Michelle and Josh Bailey eloped in a Vir­ginia backyard when COVID changed their wedding plans. Michelle Bailey | Col­legian

Few are thought to be more stressed than a bride planning her wedding, but Hillsdale College Social Media Manager Gianna Green ’17 said typical brides have nothing on those who managed to plan their wedding during quar­antine. 

Although all couples face uncer­tainty regarding their wedding day, such as the chance of rain or the bride tripping on her way down the aisle, so-called ‘COVID brides’ must fight the impending threat of gov­ernment-man­dated chal­lenges no other brides in recent history have dealt with. Despite such out­standing obstacles, however, the many Hillsdale stu­dents and alumni who were married during the pan­demic agree their wed­dings revealed more about them­selves and God than they could’ve known without such hurdles. 

Every wedding is first and foremost a cel­e­bration of God’s love, according to Senior Car­oline Greb. Car­oline and her husband, Ethan Greb ’19, both felt called to keep their wedding date as they orig­i­nally scheduled since the beginning of their engagement last November, specif­i­cally for the purpose of sharing the Gospel. 

“To not have that oppor­tunity to show such a clear picture of God’s love for us to her family and to some of my family, I just think we would have looked back with regret,” Ethan said. 

Car­oline echoed her husband’s sen­ti­ments, reit­er­ating their reason for mar­riage is God. This encouraged the couple to carry on with their plans. 

“It would have felt like we were just missing and slighting God on an oppor­tunity to give him praise because I think we both know that the love that we have is only due to the grace of God,” Car­oline said. 

Overall, the Grebs made few changes to their wedding story. The cer­emony, reception, and their hon­eymoon were all similar to what they had planned from the start, all of which the couple credits to the hand of God in their planning process. Although, whether the wedding would legally be pos­sible was uncertain for the majority of time leading up to the wedding day, Caroline’s original plans were largely safe for COVID since reg­u­la­tions mostly fell in their favor regarding worship ser­vices and outdoor gath­erings.

“These things happen where it’s unfolding before your eyes and the hand of God is the only thing that can explain this reality working out this way,” Car­oline said. 

Their wedding involved a lot of do-it-yourself work, most of which Car­oline said she wouldn’t have been able to com­plete if her summer trip to Oxford had not been can­celed in light of the pan­demic. With every spare moment she was either sifting through antique shops, spraying thrifted bottle cans, or hand let­tering signs for the big day. 

“It was a whole con­glom­er­ation of lit­erally doing every­thing, which was fun because it was very per­sonal to us,” she said. “I just kind of chipped away at things over the summer. It was also the biggest thing to look forward to.”

The reception took place at Meckley’s Flavor Fruit Farm — a fall hot spot for stu­dents — where people were seated by family with spaces in between. Because she had to space out each group, Car­oline had to reserve an even bigger tent and ditch the buffet-style dinner. 

The most stressful part about wedding planning was the unpre­dictable nature of the gov­ernment restric­tions. The Grebs had about five backup plans in their minds, even in the days leading until the event.

With Gov­ernor Gretchen Whitmer’s restric­tions in place restricting who can serve alcohol, they hired stu­dents to bartend. Coffee House Manager Jen­nifer Lutz served as the wedding coor­di­nator and Kate Swope ‘21 acted as the reception coor­di­nator, making the wedding a true com­munity effort. 

The chal­lenges and rewards COVID brides expe­rience led Car­oline and Gianna to bond, forming a friendship in which the two could swap wedding advice and share in their struggles. 

Gianna and her husband, Tim Green ’20, also found the dif­fi­culty of planning their wedding under such strange cir­cum­stances brought out the best in people. Despite having to make so many accom­mo­da­tions, most people were willing to work at the cost of a typical wedding or put in extra work free of charge. The couple was married at the college and enlisted the help of Bon Appetit catering, whose man­agement helped cut costs wherever they could. 

People were flowing with gen­erosity, Gianna said. Rather than having large char­cu­terie boards, as Gianna dreamed, Bon Appetit created miniature char­cu­terie boards for each guest at the same price. Both her wedding planner and seam­stress offered their skills at no addi­tional cost, too. 

“A seam­stress in Vir­ginia saved me maybe $700 on alter­ations just because she was like, ‘You know what, you’ve been through enough, this is what I can do for you,’” Gianna said. 

Around 250 people attended the Greens’ Hillsdale wedding, where the cer­emony was held at Christ Chapel and the reception in Searle Center. Overall, the couple only had to com­promise on a few things. The worst part was the waiting in the months leading up to the wedding when they dreamed up back-up sce­narios, crafted lists of pros and cons, and prayed to God their wedding would be legally allowed to take place. 

The couple asked their guests over email to stay home if they felt sick and made the event as safe as pos­sible for those who came, including sup­plying masks and hand san­i­tizer, as well as seating people further apart. 

Because much of Gianna’s family — par­tic­u­larly older members of her family — live in the Chicago area, the Greens hosted a second “open house” reception at a golf club there a couple weeks later. This “open house” style cut the amount of guests at the venue, which they already com­pletely rented out to elim­inate outside traffic. This also limited travel for the two recep­tions and largely sep­a­rated the type of crowds at each wedding, as mostly younger college-aged stu­dents were at their Hillsdale reception. 

