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.”