February 26, 2021

Spring 2021 Marriage Supplement

Wedding coordinators help sacramental marriages get ‘off to a great start’

St. Ambrose Parish wedding co-coordinators Renee Hodge, left, and Jamie Armes pose for a wedding ministry photo in the church of their Seymour faith community. (Submitted photo by Katie Hodge)

St. Ambrose Parish wedding co-coordinators Renee Hodge, left, and Jamie Armes pose for a wedding ministry photo in the church of their Seymour faith community. (Submitted photo by Katie Hodge)

By Natalie Hoefer

The moment is played out time and again in Catholic churches: The music begins. The bridal party processes down the aisle, then all stand for the radiant bride as she enters the nave and the doors to the narthex close behind her.

What happens in the narthex then?

“That’s when I breathe!”

“I can take a breath, and Father takes it from there!”

“I can step back and enjoy the moment!”

So say wedding coordinators from St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis, St. Agnes Parish in Nashville and St. Ambrose Parish in Seymour.

Theirs is a role that involves many tasks to make a couple’s special day go smoothly. But they are more than just helpers. They are servants in a ministry that supports sacramental marriage.

Four parish wedding coordinators spoke with The Criterion about their role, shared stories both humorous and touching, and addressed the sacrament at the heart of their marriage ministry.

‘This is a sacrament, this is a church’

Being a parish wedding coordinator “takes a servant’s heart,” says 15-year veteran Joyce Brooks, one of several wedding coordinators at St. Monica Parish.

In short, the wedding coordinator’s role is to “serve as a liaison between the parish and the couple and their guests,” she explains. “I want to help keep things smooth and peaceful as I can because this is the day that the bride has probably planned for a year at least, and because it’s a sacrament.”

That effort starts with calling or meeting with the couple well before the wedding date to gather and share information.

“We ask them questions and help to guide them as far as following the rules of the parish,” says Brooks.

It’s during such meetings that the coordinator’s role in supporting sacramental marriage begins.

“We’re not preparing them for marriage or delving deep into it,” says Cheryl Bedwell, parish wedding coordinator at St. Agnes Parish. “But through our conversations, when they ask how to prepare [the church], we always remind them that this is a sacrament, and this is a church.

“So no, you can’t have your dog walk with you down the aisle—someone asked about that once. ... We remind them of the seriousness and sacredness of everything.”

But there is plenty of joy and fun, too, especially starting with the rehearsal.

“I love people, and this is a happy occasion,” says Brooks. “I get to meet [the couple’s] families and learn more about them.”

And sometimes there are surprises. Like the time when, on the day of a rehearsal, Brooks received an “oh-by-the-way” request from the bride.

“She said, ‘We need something to set the flowers on. What can you do to help us?’ ” Brooks recalls.

She and her assistant scrambled to help. They found some boxes and lace at the church, “and some purple cloth we were pretty sure matched her colors.

“We wrapped the boxes and put the lace over it—and it just blended in with the whole décor. It was fun! We just hoped the material wouldn’t slip and everyone would see the flowers were sitting on top of used paper supply boxes!”

‘My back was turned, and I heard a splash’

The day of the wedding arrives, and so do the wedding coordinators—before any of the bridal party.

“We arrive early to prepare the individual rooms for the bride’s and groom’s parties, to be there when the flowers arrive, to talk to the photographer on what they may need from us,” says Jamie Armes, wedding co-coordinator at St. Ambrose Parish.

She and co-coordinator Renee Hodge help decorate and prepare the sanctuary.

“We also answer questions of all kinds, calm people down who are nervous, provide water and snacks for the wedding party in case they were too busy to eat—we don’t want anyone fainting during the ceremony because of hunger!”

Wedding coordinators are dedicated to seeing that all goes as planned on the couple’s special day. But some things are simply out of their control.

Brooks recalls a time when a young boy was playing by St. Monica’s partial-immersion baptismal font in the narthex.

“It was 20 minutes before the wedding. My back was turned, and I heard a splash. He was all wet—and he was supposed to be one of the ring bearers! They held up the wedding trying to dry him off, but they had to go on without him.”

With two years as wedding coordinator assistant and four years as coordinator, Bedwell has had her share of challenges. The most stressful experience she recalls is the time a groom was missing from the church.

“There was something back at the lodge he wanted,” she recalls. “So, he left to get it 15 minutes before the wedding started! We just had to wait for him to come back before the wedding could start.”

Sometimes, though, couples roll with the challenges—and the COVID-19 pandemic has served up plenty of them.

“Can we please take off our masks for the wedding?” Brooks recalls one couple pleading during their planning meeting. “I had to tell them, ‘No, just for pictures.’

“That wedding, they made masks with their wedding date, put them in a little package with hand sanitizer and passed them out as the guests arrived. I thought that was really creative!”

Three dresses, three sacraments

The positive and touching moments far outweigh the chaotic ones, says Bedwell, moments that capture the essence of marriage as a sacrament.

“I remember one wedding where the bride and groom came early to the rehearsal so they could sit in the chapel to pray,” she says. “And they had arranged for the priest to come early so they could go to confession before their wedding.”

Brooks recalls a touching encounter before a wedding that, despite happening early in her time as coordinator, remains in her mind.

“I wanted to tell the bride something,” she says. “I started to push the door open to the room where the bride’s party was getting ready. Then I noticed that she and her bridesmaids were kneeling and praying the rosary. It was so beautiful. I’ll never forget that.”

In their two years as co-coordinators at St. Ambrose, Armes and Hodge have witnessed many moving moments. One involved a mother of the bride, a photographer and three dresses.

“A mother of the bride had brought her daughter’s wedding gown to the church early on the wedding day,” Armes recalls. “Without the bride knowing, she had also brought her daughter’s baptismal gown and first Communion dress.

“The photographer came early and hung all three dresses. ... The sun was shining through a stained-glass window where the dresses were hanging. It was a beautiful picture on a special day to help remember three very special sacraments in a young lady’s spiritual life.”

‘It is a special privilege’

The four parish wedding coordinators agree: It’s the memorable moments coming together in a sacramental marriage that make all their effort and time—as much as 12 hours per wedding—worth it.

“The day of the wedding can be pretty busy,” Bedwell admits. “But it’s rewarding to see it all come together for [the couple] and that they’ve had a good experience with their sacrament of marriage. It’s a joy to be a part of that.”

Brooks echoes Bedwell’s sentiments.

“It’s a sacrament I can be a part of,” she says. “I’ve seen couples get married and have their first child, and I feel a part of that.”

Serving as wedding coordinators is an honor for Armes and Hodge.

“It is a special privilege to share in and be a part of a wedding, the day when two people start a new life together,” says Hodge. “If we can help make the wedding day go as planned, then we feel the sacrament of marriage is off to a great start.” †

  

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