Nearly 20 couples walked down the aisle, exchanged vows and jumped the broom at Allen African Methodist Episcopal Church on Sunday in Tacoma’s Hilltop, but it wasn’t for the first time.
The couples, whose marriages ranged from 8 months to 60 years, came to renew their vows at Tacoma’s oldest black church. The ceremony, presided over by the Rev. Anthony Steele, celebrated the importance of healthy marriages to families and communities.
The free vow renewal came in recognition of National Black Marriage Day, and the church said earlier this week it would also marry couples for free Sunday.
“The congregation is important to the wedding. It’s important because the people who have come to this altar, they’re not just depending on each other — they’re depending on you to support their marriage,” Steele told parishioners. “When families are going through hard times, sometimes marriages can be patched and fixed, but they get so much noise from the outside. ... We need stronger marriages in our country.
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“Stronger marriages bring about strong households.”
As the church band played the Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun,” the married couples linked arms and beamed as they strolled down the aisle one at a time, some in color-coordinated suits and dresses. There were some tears and sniffles in the pews as family members and friends squeezed in, cellphone cameras held aloft.
Steele joked with the couples, pointing out some by name and explaining why they’re a good match. One parishioner, in particular, loves to shop, he joked.
“But that’s all right, the Lord blessed her with the right guy.”
When it was time for those familiar wedding vows, each clasped their partner’s hands, spoke them and kissed. Steele and his wife, Theresa, were among the couples reaffirming their commitment to each other after 18 years of marriage.
As they lined up to leave the church, each couple — even those now using walkers and canes — jumped the broom, a tradition that dates back to the times of slavery, when blacks could not legally marry.
For Dermont and Janice Smith, repeating their vows eight years later meant more than the first time.
“It energized me. When you’re younger, you hear the words, but they don’t mean anything so far away, but now when he’s saying the words that he’ll take care of you in sickness and health, and we’ve experienced it, and we know the other person did,” Janice Smith said. “So to me it was like ‘Yeah, I did that, and I will continue to do that.’ ”
Janice was diagnosed with breast cancer, but has recovered, she said. Dermont said he always tells her he would marry her again any day.
“I’d say today was an affirmation of where we’ve already been. The vows that are said and shared when you first got married were about protecting one another in sickness and health and for richer or poorer, and we’ve had the opportunity to experience some of those, and our love came out that much more strong,” Dermont said. “It just was an affirmation that what we have is real.”
Calvin and Arlene Clark met in a laundromat and married when they were 23 years old. Twenty-seven years later, they have five kids and 14 grandchildren.
The key to a strong marriage, they said, is communication and being open and honest with one another.
“Our marriage is solid,” Calvin Clark said. “Happy wife is a happy life, that’s true. You can’t be selfish. You have to listen to each other — communication, that’s the best thing. Just don’t be sneaky. You have to be honest, and open.”