Brad Wilson and Brooke Cook, both of New York City, were planning their wedding for March 21, 2020, when disaster struck—the same one so many of us are facing around the world. The novel coronavirus is upending schedules and demolishing all kinds of plans. Its effects have been especially hard on those planning weddings during this time.
For Brad and Brooke, their Christian faith guided them through a painfully difficult decision. They were able to turn a very tough situation into something beautiful, with a last-minute elopement—and now their story is giving hope to others.
The New York Times reports on the moment when the couple realized their wedding would not go as planned:
Brad Wilson walked out of his Manhattan apartment building and straight, it seemed, into an Isaac Asimov thriller. “Brooke, if we are going to make it to Dallas, we have to make a run for it,” Mr. Wilson, 41, said to his fiancée, Brooke June Cook, on March 12, a surreal moment in time created by the effects of the new coronavirus as it hit New York. They were to be married March 21 at Park Cities Presbyterian Church in Dallas.
They began driving to Dallas, where their wedding was to take place. They discussed their options on the way: They could postpone the wedding; try to go forward with it as scheduled, but knowing many guests would not be able to attend and facing the high probability that the church would not be open; or somehow find a way to get married ahead of schedule, in a last-minute elopement.
It was that last option that slowly emerged as the only viable solution. I had the chance to chat with the pair as they were honeymooning in Florida, on the day their wedding originally was supposed to have taken place.
Realizing their wedding would not go forward as planned was deeply painful for the couple, especially for Brooke.
“Both Brad and I are faithful Christians and we had planned this beautiful church wedding, so thinking about not getting married in a church, with a minister, was really hard for me,” she said. “I’m the last person to ever get married outside of a church.”
But perhaps the scariest thing about getting through this pandemic is that it’s totally unprecedented. There is no model for any of us of what this is going to look like, of what to expect.
“I’m a lawyer, so everything I do is by precedent,” Brooke laughed. “But it’s not like anyone knows what to do when a global pandemic strikes during your wedding.”
The drive south was agonizing for them.
“Brooke cried the whole 6 hours as we tried to decide what to do,” Brad said.
At first they didn’t even know where they were going. Should they drive all the way to Texas? Should they head for Brad’s mother’s home in Missouri?
As they drove through Philadelphia, a plan began to crystallize. Philadelphia is only about four hours’ drive from Charlottesville, Virginia, where Brooke had gone to law school. It was a special place for her, where she had attended a beloved church and where friends of hers still lived. Perhaps they could reach out to the community there for help in pulling off a last-minute wedding.
They decided to elope as quickly as possible instead of postponing the wedding for several reasons. For one, they didn’t know when the wedding would be able to take place if they didn’t get married immediately. And for another, as difficult as it was to forego a stunning ceremony and reception, the marriage itself was the priority.
“Our faith had everything to do with it,” Brad said. “While a wedding reception is important, and being with our friends and family is really important, at the end of the day, the covenant that Brooke and I are entering into, the covenant that we’re making with each other and God, is what matters.”
As hard as it was making the decision to get married in a small and impromptu ceremony, “that foundation is what’s important,” he said.
“We didn’t want to put our lives on hold because of the virus,” Brooke said.
Before they made the final decision, they reached out for advice. “I called our pastor, and Brooke called her spiritual mentor. By widening the circle, we got some really wise counsel that confirmed what we were thinking. We felt we weren’t making this hard, hard decision on our own,” Brad said.
Their new plan was to marry on Saturday, March 14, giving them less than 48 hours to come up with a marriage license, an officiant, two witnesses, a photographer, and a wedding venue. It seemed nearly impossible, but as each part of the plan fell into place, the couple clearly saw the hand of God in it.
“We were nervous, but we got confirmation after confirmation, in little things,” Brad said.
Brooke reached out to a judge, Rick Moore of the Charlottesville Circuit Court, who knew her from her law-school days at the University of Virginia. Not only was he legally able to perform the marriage, but he was a member of the church Brooke attended when she lived in Charlottesville.
“We did find an officiant who went to my church when I lived in Charlottesville, a person of faith,” she said. “That was important to me.”
On Friday, the day before the wedding, the couple went to the Charlottesville Circuit Court Clerk’s office to apply for and receive their wedding license. Fortunately Virginia has no waiting period required before marrying.
Somehow the rest of the wedding came together quickly. Brooke reached out to a friend over Instagram to find a photographer. Her close friend and spiritual mentor, Missy Donovan, and Missy’s husband Kevin lived in Charlottesville and were able to serve as matron of honor and best man.
But the morning of Saturday, the proposed wedding day, they still didn’t have a venue. A few minutes after 9 a.m., Brooke received a text message that Veritas Vineyard in Afton, Virginia, had heard from Brooke and Brad’s photographer about the couple’s plight. The vineyard offered its property, free of charge, along with two bottles of complimentary wine. Missy made a bridal bouquet, and everything had fallen into place.
In the winery’s majestic open fields, with an old wine barrel serving as a lectern for Judge Moore, Brooke and Brad were married. It wasn’t the wedding they had dreamed of and planned, but the experience has given them something more than a great story: They know their marriage has what it takes to weather life’s storms.