By London Collins Puc
"God has loved us with an everlasting love: therefore, when he was raised up from the earth, he showed us his mercy and drew us to love his Sacred Heart" - Antiphon at First Vespers for the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart
Elizabeth and Scott Kophaner are regular attendees at Trinity Parish, an Episcopal Church, located on St. George Street. The older couple, married for 14 years, are both widows.
“We had each lost our former spouses,” Mr. Kophaner explained. “And then we had a friend that introduced us to one another, which was great – love at first sight.”
Although Elizabeth grew up in the Catholic and Lutheran Church and Scott in the Methodist-Presbyterian Church, Elizabeth found her way to Trinity Parish and Anglicanism and, later, introduced Scott.
The couple sit side-by-side in a pew – Mr. Kophaner’s arm around his wife. “It just felt like home,” Mrs. Kophaner smiled, speaking about Trinity Parish.
“…and when we got together, I started coming here,” Mr. Kophaner finished.
Since then, the couple has grown substantially in the relationship with God, and with each other.
According to a 2009 study titled, Church-Based Social Relationships and Change in Self-Esteem Over Time it was concluded that, “…self-esteem is associated with a range of demographic measures, including age, gender, and social class.”
According to the Institute for Family Studies, individuals who identify as ‘Christian’ has decreased by 19% in the last 50 years. Whether social, economic, or political, church attendance is decreasing, too.
Once, families, couples, and friends spent their Sunday mornings worshiping together, they now spend it engrossed online, and disassociated. However, many couples, particularly elderly couples, still attend Church services regularly.
A conceptual model was developed to evaluate this correlation.
According to the Institute for Family Studies, “…it is hypothesized that older adults who go to church more often and who pray more frequently will report having a closer relationship with God as well as closer relationships with their fellow church members. If people worship frequently and pray often, then they are likely to subscribe to the tenets of their faith.”
This is true for the Kophaners, too, who are entirely confident that their belief in God, and their attendance in Church, has brought them closer together. According to Lifeway Research, “Seventy-eight percent of couples who pray together almost every week or more report being very or extremely happy.”
That being said, “It makes it easy for us to pray together and to, kind of, be concerned about the same things … couples that pray together, I think, have a real union,” Mr. Kophaner said.
Mrs. Kophaner, too, has been touched by God and remains grateful for the gift of her husband, that her faith has brought her.
“When I lost my husband, I was widowed for four years, and I cried every day,” Mrs. Kophaner added, touching Mr. Kophaner’s arm. “I said, ‘God, please send me a good man.’ This is who He sent.”
The Kophaners are a prime example of the effects of faith, and other forms of spirituality, on a significant relationship.
Dr. Timothy Johnson, Craig and Audrey Thorn Distinguished Professor of Religion at Flagler, was brought up in the Catholic denomination. He spoke about the value of faith in interpersonal relationships:
“I’ve been married twenty-five years now, and it’s very, very helpful. I think in my relationship with my wife… that’s a starting point for us in how we look at the world. We might have different understandings of the faith, but it’s still a basis of how we look at the world,” Dr. Johnson said.
Dr. Johnson, also, established the significance of spirituality at its core.
“If you have two people who are, if you will, faithful in a religious way, they typically will…have something that they’ll share very deeply. Let’s say it might be a love for nature, or it might be a love for taking care of the poor,” Dr. Johnson said. “I think that having a shared faith is important, but it doesn’t necessarily mean a religious faith, because everyone has faith in one way or another. They have faith in something bigger than themselves, something greater than themselves.”
The Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ was developed by the Roman Catholic Church signifying the devotion to Christ, the church, and each other.
This “heart to heart” symbol is able to use love to conquer all other worldly things. The Kophaners have lived out their relationship through this idea. The testament to their loving marriage can be attributed to giving and receiving His love.
“One thing, of course, is our beliefs as Christians – we believe we’ve been forgiven for our sins,” Mr. Kophaner said. “And so, every once in a while we’ll tell each other, ‘Remember, you don’t have to worry about that anymore, because, you know, your sins have been forgiven’… I think that that is a real unifying factor, or can be, for some couples.” While happiness in interpersonal relationships can, of course, be achieved in other ways, happiness by ways of a shared belief is apparent.