband agreed.

“I know it wasn’t that long ago, but it was a great reminder of the best day of my life. And the pastor, well, what he said really hit home to me,” Paul said,

McHolm’s sermon on Sunday was focused squarely on the couples looking to reaffirm their vows, and borrowed some of the words of his favorite philosophers – John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

The Beatles sang, “All You Need is Love,” but McHolm said a successful marriage also needs something more.

“You know what I found is the most indispensable element involved in love, without which the rest of it is just a waste of time? That’s a thing called trust. If you don’t trust, you really don’t love,” he said.

“There’s no great formula to it,” he said from the pulpit. “You know how you build trust? You make promises and keep them. … When we make a promise and keep it, guess what it does? It builds more trust. And guess what more trust does? It builds more love.

So he asked those attending the service — both longtime members of his congregation and some of the 77,000 couples who have said “I do” at the church over the years — to remember that there are three more words besides “I love you” that are important to any union.

“I think it’s just as important if you look your darling straight in the eye and say, ‘I trust you.’ … Because without one, you can’t really have the other,” he said.

For every couple, the little church in the Vale is special.

Jason and Leslie Johannsen of Faribault, Minnesota, were married at the church in 2019 and planned on attending the Marriage Reunion the following summer, but their plans were thwarted by the pandemic.

“We came last year, we’re here this year and we’ll be here every year after this year,” Jason said. “This is a place that will always be special to us.”

The couple had known each other for years — their children played sports and attended school together. They knew each other, but it took waiting together at a WalMart checkout line to realize that they were meant for each other.

“After that, the rest is kind of history,” Leslie said with a smile. “We came here, Drew married us and we’ve never looked back.”

She and her husband were asked what they would remember the most about this particular Marriage Reunion, and Jason had a quick response.

“What he said about trust, keeping your promises,” he said. “That’s how a marriage has to work. … And to hear it here, where it all started, that made it even more special.”


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