Rubin: What better place to dance than church?

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

The call came from the pulpit, from the minister who bought a house with a swimming pool in Corktown so the kids from the homeless shelter would have a place to cool down.

“Dance!” she said. “Anniversary dance!”

Barbara and Roger Wolcott at the altar on their wedding day. They celebrated their third anniversary Sunday with a dance in front of the altar at Cass United Methodist Church.

They probably don’t teach that at divinity school, but at Cass Community United Methodist Church, it has become a tradition: On your wedding anniversary, you glide down in front of the altar and dance.

So last Sunday, Roger and Barbara Wolcott did.

It’s a simple thing, and a sweet one. In a 132-year-old Romanesque house of worship in what we used to call the Cass Corridor before some of it got gussied up, right there before God and everyone, the Wolcotts swayed and turned and looked very much joined at the heart.

A few days later, Roger had to text his wife of three years to ask the name of the song – “The Keeper of the Stars,” a country hit 20 years ago by Tracy Byrd.

It was the joining and the feeling that were important, not the title. Not the style points, either, though for the record, the Wolcotts move quite nicely together.

“So often lately,” says the Rev. Faith Fowler, who runs Cass Community, “we’ve been talking about shootings and terrorists.”

They are legitimate subjects, but so are devotion and permanence.

“It’s good,” Fowler says, “to have something to celebrate.”

Looking on the bright side

That’s all this is about: celebration. A few minutes of it, in a world where time moves quickly and birthdays pass like mile markers on the freeway.

The dancing started with birthdays, actually, and a bit of shimmying in the pews.

Many of Fowler’s parishioners are developmentally disabled adults from the day program of the church’s social services arm. Chances are that if their birthdays don’t get recognized at church, they won’t be recognized at all.

Over time, the singing of “Happy Birthday” became an excuse to shake a modest tail feather. Then, nine years ago, choir director Michael Brock marked Louise and Ray Travis’ 51st anniversary by singing Ray’s favorite tune, “Unchained Melody.”

The Travises took to the floor, and a tradition took hold.

Ray died in 2008, so it was the Travises’ last dance. Louise, 82, still attends regularly, because “Faith has been an amazing friend as well as my pastor.”

She can tick off the names of just about every pair who has followed in her footsteps. The mention of the Wolcotts makes her glow.

“They’re so romantic,” she says. “I adore both of them.”

Lifting up marriage

Roger, 63, a lawyer, heard Fowler speak nearly two decades ago at his Catholic church in the Grosse Pointes.

Her sermon on the meaning of Christianity “made me cry,” he says, so he followed her to the corner of Cass and Selden.

He made his mark as a litigator. Now he works in mediation, which is “more rewarding than fighting.” Barbara, 57, retired recently as deputy chief of probation in federal court.

A mutual friend brought them together, and in what seemed like no time at all, Fowler was pronouncing them husband and wife.

“I love to dance,” he says, but when the music started last Sunday, he was the junior partner.

“She’s actually a Zumba instructor,” he explains. “I was just holding on for dear life.”

Find this column at and you’ll see video evidence that he’s being too modest. Fortunately, he and Barbara didn’t realize the extra burden they were carrying, loaded on by their minister.

The dancing, Fowler says, “is a chance to celebrate commitment, love and vow-making in a community where people are often single. It’s a chance to lift up marriage, which is a terrific thing.”

Goodness. They only thought they were sharing their joy, in what might just be the perfect place for it.