The uncertain nature of the lockdown required Gianna to set aside her expec­ta­tions, she said. While she was referring to an eti­quette book to rule her wedding planning prior to the pan­demic, Gianna learned to rely less on custom and more on her own visions for her wedding. 

“I was like, ‘No rules. Now I make the rules.’ This is your wedding, and you can still have your dream. It’ll just take a lot of frus­tration and a lot of patience…” she said. “At the end of it, you do get a husband, which is pretty good.”

While some couples carried on with their cer­e­monies and recep­tions with small-scale changes, others achieved their dream of mar­riage while making vast changes to their big day. 

Maria Berggren ’20 and her husband, Vins Berggren ’20, were married in the Arboretum in a gath­ering of less than 10 people to abide by reg­u­la­tions. Assistant Pro­fessor of Religion Don West­blade per­formed the cer­emony. 

“We were just very anxious and excited. It was actually a lessing that we were able to get married three weeks earlier than we had planned,” Maria said. “Hon­estly I think that I was just thanking God for the coro­n­avirus.”

When quar­antine began over spring break, the Berggrens had yet to do much of their wedding planning. They antic­i­pated making most of the deci­sions for the event when the lockdown started, so they knew from the onset that plans were likely to change. 

Their original date was May 30, but the couple had their eye on a few backup dates since the start of quar­antine. By early May, the two decided to move the cer­emony up to May 9, which required changing the event entirely. 

For­tu­nately, Maria was never the girl with a Pin­terest board of wedding ideas. Instead, she always envi­sioned a small cer­emony. The original guest list con­sisted of just over 100 people. After making it through the dizzying back-and-forth process of a quar­antine wedding, Maria’s foremost advice to other ‘COVID brides’ is to pri­or­itize mar­riage plans before wedding plans.

“Don’t sac­rifice your mar­riage for a big wedding,” she said. “You can try to have it with just a small number of people, and that will be a super fun story to tell your grandkids one day.”

Although she said it’s good to create a beau­tiful wedding for yourself and those who come, ulti­mately it is fleeting. The mar­riage is the main focus, and both Beg­grens wanted to ensure they got married right away.

“That’s tem­porary, but you should pour into your mar­riage that’s going to be lasting for the rest of your lives. That is far more important.”

One up-side to can­celing their bigger reception was the amount the couple saved on food and decor. Maria said they hardly lost money as almost everyone involved in the wedding was sym­pa­thetic to their sit­u­ation. She herself felt bad for the busi­nesses she had to cancel on.

Maria said she’s relieved her mom has taken over planning for her reception, which will take place later this month. Some couples, however, have chosen to forego the reception alto­gether.

Michelle Bailey ’20 and her husband, Josh Bailey ’19, were working under the addi­tional restrictive layer of reg­u­la­tions imposed by the United States mil­itary. Bailey, who’s in The Basic School in Vir­ginia training to become a Marine Corps Officer, was only allowed to travel within 50 miles of the base with little oppor­tunity for addi­tional requested leave. 

The couple joked about the idea of eloping during spring break when Michelle visited Josh, but the pos­si­bility soon seri­ously entered the con­ver­sation. About two weeks before the wedding, the two began ten­ta­tively planning the small cer­emony and nixing their prior plans. 

The Baileys were deter­mined to get married despite all the addi­tional obstacles. With none of her family present, Michelle drove out to Vir­ginia, was married, and left for her hon­eymoon — all in a matter of three days.

“So long story short: we ended up getting married in the backyard of someone’s house that we’d never met in Vir­ginia,” Michelle said. “We found out two days before we got married that we for sure were allowed to get married with the Marine Corps.”

Little details are important in any size wedding, and both Maria and Michelle agree getting the mar­riage license during COVID was among the most dif­ficult tasks as laws vary by state and often take mul­tiple days to com­plete.

Michelle’s friend, Avery Lacey ’20, lived an hour away and was for­tu­nately able to join the limited wedding party, arriving with cham­pagne and cake in tow. Both Michelle and Josh were able to have their rings mailed to them. Among other guests were both of Josh’s parents, one of Josh’s friends, and the pastor’s wife and daughter.

After it’s all done, Michelle said her main feeling is relief. After con­stant inde­cision and waiting, the couple is happy to be married and have their wedding behind them. 

“I just felt like whiplash back and forth lit­erally until the day before, that was the hardest part.”

Michelle has tried to schedule a reception since then, but Josh’s leave request wasn’t approved. They’ve chosen to not go forth planning another reception, as she said she’s excited to have the planning and uncer­tainty behind her. 

When planning a wedding in two weeks, Michelle said that com­munity, friendship, and prayer are essential parts of the process. Josh was able to get his pastor in Vir­ginia to perform the cer­emony, which led them to find a backyard where they could host the cer­emony. The couple gained a lot of love and respect for others who helped make the last-minute cer­emony a reality. 

“It meant a lot for the people who were able to be there, and I was really struck by just the gen­erosity and openness of people…” she said. “Com­plete strangers were just the Body of Christ in a really cool.”