Couple finds unexpected kindness in far country
Leslie Long and Don Wheeler will never forget a church’s kindness to strangers.
The Oklahoma couple wanted to renew their wedding vows in Ireland, Leslie’s ancestral homeland, to mark their 25th anniversary. They had visited Ireland in 2007 with their children, Keegan, London, and Brenna. But the anniversary trip was parents only.
They began an Internet search for Methodist churches in the part of Northern Ireland that Leslie’s predecessors called home in the 1840s.
"I found Cavandoragh. I liked the many things they were doing, I liked what it said about their history, and so I e-mailed the minister," said Rev. Dr. Long, director of the Wesley Foundation at the University of Central Oklahoma, Edmond.
"My husband and I were planning on a simple ceremony, probably the preacher and ourselves. But Rev. John Beacom asked if we would mind if some of the church people came. We really were not sure anyone would want to attend."
On the evening of Dec. 13, 2009, the Irish pastor escorted them to the country church.
Long described, "There were around 30 folks gathered. They had someone playing the piano. John did a full service, with a homily. The church had a reception for us—cake, mince pies, tea, finger sandwiches, and other snacks."
She expressed, "What a gift to be treated so kindly by Methodists in another country! I really did feel connected to these folks. The hospitality they shared was more than I ever imagined. The ceremony and reception came from a desire to celebrate and commemorate a milestone in our lives. What came from their care and hospitality are memories I will cherish forever."
The couple has felt God’s sustaining grace throughout their marriage. Long said her husband’s support has been crucial for her clergy journey.
"He was a PK (preacher’s kid) and knew a little about this church stuff, but honestly I could not have done everything I have done without him," she said. Her ministry has included a Christian Education project in Bolivia.