Wedding plans: Online ‘I do’s’ for friends, family

Sonja Keith
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by Sonja J. Keith

Courtney McKendree and Chase Chism said “I do” on March 21 with a small group in attendance — and hundreds who tuned in via Facebook — thanks to the COVID-19 outbreak. Among those watching were students from Courtney’s kindergarten class, many who dressed up for the occasion.

The couple had planned a beautiful and elaborate ceremony and reception on April 17 at the Restoration Center at Renewal Ranch, where Chase works as the Phase 1 supervisor. Invitations and other items for the wedding had already been purchased when the outbreak occurred. 

After the quarantine in Italy and the possibility of government offices closing, the couple decided to postpone the wedding but move ahead with getting married. With a laugh, Chase said if he was going to be quarantined, “I would prefer to be quarantined with my wife instead of a group of men.”

The COVID-19 outbreak prompted Courtney McKendree and Chase Chism to move their wedding ceremony up, with only a few family and friends in attendance. Other family members, friends and Courtney’s students were able to watch the ceremony as it was streamed on Facebook. (Photo courtesy of Brandy Kelley)

With little time to spare, the couple acquired their marriage license before the local county clerk’s office closed to the public. After initially being told her wedding dress wasn’t ready, Courtney was able to try it on at the bridal shop and pick it up during the 48-hour whirlwind to work out the details. Throughout, they felt God was faithful to them.

“It’s been a wild event, but God has been with us,” Chase said.

On the morning of Tuesday, March 17, the couple learned that if they wanted to get married at the Ranch, it would have to be that week because the campus was closing to the public in lieu of COVID-19 safety precautions. While many of their plans had changed, it was important to both Courtney and Chase that the ceremony take place at the Ranch.

“All of our plans were altered in the blink of an eye,” Chase said.

For the ceremony, Courtney and Chase each chose two family members to join them. There were also a few close friends from the Ranch. 

When things settle down, hopefully this summer, the couple will have a big reception at the Ranch. They are also planning to reschedule their honeymoon cruise which was postponed because the cruise line shut down. 

In the meantime, the couple is living in Perryville, where Courtney has worked as a kindergarten teacher since 2012. A Perry County native, she is a fifth-generation teacher. “Her roots run deep in Perryville,” Chase said. In addition to his position with the Ranch, Chase also attends Central Baptist College, where he was named to the President’s List. “It’s amazing what God is doing in my life.”

Chase said he and Courtney “absolutely clicked” from the moment they met last June on his birthday. 

Early in the relationship, Chase shared with Courtney his testimony, including overcoming addiction thanks to Renewal Ranch. “I wanted her to know how important God is in my life,” he said. “She didn’t run away, and she never judged me.”

As the two dated, Courtney, too, became a big supporter and believer in the Ranch. “I just love it,” Courtney said of the Ranch. “It has made the man I’m going to marry who he is today. I wouldn’t have met Chase without the Ranch.”

Chase said he knew early on in their relationship that Courtney was the one for him. 

Courtney said that the first time Chase took her to the Ranch, they walked out to three crosses located near a pond on the campus. Standing in front of them, he told Courtney that he prayed every day for her for six months. “That’s where he proposed to me,” she said, adding that close family were on hand to witness the proposal. “This is essentially where our relationship began to grow.”

During their engagement, the couple underwent pre-marital counseling with Bill Clay. He is on staff at the Ranch and officiated the ceremony. Chase said they took a 200-question assessment that helps identify a couple’s strengths and weaknesses and what they need to work on.

“We were identically matched in several ways,” he said. “We scored off the charts. That’s another way God is proving that He is in the middle of this.”

Chase said the two were a little emotional about changing their wedding plans, but “there was complete joy in getting married. We were going to get married regardless. No Coronavirus was going to stop that.”

Courtney said she has learned in her job as an educator that things change, and you have to adapt. “I’m a planner, but God’s plan is better than mine.”

While she was initially a little sad that some family would not be present during the ceremony, she was happy knowing that through Facebook they could watch it. “All of our friends and family could watch it live. I was 100 percent OK with that.” In addition to family and friends in the state, she has relatives in Colorado, Ohio and Tennessee who watched who probably would not have been able to attend in person in April. Her students were also able to watch.

The couple’s sweet love story generated a lot of interest, including a news story broadcast by KARK Channel 4 and picked up by a station in Dallas.

“At the end of the day, I got to marry the man of my dreams,” Courtney said. “It’s not about the big, elaborate thing. It’s about marrying the one you love.”

“There is joy in the middle of the Coronavirus,” said Chase.