Spiritual courtship on temple grounds gentle romance started late, blossomed slowly

When Kevin McLane and Annette Barnes met, it was mud at first sight.

Head gardener at the Chicago temple, she was repairing a sprinkler line when he stopped to ask directions. He was on his way to apply for the job as temple engineer.She was up to her elbows in the very grimy job, but McLane hardly remembers the dirt; he never got past her eyes. A 38-year-old bachelor, he'd been told by his bishop that the attractive keeper of the temple grounds was single.

So the first part of this story has a quick, happy ending: McLane got the job and Annette Barnes, a BYU graduate with a master's degree in horticulture, fixed the sprinkler.

The story's second part takes a little longer. It was a week before she even learned he was a bachelor, and months before they dated.

To begin with, the ordinance workers at the temple immediately added single and single to equal a pair. That social pressure only multiplied their shyness. Both were embarrassed and began avoiding any associations that might lead to more talk – or pressure.

And they were both working 14-hour days preparing the temple for a major construction project.

"We saw each other every day at work," she said. And that was that.

Eventually, he began helping her with sprinkler pipe. They planted tulips together.

After a few months of staying studiously away from each other, they began talking about more than pipe and plants. And they became friends, but just friends.

"We had to be very secretive about it for a long time," said Annette. "We heard so much from the ordinance workers."

"We always felt people watching us and talking about us," he said.

Fortunately for the romance, the Chicago temple was closed for the construction project. With the staff gone and the workload slower, they made time for each other. But nothing serious – just walks to see the leaves change colors, shopping, visiting parks and flower gardens. Once they went bowling.

As friends they began going to single-adult dances together. He'd dance with others "just to give her the option to meet other people." But he also stayed on hand to "rescue" her if another gentleman became too persistent. When she began to object to his dancing with others, he began to dream, for the first time, that theirs might be an eternal friendship.

But that was just a dream, and an unlikely one at that.

Once, he proposed. She said no. The dream remained distant.

Then a few months later as the relationship matured, he proposed again. This time she said yes.

"I had convinced myself that she would always say no," he remembered. "When she said yes, it was like `Pinch myself to see if I am awake.' " The safety of his dream crumbled as reality set in. "Prior to joining the Church, I was going to be a bachelor, but the Church changed my whole attitude," he said. "When she said yes, I needed to re-think things."

To his credit, the re-thinking was silent and quick because "everything seemed so right."

Their engagement was announced at a picnic of the temple workers. A counselor in the temple presidency made the surprise announcement for them; those few sentences created a sensation. Both were embarrassed by the attention. But perhaps the temple workers weren't really surprised. After all, they knew all along it would happen.

"Our marriage has been the most wonderful thing, short of joining the Church, that has ever happened to me," he said. "Our courtship was more spiritual than emotional – considerably more. It was the spiritual things that we participated in that brought us together."

But the romance doesn't have the happy-ever-after ending of a story book – at least not for the temple grounds.

She just quit her work as head gardener. They both want her to be home full-time with the baby they are expecting in July.