By Karen Campbell
If the Norrid love story were ever committed to film, the romantic comedy would require a split-screen montage in hyper speed to cover the time between their awareness of one another at Freed Hardeman, their renewed Facebook friendship 10 years later, and the two years it took after that to finally make a first date happen. Because viewers would never be as patient as they’ve been.
The reward, however, is an almost three-year marriage that has netted Weakley County the return of a native daughter and a couple dedicated to making an impact on their adopted hometown of Dresden.
Will Norrid began sharing the news as a reporter for The Crockett Times when he was a freshman going to high school in Alamo. For the last 15 years, he’s been sharing the Good News of the Gospel as a pastor at the Lebanon Church of Christ in Dresden and, for the last year, on the weekly Faith in Action page of the Weakley County Press.
Ann Marie Norrid has traveled to more than 20 countries, including mission trips to Costa Rica, exploratory excursions to Bosnia, Croatia, Spain and, as the university’s travel abroad coordinator, to Freed’s sister campus in Belgium. Before landing that gig, and though she had majored in merchandising, her first job was at Reelfoot Bank in Martin. She said while there she discovered her love of helping people find their financial solutions. She was dealing with people who got their identity stolen and loved it when she could fix the problem. She now gets to continue problem-solving at the payroll and benefits coordinator for the Weakley County Finance Office. But when the love story began to unfold, she was at Freed, MBA in hand and doing event planning.
As Ann Marie describes the highlights, she was recently broken up and “over men,” when she realized her old college friend was showing all the signs of Facebook flirtation — liking posts, making sweet comments, etc. When Will asked her out the first time, she wasn’t in the frame of mind to begin a new relationship. So, she declined. Two years later she remembers thinking, “You’re dating the wrong people. You need to date someone like Will Norrid.”
Meanwhile Will’s love life had taken a U-turn. A broken engagement meant he was available. But he’d already tried to reach out to Ann Marie and had gotten a “no,” so the next move fell to her. With the help of a girls’ weekend away and a group-crafted direct message, contact was made. Will says he played it “cool” and waited an entire 45 minutes before responding.
The first date was dinner and exploring a bookstore, the equivalent of a dream date when you love books as much as these two. The gift of a Harry Potter magnet sealed the deal for Ann Marie and a few months later they were married, and the magnet was safely attached to their fridge in Dresden.
A native of Greenfield, Ann Marie says people were happy when she returned to Weakley County. She likes how people look out for one another. An example of which is how Will came to the pastor role at Lebanon. Fifteen years ago, a cousin learned the small congregation of 20-25 members was in search of a pastor and connected the two. Since Will, an English major, was already preaching in small congregations in the area, he was open to the possibility.
Assuming the role, Will began to focus on helping the church, which was established in 1879, revitalize. With the help of family members in the area and a shared realization that “if we don’t make some accommodation, we won’t be here,” they began to focus on trying new things.
“We are not changing the message, but the method. It’s not about doctrinal changes, but it is about approach,” explained Will. As a result, the church roll has more than doubled with 60 members who currently call the church home, and on special occasions more than 100 will gather.
One of the attempts at something new has shown great results. The church is nearing almost 1,000 posts on Instagram. On the photo-sharing site, followers of @lebcoc will find a brief prayer reminder and accompanying photograph that illustrates the prayer focus of the day.
“It’s free,” said Will. “And we have so many people come to church or do our bible study as a result. It’s a way for a small church to have a bigger influence.”
Ann Marie is one of the devoted followers, “I love scrolling through and seeing prayers for a diversity of things and being reminded that everybody has something they are working through. It makes me more mindful.”
By way of illustrating the diversity, Will points to a post requesting prayers for law enforcement and another post touching on those who are wrongfully accused or racially profiled. The idea is not to make a statement on one side of a complex issue or another as much as it is to call attention.
“You can teach principles and people will come to their own conclusions,” explained Will, who says he believes that church is where you come and get the strength needed to go out and live in the world, not a place to be “beat up.” He calls the congregation a “transitional” kind of church, a place where people who have been away are coming back to their faith, feel comfortable and not judged.
“When people show up, it’s not a matter of ‘where have you been?’ But rather, ‘You’re back! Welcome!’” he noted. “If you haven’t gotten to church in a couple of years, you will feel comfortable here.”
One of those who have felt the warmth and embraced what the church is trying to do is none other than Ann Marie, who confessed that initially, “I felt like there is no way I could be a preacher’s wife, I’m not a good enough person.” And now acknowledges, “I’ve never felt judged.”
Will says that small churches, like small towns, often think “because we are small, we can’t have certain things.” But Will and Ann Marie have the philosophy of “let’s try” — kind of a “if you build it, they will come” mentality about ideas rather than a movie’s baseball field of dreams. The key, they say, is the focus is outward. The church assists with Santa’s Helpers and the Weakley County Backpack Program and partners with larger churches in Dyersburg and McKenzie on larger ministries. Will speaks at academic banquets and prays at events, like the recent county Memorial Day service. Instagram posts alert followers of missions work in Colorado and South Dakota, as well as New Zealand, Honduras and Japan.
“In a town of 2,000, your difference goes a lot further,” said Will. “Your investment makes a bigger difference. In a church of 50-100, I can check on the sick. I can go to graduations, to games. It’s only as small as you let it be. We’re not isolated. It’s small, but not isolated.”
Ann Marie has found an outlet for her enjoyment of seeing people have a good time by way of her involvement with the annual Tennessee Iris Festival. She’s served on the committee for three years. This year Will also assisted behind the scenes at such events as the cemetery walk.
Of her commitment to helping Dresden realize one of its biggest undertakings of the year, Ann Marie says Dresden is “just EXTRA” during the festival and though she wasn’t born in the county seat, she now declares, “I like feeling like I belong,” adding, “You get from it what you put into it. I have never regretted ‘doing.’ The more I do, the more people I get to know.”
To further help with a work/life balance, the Norrids enjoy the proximity they have to friends in Memphis and Nashville and frequently make their way to St. Louis to enjoy a Cardinals game. They have already traveled to New York City, Key West, and Hilton Head and are making plans for international trips.
Between church, travel, a love of reading and podcasts, their beloved Cardinals, volunteering and with Will now working on his Master of Arts in Ministry, the Norrids could be action heroes as well as stars in the best type of rom/com — one that’s heading toward a very happy ending.
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