Today is a day for romantic declarations and for couples to recall when love was new. For the Rev. Raymond and Mary Ann Phaup of Brooksville Wesleyan Church, romance began almost 50 years ago. "We were both a part of the college choir at Central Wesleyan College in South Carolina," Raymond Phaup recalled in a recent interview. "We met during a spring choir tour in 1960."
Though they were each dating other people, Mary Ann Phaup recalled having had her eye on the young ministerial student, who sang in a quartet.
"Back then, everybody wanted to date the guys in the college quartet," Mary Ann said. "If you were in the quartet, you were 'it.' But we had never really talked to each other much before that tour."
Their relationship began to blossom when Mary Ann was looking for a seat on the tour bus. Raymond had an empty one next to him.
"He said, 'You want to sit here?' and I said yes," Mary Ann said. "From then on, every time we got off the bus he would say, 'Save me a seat,' and I would say the same thing. After the tour, we kept seeing each other and it just developed into more."
Raymond said he had prayed about finding the right spouse.
"I knew I was going into the ministry and I was going to need the right kind of lady to be my support and team member," he said. "Both of our fathers were ministers, so we knew about the demands that places on a person. When we began dating, something special began to develop in my heart. I felt pretty soon that she was the one that I wanted and that the Lord had for me as well."
Mary Ann also feels God directed her to marry her husband.
"It took a little time because the guy I was dating wouldn't quite turn loose, and I was having a little hard time pulling away from him," she said. "But once we broke away from the ones we were dating, it was a straight shot from then on. Nothing ever broke us up, and we were married on June 7, 1962."
Now in their 60s, the couple have served in ministry together ever since — sometimes with Raymond being the pastor of a church, other times with him being a youth pastor or music ministry director.
Two years ago they moved to Florida to serve at Brooksville Wesleyan — he as the minister of music and she as the church secretary.
"I retired seven years ago from a church in North Carolina, and we had moved to South Carolina to be close to our children and grandchildren," Raymond said. "Then Dr. (Marlin) Mull (the pastor at Brooksville Wesleyan Church) called. I'd worked with him previously in North Carolina. He asked me to come down and do music with him."
The Phaups were not sure about leaving their family, but the church offered them two months off in the summer.
"We have a home in South Carolina, so we go back there and get to spoil the grandkids for two months. Then we come back down here again," Raymond said.
Music has always been an important part of the Phaups' lives.
The couple have sung together often throughout the years, including at their own wedding and the wedding of one of their three daughters.
"We sang The Wedding Prayer at our wedding," Mary Ann said. "Our daughter said the prayer worked so well for our marriage that she wanted us to sing it at her wedding."
The prayer in the song asks God to show the couple the path he would have them take. Raymond said God has answered that prayer and blessed their marriage.
"Your spouse better be your best friend," he said. "You've got to be able to talk and have confidence in the person you're married to because she's going to be the sounding board for a great deal of what you do. Mary Ann's been that for me. She would understand and be the encourager and build me back up whenever things were going bad."
Mary Ann also had words of praise for her husband.
"I feel very comfortable sharing with him — just knowing he is a support to me in any area of my life. I can depend on him to encourage me in the way of the Lord. We work together. We're a team. We do everything together, and that's the way it has always been."
Like any marriage, the Phaups' marriage has had some minor rough spots. But they say they have used those times to grow together. They pray together regularly. And they practice a certain ritual.
"We try every night to end the day when we go to bed by turning to each other and saying, 'I love you,' " Raymond said. "We say it in the morning and the last thing at night."
With so many couples divorcing, Raymond has some advice for those considering marriage:
"If I'm counseling a young couple looking to get married, I'd say, 'Don't marry this person unless you think you just cannot spend the rest of your life without her or without him.' When they make a decision, it's a lifetime decision."
For the Phaups, who will celebrate 47 years of marriage this year, it has been just that.