When Gabe Clement and Anne Grace Schmidtke got engaged last September, they had no idea that their wedding date, March 28, 2020, would arrive with a global pandemic. The plan had been to marry at Shades Mountain Baptist Church where Anne Grace had grown up with a reception with nearly 300 guests at Vestavia Country Club. More than anything, Anne Grace says they were “excited to have our friends and loved ones all in one place and to have a Christ-centered ceremony.”
As the day neared and COVID-19 was becoming more prevalent in March though, the couple grew more been hesitant to ask Anne Grace’s family from North Carolina and Michigan to travel. Then 13 days before the ceremony the CDC came out with guidelines limiting events to only 10 people. The next day Anne Grace and Gabe sat down with Anne Grace’s parents to talk out what to do. The wedding would go on but with just their immediately family in the backyard of the house Anne Grace had known her whole life, from birth through her graduation from Vestavia Hills High School in 2011 through her wedding day. “It was a tough decision to make, but getting married was what we wanted most,” Anne Grace recalls.
From there the four of them split up the guest lists and sent texts to each person on it to let them know the celebration was being postponed to a Friday night in July and that only the couple’s parents, siblings and their spouses would attend the March 28 ceremony. Anne Grace works as a physical therapist at Children’s of Alabama, so while she was at work that week, her mom Michelle took the lead on contacting their vendors to see who could still participate and worked with Ashley Stork of Magnolia Vine Events to reschedule some of them for their July reception at Vestavia Country Club.
Photographer Alisha Crossley and her associate Anna Roberts were still in and would shoot from a social distance, and the same went for videographer Four 10 Films. Florist Lisa Bailey gathered blooms from her yard and her neighbors’ to create bouquets for Anne Grace and her matron of honor and setup an arch of greenery and blush and white blooms for the backdrop of the ceremony.
Michelle also called up Pappas’ Grill to see if they could get Anne Grace’s favorite chicken fingers, and the restaurant opened up that Saturday to make that happen. In fact, when Anne Grace was 8 years old she’d asked if she could have those very chicken fingers at her wedding, and as it turns out Plan B made that happen along with other food her mom made to serve. They also got a small strawberry cake from Edgar’s Bakery and champagne for a toast by Anne Grace’s dad Brian following the ceremony.
Anne Grace was disappointed not to have her 15 bridesmaids there for the wedding, but they all FaceTimed in for a bridesmaids luncheon on Friday and while she was getting ready on Saturday. Other changes brought about sweet moments Anne Grace and Gabe wouldn’t have had with their original plans. Anne Grace did her own makeup, and her sister Sloan did the bride’s hair. For the sisters it ended up being a fun morning at their parents’ house, especially since Sloan has three boys and they don’t often get time with just the two of them.
Without all the need for extra time for wedding party pictures, they skipped their first look and saw each other for the first time as Anne Grace and her dad rounded the corner from the front of the house through the white azalea bushes to where Gabe stood with Pastor Danny Wood—a moment that they both especially loved. A violinist played “Canon in D” as Anne Grace approached Gabe and later “In Christ Alone” during a time of reflection in the ceremony. During the recessional song, their family threw rose petals on them as they walked back up the aisle. “It was a very intimate sweet special feeling with only our family who have known us our entire life,” Anne Grace says. “It kept the focus on what was important of the day.”
They also changed the start time to 4:06 p.m. after Shades Mountain Baptist had been encouraging its church members to pray at 4:06 p.m. for the COVID-19 crisis based on Philippians 4:6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” “We felt like March 28 had been prayed for for so long,” Anne Grace says. “We had a peace about the whole day, and it ended up being the most beautiful afternoon. You could tell there were people praying for us throughout the day.”
For the backyard ceremony, Anne Grace’s sister and sisters-in-law wore their light blue bridesmaid dresses as planned. Likewise the bride donned her “dream dress” designed by Heidi Elnora, and Gabe a white dinner jacket and black cowboy boots (he wears some form of cowboy boots daily, which Anne Grace loves).
The biggest surprise came at the end of the reception with their family. Anne Grace and Gabe thought a few friends were going to drive by in their cars and wave, so they made their way to the end of the driveway to watch. But what they didn’t know as they stood in front of Gabe’s truck—which neighbors decorated with white balloons and a “just married” sign—was that the bridesmaids had taken action to recruit a whole parade of around 100 cars to drive past with balloon and signs.
In those moments they got to see all the friends who have been cheerleaders for their relationship from the start, the friends who will dance to a live band at Vestavia Country Club in July to celebrate too. “It was so exciting,” Anne Grace recalls. “We felt so loved and supported because even when they couldn’t be by our side as planned, they still made a way to be there. You could see the excitement and joy on all of their faces.”