By SAMANTHA SMITH, Staff Writer | Published September 3, 2020
ATLANTA—Will and Lauren Dickerson were engaged in June 2019, 10 months after they started dating. They knew each other for some time before becoming a couple.
Their original plan was to get married after Easter at Holy Family Church in Marietta. But a canceled bridal shower due to COVID-19 was a sign their wedding plans might change.
After juggling different dates, the couple married at the Marietta parish on June 13, the anniversary of their engagement. Their parents and a few family members attended.
Looking back on her wedding day, Lauren feels it was bittersweet.
“While it was a great day, it’s not what we planned,” she said.
The family-oriented couple missed having their extended family from out of town and close friends join the celebration. Once things are safer, they plan to have a vow renewal and invite all those who were unable to attend their wedding.
The Dickersons are one of many couples who faced difficult wedding decisions amid the coronavirus pandemic. Months of planning for the sacrament of marriage became a series of navigating canceled flights, closed churches and venues, and handling vendors and guests.
Trying to be engaged and get married during a pandemic is a very daunting challenge, said Will.
“Having gotten through it with each other has strengthened us as a couple,” he said.
I do, or wait
In addition to wedding day celebrations, Catholic marriage preparation has been impacted by the coronavirus. The first step for marriage prep is to meet with a priest but can also include retreats and other workshops.
Daniel West, associate director of marriage and family planning for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, held the first online workshop for engaged couples on Aug. 22 since the shutdown began in March. The class was about half full compared to before the pandemic. The drop in attendance has more to do with couples postponing their weddings versus the workshops moving to an online format, explained West.
While many engaged couples are postponing their weddings to celebrate with friends and family when it’s safe, West encourages couples to get sacramentally married with a small celebration including a minister and two witnesses. This way, the couple can live with God’s grace in the sacrament, he said. Later, when a larger celebration is planned with friends and family, couples can add a spiritual aspect, such as a blessing, with a minister, said West.
Kyle and Sharon Cowdrick dated for a year before getting engaged in 2019. They planned a wedding for 200 people on April 25 at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta. But as the coronavirus continued to spread and businesses began closing, they realized they wanted to get married as soon as possible.
Getting married “was really about the vocation of entering into this life that we said yes to,” said Kyle. It was less important for us to postpone the wedding for the big celebration, he said.
The couple was married the evening of March 24, the day the cathedral closed due to the pandemic. With only four hours to prepare, the Cowdricks were married in the chapel at the cathedral with their parents as witnesses. The couple received Communion that day, which would be the last time for the next three months.
Kyle’s sister set up an impromptu reception at their parents’ home for a small group of family and friends with a couple of cakes. They had father/daughter and mother/son dances. A dear friend was a wedding photographer for the evening. At the last minute, Kyle was able to book a hotel stay for their wedding night and a honeymoon in the north Georgia mountains.
Today, the Cowdricks fondly look back on their wedding day and are expecting a baby girl.
“It’s exactly as it should be and I’m so glad that we’re married,” said Sharon. “The Lord had a plan.”
Living for others
Couples should put more focus on the marriage than the wedding day, said Deacon Mike Balfour from the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Atlanta. He has been preparing engaged couples for marriage for more than 18 years.
When you get married, you start living your life for the other and not just yourself, said Deacon Balfour. He noted that the virus has taken us all to a different reality where you must live for others and practice care for other people.
“In a marriage when two people are living together, they have to be careful and start living themselves for others,” said Deacon Balfour.
Justin and Kim Mizell were engaged in front of friends and family the night Justin became Catholic at the Easter Vigil in 2018. Because Justin was previously married, they had to wait for an annulment before being married in the church. After 18 months, they were able to start planning and picked April 25 for their wedding date.
Because of the coronavirus, “within the few remaining weeks leading up to April 25, our entire wedding fell apart,” said Kim. The organist backed out, extended family canceled their travel plans and our honeymoon was canceled, she said. The first Communion for her daughter Sofia from a previous relationship, was also postponed.
Deciding the marriage was more important than the wedding, the couple kept their original date with required safety guidelines. While only parents and siblings were allowed in St. Brendan the Navigator Church in Cumming as witnesses for the ceremony, the maid of honor, close friends and some of Justin’s family waited outside of the church to greet the newlyweds. Kim’s brother set up a livestream for family and friends to watch the wedding, and Sofia made her first Communion during the ceremony.
An immediate family reception followed, which included a small wedding cake, a father/daughter dance with Justin and Sophia, toasts and a wedding bouquet toss.
“When the day was all over and we were talking about how it all turned out, we both agreed we wouldn’t have changed anything about it,” said Kim. God gave “the most perfect wedding day we never would have imagined for ourselves.”
After dealing with all the changing plans, the Dickersons encourage couples to take time away after getting married.
“Even if you don’t have the big dream wedding or like, big event, it’s still so mentally draining,” said Will.
Taking a week off allowed them to get rid of the stresses of work and just enjoy being married, they said.
The Cowdricks’ advice for engaged couples is to go ahead and get married instead of postponing.
“It’s worth sacrificing all of the hopes and dreams that we might’ve had for a wedding because marriage is more important,” said Sharon.
To learn more about the marriage and family ministry of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, email Daniel West at firstname.lastname@example.org.