Next Monday, 14th February, millions of cards will arrive through letterboxes and by email, each with the signature, ‘from your Valentine’. There are several stories about the origin of the day, and they differ in many respects except for one - there actually was a man named Valentine who did good deeds and legend has it that he was a heroic and romantic man. But he had spells in prison and the story is that he used to send notes from his prison cell to the jailer’s daughter signed, ‘from your Valentine.’ So, Valentine’s Day on the 14th came to be a day when romantic love was celebrated. Pam Rhodes, who produces and presents an online TV programme called Sunday Night Live thought it would be a good to hear from people who’ve been married a long time, and I persuaded some of our Pilgrims’ Friend Society family to record with me the secret of their long marriages.
Janet and Peter Jacob, in their late 70s, had been married 49 years on 3rd February. Janet was a manager in two of our Pilgrims’ Friend Society homes, and latterly joined me as a speaker in churches and conferences. When he retired after a career in the police, Peter became maintenance officer in the home at Bristol. The way they met was no coincidence, he says. His choice of holiday was St. Ives, but everywhere was booked so he went to Sidmouth instead, where Janet was already on holiday.
One of the foundations on which their marriage is built is in Ephesians. Before they married Peter read Matthew Henry’s commentary on the passage. He said, ‘Matthew Henry said that the rib God took from Peter’s body to make Eve was not from his head, to be figurately below him, and not from his feet, to be under him, but out of his side, under his arm, to be protected by him, and from close to his heart, to be loved him him. Under this passage in his Bible Peter wrote, ‘God gave Eve to Adam to love, as God gave Janet to me, to love.’ ‘And Peter has been my rock,’ Janet said.
It was important, too, that they gave each of their children to God. ‘We prayed that whatever work they did, even if it was to be a road-sweeper, they would be the best for Jesus.’ It was a special delight seeing one of their granddaughters baptised in the sea recently. ‘After 49 years we’re still speaking to each other!’ Peter joked, ‘and it’s all by God’s grace.’
Allison and Jack Jenner are also coming up to their 49th wedding anniversary in August. Allison says she hasn’t got over the shock of him asking her to marry him after only six weeks of their meeting. Her advice for anyone contemplating marriage is to think in terms of ‘the long haul.’ Jack said that God has been faithful in meeting their needs, every step of the journey. They have worked together in Christian outreach, and now live happily in Royd Court. ‘He’s a very practical man, he loves classical music, but most of all he loves the Lord,’ says Allison, ‘which is the most important.’
Norman and Wenda Allan live at Shottermill House. They have been married for 56 years, and remembering meeting as students from different colleges in a care home on a project with their respective Christian Unions. Norman was just getting over a relationship breakdown, so remembers saying, on being introduced to Wenda, ‘This is only about business. There is nothing more.’ But God had different ideas, and two years later they were married. ‘Marriage is an institution ordained by God,’ said Wenda. They were both teachers and were always involved in voluntary Christian work, individually and together.
And love is stronger than death. Many people outlive their loved ones. Their love doesn’t stop because their partner has gone Home before them. They know that the love of God in sacrificing His only son, Jesus Christ, has made the way for eternal life where they will be together again, for ever.