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Feb12FriPlanning a wedding in a pandemic. February 12, 2021 by Brianne Zelinsky-Carew
It was the end of March, and to many working in Toronto’s downtown, it looked and felt like the end of the world. Within hours, big towers had closed their doors and offices issued work-from-home notices. For the first time, my commute on the Don Valley Parkway was quiet, devoid of the usual rush-hour traffic. In those surreal moments, I triaged the chaos that had so quickly tangled my thoughts:
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I am safe. How do I stay safe? My family is healthy. What can I do to protect them? My job is secure. What if the working capital dries up? At least, I have Michael. Oh, no ... our wedding.
Planning a Pandemic Wedding
I was set to marry the love of my life and partner of six years on July 17, 2020. Michael Carew and I had met at our church exactly 10 years prior to our wedding date and, after getting engaged the summer before that, found ourselves in the final stretches of planning it when the pandemic hit.
When the Ontario government issued physical-distancing directives, limiting gatherings to five people, I was living with my parents in the north end of Toronto and Michael was downtown at the condo that was soon to be our first home together. My social bubble became my social lifeline.
Organizing family Zoom calls and sitting around the dinner table quickly took precedence over sourcing a florist, sampling cakes and all the other tasks we had as an engaged couple. By the time our venue officially called off the event and asked us to postpone to 2021, I actually felt relieved.
Suddenly, I had permission to reimagine what the wedding could be like if there were only 10 people present, possibly less.
The health crisis, though stressful, allowed me to focus my attention on what matters. I took a little more time to think about my wedding vows and a little less time worrying about hosting 130 people for dinner.
As I began writing my vows, I started jotting down the best qualities in my partner, Michael.
When I thought of him, I thought of the years we spent texting each other “good morning” and “good night” while dating long-distance from separate universities. I remembered the letters he wrote me whenever I travelled internationally. As I closed my eyes, vignettes of graduations, surprise birthdays, funerals, shared Christmas dinners between our families and that memorable Thanksgiving Michael spilt sparkling juice on my grandpa rolled through my mind.
When I thought of Michael, I thought of the magic that was just being together, so I wrote my first vow: “I vow to keep family close, because family together is a beautiful place to be.”
A New Perspective
The trending phrase and hashtag “We Are in This Together” took on new meaning as months in isolation passed. Some days, it was the battle call of our resilient country, reminding users on social media that no one is ever alone. On others, it was the only string of words I could find as I comforted a friend who had been laid off work.
And on one particular day, just one month before the wedding, it was my gut reaction when Michael called me after a disheartening doctor’s visit. He had just learned that the blurry spots in his eyes were a symptom of significant scarring related to diabetes complications. He would need long-term treatments to avoid permanent vision loss.
There were many moments when I retreated to the familiar words from Isaiah 41:10, “Fear not, for I am with you” (English Standard Version). This comforting reminder of God’s presence is reassurance that He chooses to be in this together with us.
For Michael and me, this challenge put love into action and gave us real perspective of what marriage would look like. We came to fully understand and accept the significance behind saying “I do” and committing a life together.
The Wedding Day
When the day of our micro-wedding arrived, in some ways, I found myself mourning the loss of celebration. Before we started planning this day—even before we were engaged—we agreed that there was something about a summer wedding with family and friends that just felt right. So we designed it with that vibe in mind.
Plans changed dramatically and, though we were disappointed to abandon the party we had imagined, it evolved into something that resembled that little dream.
Our ceremony had a scaled-back attendance that started with people standing two metres apart and ended with a homemade meal in my parents’ backyard. My dad—a Salvation Army pastor—officiated, and my brother and sister-in-law watched via FaceTime from another province.
The details were almost all made by hand with the help of my social bubble. We designed and printed the programs and painted rocks from the river behind my house to use as paperweights that doubled as take-home gifts.
As I stood at the end of the aisle, looking out at those I love most, I reached the very freeing realization that even though this was all it could be, it was also all it ever needed to be.
All You Need Is Love
If you were to dub one song as the anthem of this pandemic, what song would you choose? I would have proposed a tie between All By Myself by Celine Dion and Let Go Of Your Plans by Lukas Nelson. That is, until my dad referenced the Beatles’ All You Need Is Love during his sermon at our wedding. Love is enough, God is enough and, with the merger of the two, our small celebration was enough.
Our pandemic wedding didn’t feel like a less-than version of what we had initially planned; it was the full version. I’ll always remember July 17, 2020, as the perfect day because it was spent in the best way possible with those I love most—together.
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