By Frances Stebbins – Contributing writer
Since my late husband Charlie Stebbins and I got married on July 14 – the French Bastille Day –in 1951, the institution has undergone a lot of changes.
We must have done something right, for the marriage lasted until death parted us now nearly 13 years ago on March 30, 2008. He, a Navy veteran of World War II, was nearing 85 when a swift stroke, an outcome of pulmonary fibrosis, took his life during the Easter season.
We had observed our 50th wedding anniversary several years earlier at a conference in Charlotte, N.C., in which we led a workshop for an organization now known as Better Marriages. It meant a lot to us for the second half of our years together.
Charlie came into my life a bare month after my mother died while I was a junior in the Journalism Department at Richmond Professional Institute of the College of William and Mary. Though six years older than I – as were many husbands and fathers at mid-20th century following their service in World War II—we had much in common. Descended from families who had settled in Virginia or Massachusetts in Colonial times, we were bound together by our heritage, our church affiliation and the unhappy circumstances of losing our fathers early in our lives as results of the Great Depression.
Involvement in a church had been part of our early lives, but, like many young adults, we had several years earlier drifted away.
Introverts by nature, we both loved to write, but our gifts and styles were different; he truly loved the newspaper world and was a concise and accurate reporter with a native curiosity and enjoyment of variety. I studied news writing because I wanted to publish books, a goal I never accomplished. After many years I discovered that what I am doing now, putting a personal touch on facts, was what God intended me to do.
When we married, it was less common for couples to cohabit for months or years before they took vows. At least, it was not done among families from which we came. In Virginia, white people married whites, though with the light complexions many folk of African descent show, it’s clear a lot of racial mixing went on despite the laws.
When I was growing up, divorces were certainly known among couples in my town, but they were not looked upon with favor. My best friend in childhood, a little girl whose small home was plagued with an alcoholic and abusive father, experienced the divorce of her parents when we were 9.
It resulted in her move from our neighborhood and a lonely year for me since I was an only child living near but not in a small town.
As for girls getting pregnant without being married, that was definitely a disgrace. Roanoke author Mary Bishop has brought that to public attention recently in her nationally acclaimed book about her mother’s “secret son.” The work, “Don’t You Ever,” recounts the tale of the author’s older brother, product of a rape, and her mother’s successful effort to keep it hidden for years.
Finally, over the past 25 years we have come to experience greater acceptance of LGBTQ adults .
On February 7, with no services available at my own church, I viewed that of the Washington Cathedral where I felt privileged to meet on-line two well-known Christian churchmen.
The preacher for the day was Max Lucado, a popular author and speaker especially among conservative evangelical Christians. He is pastor of the huge Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas. Officiating at the Holy Communion portion of the worship was retired Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson. Presiding was the dean of the cathedral, Randolph Hollerith. The service included the usual multi-racial and multi-national mix of musicians and leaders of parts of the Episcopal ritual.
What was distinctive about the service was that Robinson is the first openly gay man to be elevated to a bishop in the Episcopal Church. This occurred in 2003 in New Hampshire and caused many parishes –some in our area– to leave the predominant American body. They formed their own splinter group affiliated with the worldwide body known as Anglican for its British heritage.
Cathedral’s preacher Lucado had 15 years ago expressed in print the view that the homosexuality Robinson espoused is contrary to God’s will. That is still a common teaching of some Christians despite the increasing acceptance of LGBTQ folk in the mainstream of society.
Viewing the service, I observed that neither the author nor the gay bishop spoke of their differences. I found the service inspiring.
Others, however, were highly offended that cathedral leadership had invited the author critical of LGBTQ folk to speak. A round of apologies followed in what was probably intended as a gesture of reconciliation.
Sadly, even the day of love and peace can become divisive.