Trust in God helps couple marry during pandemic’s early days

  • Written by Brenda Sexton
  • Published in Local

Melissa Dion and Michael Jenkins had their wedding all planned: exchanging vows before their large families and friends during an April 18 Mass at St. Andrew Church in Sumner, followed by a reception at Tacoma’s Union Station.

Then the pandemic arrived. Michael’s optimism that the wedding would be able to proceed as planned turned into a hard conversation about canceling the ceremony as the state went into quarantine, closing churches to public liturgies and nixing large gatherings.

With help from a pair of priests, two bishops and a novena to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, Melissa and Michael had their April 18 wedding — a private Mass at St. Patrick Church in Portland, where restrictions weren’t yet as tight as those in Washington.

“Maybe it’s not what we imagined or expected, but that’s OK,” Melissa said. “Marriage is a sacrament. Our faith is important to us. This was a test to trust God and to let go of all of the plans we’d made.”

“Faith has always been the big pillar of our relationship,” Michael said. “We make sure God is the center of our relationship.”

God’s plan

As restrictions tightened from March into April, the couple wrestled with what to do about the size of the wedding and reception. The bride’s brother, Father Michael Dion, priest administrator of St. Michael Parish in Snohomish and the planned officiant, sought guidance from Seattle Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Mueggenborg, who leads the archdiocese’s coronavirus taskforce.

“Nobody knew what the rules were,” Father Dion said. “The diocese didn’t have a playbook for this.”

In what Father Dion called “a great act of charity,” Bishop Mueggenborg called Bishop Peter Smith of the Archdiocese of Portland.

Bishop Smith pointed them to St. Patrick’s — whose priest administrator, Father Timothy Furlow, had attended seminary with Father Dion and was happy to help out. The couple got a marriage license from the state of Oregon (no easy task during the shutdowns), and the prayers of Melissa’s novena were answered on April 17.

Melissa called Michael with a short message: “We’re getting married tomorrow.”

A day of surprises and blessings

Traffic was uncommonly light on the drive south to Portland, to a church Melissa and Michael had never seen in person. Their April 18 wedding day was filled with surprises, including a fire alarm that was set off by the steam while pressing Melissa’s wedding gown, resulting in a visit from the fire department.

Melissa Dion and Michael Jenkins exchange wedding vows during Mass at St. Patrick Church in Portland. Melissa’s brother was the celebrant. Photo: Courtesy Michael Jenkins

Although Melissa is one of eight siblings and Michael is one of six, COVID-19 restrictions meant the ceremony was stripped down to the essentials — bride, groom, priest, parents, maid of honor, best man, bride’s younger brother and God.

As Michael stood beside Melissa at the altar of St. Patrick’s, the oldest Catholic church in Portland, the words of consent from the Rite of Marriage hit him. “The vows were more powerful,” he said. “We’ve gone through a lot before this marriage even began.”

“The church was beautiful. That was a gift,” Melissa said. “Receiving Eucharist, that was a blessing, since we had not been able to attend Mass in a long time.”

Passing along their trust in God

After the ceremony, the newlyweds and their small group celebrated with a cake-and-champagne reception. With the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, the couple are thinking a bigger celebration with family and friends on their first anniversary may be in order.

Melissa was the third Dion sister to have Father Dion officiate at her wedding. Two days after the wedding, the newlyweds served as godparents when Father Dion — with the blessing of the Diocese of Yakima — baptized 12-day-old nephew Simon Peter at the Ellensburg home of Melissa and Father Dion’s sister and brother-in-law.

Michael and Melissa recently learned Melissa is pregnant. Trusting in God that everything will work out is one of the lessons the couple learned from their experience and hope to pass on to their children.

“Definitely something I want our kids to do before they make any big decisions is take time to pray about it,” Michael said, “and then waiting and listening for the answer.”