It was 1981, and “Brother Tim” was a youth pastor at a Baptist church in Flomaton, Ala. Part of his job was to open the church’s recreation center on Saturday nights for teens and pre-teens to hang out.
They had skating on the indoor basketball court some nights, and some nights they played basketball. There was a bowling lane, a snack room with cola and chip machines, and upstairs was an open balcony/loft with pool and foosball tables.
As he checked out the skates to a long line of kids, Tim played music over the P.A. — contemporary Christian tunes and love songs. You know, to match the day. It was a good crowd, and he enjoyed joking with the kids, even though he’d have preferred to stay home with his own family on this night.
As they skated, he’d call out girls only or guys only, or all-skate or couples only, and the kids would comply. He noticed no one was skating during the couples-only calls, but he kept trying.
One time when Tim made the call and everyone dutifully found a place to sit off the court, two strangers met. The boy had been attending the church for a few months, and the girl had come to the rec center with her cousin, who was a church member. The boy admitted to the girl that he could barely skate and said that, if she’d hold him up, he’d skate with her.
She held his hand and they circled the boundaries of the basketball court. For a minute or two, they pretty much had the space to themselves.
(Within a couple of days, they both would discover that she had been exposed to poison ivy when helping a friend haul firewood that morning. To say she got under his skin would be an understatement.)
She started attending the church too. They sang in the youth choir together, and Brother Tim led them in music as well as their moral development. Too young to date, they saw each other on weekends at the rec center, and Tim kept an eye on them.
In a couple of years, Brother Tim left the state for a job at another church. By then, the kids had begun dating for real and stopped hanging out at the rec center.
Tim returned almost five years later to sing at their wedding.
Now 30 years later, and with at least one broken heart between them, that little girl is still holding that boy’s hand and helping him get around — and they owe it, at least in part, to Brother Tim, who opened the rec center one Valentines Day.
This was originally posted as my Undercurrents column for The News Herald in 2008. I slightly edited for use today.