45 years ago – on 26 August 1967 to be precise – Caroline and I were married in Chester Street Baptist Church, Wrexham. On that beautiful sunny day we dressed up for the occasion – Caroline was magnificent in her flowing bridal dress, while I wore tails and a top hat! The chapel was packed with friends and family. The local Baptist pastor took the service. One of our fellow students at Cambridge played the organ. My father preached the sermon – his text was from John 2.4: “Do whatever he tells you”, words spoken by Mary at the wedding of Cana with Jesus in mind! Afterwards a magnificent lunch in a local hotel – and then before the afternoon was over we were off on our honeymoon.
Unlike many couples today, we were young – Caroline was 21 and I was 23. Money wasn’t an issue – we had none. In fact I blew all my savings on the honeymoon! We were still students – we had just finished at Cambridge, and in the September we were due to start at Manchester: Caroline was to do a one-year teaching course at the university, while I was due to start studying for a Manchester PhD while attending the Northern Baptist College. So, on our return from honeymoon in Southern Ireland, we simply picked up our student grant cheques and lived together in style.
After two years our eldest son, Jonathan, arrived – he was actually born in Wrexham, and so like his mother supports the Welsh rugby team. At the time we were in the throes of moving to Switzerland – my final year at Manchester was spent at the University of Zurich, while at the same time we lived in the International Baptist Theological Seminary at Ruschlikon, a small village on Lake Zurich, where both Caroline and I did some courses.
We had thought we would be returning to England with a view to my becoming a minister of a local Baptist church. But instead we accepted an invitation from the Baptist Missionary Society to go as short-term missionaries to Congo. There as a ‘professor’ in the Protestant Theological Faculty of what eventually became the National University (at the time it was the Free University of Congo) I taught New Testament and Greek in the medium of French – and it was there in Congo that our second son Timothy was born (with all the attendant challenges of chartering a MAF plane and flying 500 miles to find a doctor!).
From Congo (or rather Zaire which it then became) we returned to England. After doing ‘deputation’ for BMS all over the South East, we ended up in Altrincham, where for 13 very happy years I was pastor of the Baptist church – and in that period Susannah and Benjamin were born. And so life has gone on. From Altrincham to Spurgeon’s College, London; and then from 1993 pastor here in Chelmsford.
This is the context in which we celebrate our sapphire wedding anniversary. On the actual day of the anniversary we were at sea on board the Queen Elizabeth – we breakfasted on smoked salmon and scrambled egg, and drank Prosecco. The celebrations continue this Saturday when Timothy and Susannah and their families, and Benjamin and his girl-friend, join us for a special lunch (Jonathan and his family are in Vancouver, but we intend to speak to them via Skype).
Hopefully there will be speeches as together we reflect on the past and the present. As I prepared for my speech, I ‘Googled’ Sapphire Wedding and came up with the following piece of doggerel:
Blue is for SAPPHIRE and that is you today
You are a jewel of a couple in many different ways
On your 45th anniversary I would like to say
It is quite an achievement have a wonderful day
It fails, however, to strike the right tone. For on this our wedding anniversary I am conscious not so much of what we have achieved – but rather how God has blessed. God has been amazingly good to us over these past 45 years. On our wedding day we could never have imagined the way in which God has led us. Yes, of course each of us has played our part – in particular I want to thank Caroline for all her love and patience over the past 45 years. But at the end of the day, God needs to be honoured for his goodness to us. Together with the Psalmist we want to praise God for filling our lives with so many good things (Ps 103.5)