BY SUSAN HANAFEE – Having hundreds of “aunts” and “grandmothers” eager to share in the excitement of your first baby is pretty special, say the Rev. Dr. Matthew and Joy Williams, whose seven-month-old son, Ethan, is still awaiting a debut at his father’s church in Boca Grande.
“We wanted to introduce him to the congregation this fall,” said Joy. “But September came and went, and we still didn’t feel comfortable. Now we are hoping that many will be vaccinated for the virus by Easter, and we can take him then. That would be great.”
Pastor Matthew, who heads the Lighthouse United Methodist Church, and his wife were late coming to parenthood. Joy was 38 and Matthew 39 when Ethan Matthew was born on June 24. It goes without saying that the Williams are loving their new roles.
“We’ve been married for 17 years and together for 20 years and this has been a significant life change but in the best of ways,” said Joy, who is a regional director with Premier Inc., a healthcare improvement company headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The church staff, followed by the church Council members, were among the first to learn that the Williams were expecting. Within hours of that announcement in December 2019, emails and calls flooded in from the broader church group. Baby clothes, hand-knitted sweaters and crocheted blankets soon followed. Joy said the couple was overwhelmed with an abundance of blessings.
“We were looking forward to having our child be part of this very loving church family where he would be exhausted from being hugged and kissed and having his cheeks pinched,” said Joy. “The reality has looked very different, although the calls, texts and support have not diminished.”
When the coronavirus limited church activities in late March, the baby shower planned by the United Methodist Women for the happy couple was cancelled. Still, the UMW purchased the crib for the baby, and people left presents at the church and on the porch of the Williams’ home in Cape Haze. Anna Boney, who led the children’s programs at the church at that time, did a video of the Williams’ friends offering tips on parenting.
“I think the best advice I got was from Jim Benson who said that when you think you have the answer or you want to take control, don’t get in the mom’s way,” says Matthew. “The support from our neighbors and parents currently raising children in the community was heart-warming and helpful.”
Joy’s office also threw her a virtual baby shower, sending her cupcakes from the Inn Bakery, flowers arranged by Boca Blooms and shipping her decorations from Charlotte.
Not surprising, the couple did not go the ordinary route in choosing a name for their son. Instead of looking at a book of popular baby names, they turned to the Bible. Perhaps that is why Joy has been told by many that her blond-haired son looks like he is an “old soul.”
“Ethan is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. He was a cymbal player in King David’s court and authored Psalm 89. His name means strong and optimistic, solid and enduring; permanent,” Joy explained. “It’s not a name you hear every day, and we love the meaning.”
Both musical people, the Williams were delighted to learn on the way home from the hospital that the George Harrison song, “Isn’t it a Pity,” calmed their newborn. It was the song the couple had listened to frequently during Joy’s pregnancy.
“Now he especially likes the tribute to George Harrison – the Concert for George album – where Billy Preston sings ‘My Sweet Lord,’” said Matthew.
Although Joy normally travels for her job, she has been able to work from home since February. The nanny, Sara, helps out with Ethan Monday through Friday.
Ethan did make an appearance in church, sans congregation, for the lighting of the Advent Candle at Christmastime and was fascinated by the few masked videographers in the audience and the church spotlights. He also watches the virtual church sermons on Sundays, recognizing his father’s voice on the iPad.
Then there are the afternoon stroller outings, the daily “swim” in the pool, the late afternoon ride in the golf cart and the time spent with Gracie, the Williams’ Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, who has gotten over being jealous of the newest family member.
“One phrase that in the past I didn’t understand or couldn’t relate to before I was a mother was ‘the day can be long but the years are short,’” Joy said. “Now it makes total sense to me.”