Stacy Sauls: Happy Valentine's Day


I may be a bishop in The Episcopal Church, but I grew up as a Methodist. My Methodist background notwithstanding, it was only many years later that I became acquainted with Wesleyans. Not Methodists, Wesleyans. One of my wife Ginger's grandmothers and some of her relatives were Wesleyans. There was a strong little Wesleyan church in Whitmire, the little town in South Carolina where Ginger grew up. Wesleyans are a small denomination, but you can find Wesleyans around in other places. Upstate New York is a stronghold for them.

As one of those "sophisticated" and somewhat self-impressed Episcopalians, I always thought of Wesleyans, with no offense intended, as shall we say, quaint. They are a rather conservative group. They tend toward the modest and simple. They are a bit conflicted about instrumental music in church. They dress plainly. Women do not wear makeup and generally opt for long skirts or dresses, certainly covering the knee, even when that isn't the fashion trend. Wesleyans do not paint a picture of worldly attractiveness. There doesn't seem to be very much romantic among the Wesleyans.

My perception of Wesleyans, and of romance, changed dramatically when I got to know Jimmy King, a leader of the Whitmire Wesleyan church and a distant relative of Ginger's. I got to know Jimmy many years ago when Ginger and I were visiting her grandmother in the nursing home. I noticed that Jimmy was there every single time we were there. I later learned, not from Jimmy of course, that Jimmy was at the nursing home every day. He came to visit his wife, Eula Mae.

Eula Mae had Alzheimer's. She had long since ceased to know who Jimmy was. Still, Jimmy went to feed Eula Mae her lunch every day. Every single day. It did not matter that Eula Mae did not know who Jimmy was anymore. It is just that that is what love means.

Now, the nursing home is not what we typically think of as a romantic place. Lunch at the nursing home, after all, is not Breakfast at Tiffany's. The former, though, is an icon of what love is about, love in the sense Jesus meant it, agape. Romance comes and romance goes. Love does not. In biblical language, love abides. Love is what is left when romance is something that can no longer be remembered.

This is not much like how the world understands love these days. We associate it more with beauty than constancy, more with glamour than faithfulness, more with pleasure than service, more with self-gratification than with devotion to other, more with passion in the hormonal sense than passion in the Christ-like sense.

For me, I associate love with Jimmy and Eula Mae King.

Happy Valentine's Day.