Friday, October 30, 2009

18 couples share vows in joint Dallas wedding

Down the long aisle at Concord Church, set off this Sunday by a soft, white border draped from pew to pew, the bride walked with stately deliberation, the crowd's applause ringing out as she glided toward her groom.

And behind her, at a proper distance, came another bride, then another and another, until there were 18 in all, taking the walk many must have dreamed about as little girls.

But few could have imagined this.

The 18 simultaneous marriages in the Oak Cliff district of Dallas sprang from a six-week teaching series for couples called "The Real Flava of Love," led by Concord Senior Pastor Bryan L. Carter.

"We described it as six weeks to discover God's plan for singles and how to really maximize the season of singleness," Carter said. "The last lesson was 'Let's Just Live Together,' which led me to deal with the whole issue of cohabitation, so prominent these days."

And that culminated in a challenge: If you aren't honoring God by your behavior, move out. And if you want to get married, get married — the church will pay for it all, the gowns, tuxedos, rings, even the wedding cakes.

"I told them, 'We've already made arrangements, and we'll have you married in 30 days,' " Carter said of that Sunday morning. "I said, 'Meet me at the church at 3 o'clock and we'll provide more details.' "

Carter admitted he was a little apprehensive. What if no one came? Turns out, that wasn't a problem.

"We ended up having about 30 couples. We interviewed and assessed each one, we did eight hours of counseling. The goal was to get people awakened, to see if they were really that compatible. And we ended up with 18 couples."

Among them were Raymond Adams and his fiancee, Heidi Mathis-Bayley.

"We were planning to get married next August," Adams said before the ceremonies, "and we still plan to have something for families and friends. But the economy caused a situation for us to move in together.

"We were struggling with the morality of that. And Pastor's sermon was incredible — very thought-provoking, very convicting. He said we had a choice we had to make: whether or not to be obedient to God's law."

As the couple left church and crossed the parking lot, each had the same question: "Did you hear the sermon?"

"My fiancee said, 'We're coming back,' and I said, 'I'm glad we're on the same page,'" Adams said.

"When ... (Carter) was speaking, I knew this was what we wanted to do," Mathis-Bayley said. "It wasn't like we were being judged. It was just making the decision to live the way God wants you to live."

And that's what the crowd of families and friends wanted, too.

When Carter spoke of a lifetime commitment, the crowd cheered. When he prayed for protection against divorce, they cheered even louder. And when he introduced each couple at the end of the ceremony, everyone in the sanctuary, more than 1,000 people, stood and applauded.

Denise James, who married her fiance, LaPrie Townsend, stood in the long line of brides outside the sanctuary before the ceremony began, excited about the significance of this special day "and thankful to God for the opportunity."

"Marriage was definitely in the works for us," she said, "but it just wasn't financially feasible.

"But when God presented this opportunity, we knew we had to take it."

The marriages cost the church about $8,000, Carter said. But he was thrilled to be a part of something no one at Concord had seen before, and something he hopes other churches emulate.

And though some might be surprised to find unmarried, cohabiting couples at a church, Carter wasn't.

"Cohabiting has become so acceptable in our culture — there's no longer anything wrong with it," he said. "The only things that did surprise were the demographics of the couples, who were both young and older."

Most were 20- or 30-somethings, but others were considerably older. One couple, a widow and a widower, started out as friends and ended up a part of this grand wedding.

Some of the couples weren't even members of Concord. They were guests, and that was fine with Carter, too.

"We were using this as an outreach," he said.

But the response was great enough to keep church staff scrambling for the last four weeks.

"I told my church I had this vision," Carter said, "but no one knew exactly how we'd work this out."

But Sunday evening, everything was perfect. The couples exchanged their wedding rings simultaneously and made this a wedding to rememeber!

Posted via email from Whiteflash Diamonds posterous

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