This article is the 34th in a series profiling couples who have been married for at least 35 years. As sociologist Mark Regnerus writes, “Young adults want to know that it’s possible for two fellow believers to stay happy together for a lifetime, and they need to hear how the generations preceding them did it.” It is also important to see that marriages are not always happy all the time, but commitment is crucial.
Craig and Wendy Bellis had a tumultuous dating relationship, but they always knew they would see one another at the altar.
“It was just a given to us,” Craig said with his arm around his wife of 35 years. “It wasn’t like it was a surprise either. We talked about our lives together.”
The couple set their wedding date for August 20, 1977, but then Wendy went away to Bible school for a year. “I was around all of these Christian men,” she said. “I’d only thought I was to marry [Craig].” But then, she wondered: “Maybe I’m making a mistake.”
Wendy’s confusion worried Craig’s parents, so they decided to postpone the wedding—but it was only for six weeks.
After they got married, Wendy struggled with fitting in to her new and unfamiliar role as a pastor’s wife in Washington, Pa. I’m not fit for the role and don’t know what to do, she thought to herself. Youth group and one year of Bible school certainly hadn’t offered enough preparation for being a pastor’s wife.
While Wendy struggled with her new role, Craig stayed busy with the church—or, as Wendy called it, “his other love.”
“I needed to be needed,” Craig said of his new pastoral duties. But Wendy thought she needed him more. “In a lot of ways, for the pastor’s wife, the church becomes the other woman,” she said.
Craig said the couple never thought about divorce: “We made up our minds at the very beginning the worst curse word was divorce. … We had that fundamental commitment, and I think that at the very beginning of our relationship that kind of forced us to grow up and mature. We weren’t going to back down on that.”
One time, Wendy recalled, someone called the house and said, “I really need him!” He wasn’t there, but she said in reply, “Well, I really need him too!” Wendy was at home with the kids all day, and Craig felt he had to be available for everyone in the church. None of that changed until the two grew closer in their relationship and drew the line between their ministries and personal lives.
The Bellises had to protect what they called “their time.” Sometimes the couple had to send the kids to Grandma’s, take time apart from the church, and get away.
“We keep dating no matter how long we’re married,” Craig said.