How to manage when Covid-19 puts a damper on wedding plans

by Christine Leow // May 21, 2021, 6:50 pm

emmerlyn portrait (2)

Soon-to-be-married couple Joshua Phang and Emmerlyn Ong have had to alter their wedding plans repeatedly to accommodate changing Covid-19 safe distancing measures. Photo courtesy of Emmerlyn Ong.

When Joshua Phang, 27, popped the question to his girlfriend Emmerlyn Ong, also 27, there was no doubt that they intended to be married as soon as possible.

The pair had met while studying in London and had dated for five years. It did not matter that when he proposed, it was July 2020 and the pandemic was raging in Singapore as well as around the world.

“We were certain that we wanted to be married within the year. Why wait if you’re certain you have met the one you want to marry?” said Joshua.

“Our lunch venue provides vendors to do the pre-event swabs but do we want to put young children through it?”

So, the couple started to plan for a 2021 wedding.

For a while, it looked like the situation was clearing up. Singapore moved from Phase 2 to Phase 3 as 2020 came to a close and the permitted guest list for both solemnisations and receptions increased to 100.

Then, measures eased further.

Said Emmerlyn: “When we could have more guests, we added more people for the solemnisation.”

Their June 5, 2021, wedding looked to be coming along nicely. They had invited 150 to their solemnisation in church and under 100 to an intimate family-and-close-friends-only lunch reception. The venue was a restaurant they both loved that served fusion Mediterranean cuisine.

Joshua and Emmerlyn dated for five years and knew that they wanted to be married in 2021, pandemic notwithstanding. Photo courtesy of Emmerlyn Ong.

But less than two months to the wedding, community cases started to rise and, just like that, the country found itself back in Phase 2 from May 8 to May 30.

Receptions with more than 50 in attendance would now need to have guests who had not been vaccinated swabbed for Covid-19 before the event.

Said Emmerlyn: “Our solemnisaton wasn’t affected. But we had already invited more than 50 people for the lunch reception.

“The emotional disappointment is the toughest to handle.”

“Our lunch venue provides vendors to do the pre-event swabs but do we want to put young children through it?”

While the couple was debating how to proceed – to further reduce their guest list, or get everyone swabbed – Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) was announced.

Among the stricter regulations was one that would deal a blow to the couple – no wedding receptions allowed till June 13.

Said Emmerlyn: “The emotional disappointment is the toughest to handle, particularly when you have to come up with Plan B or Plan C.”

Since Covid-19, couples planning to get married have had to play a game with chance or at least with how the virus pans out. Some have chosen to put their nuptials on hold. Others have opted to tie the knot come what may.

So, how do couples approach wedding plans in these Covid times?

Tip 1: Be ready to let go of cherished plans

Joshua and Emmerlyn are postponing their lunch reception and carrying on with their solemnisation in church as planned.

This is but one of the many things the couple has had to let go of as they plan their wedding. The first had been their ideal guest list which would have numbered over 800 for the solemnisation.

“There are so few opportunities to invite people to church. A wedding is a good way for them to hear the Gospel,” said Joshua.

The next was a church venue they had had their eye on since their own church was too small for what they had planned.

On the day that would have been spent on their pre-wedding photo shoot – April 7, 2020 – Singapore entered into Circuit Breaker mode.

“By the time we tried to book the place, Covid had hit and the place was no longer available because they were reserving it for their own members,” said Emmerlyn.

But for the travel restrictions, the couple would also have honeymooned in either Europe or England, revisiting the places they were familiar with as dating undergrads. Instead, they will be going on a staycation.

Said Emmerlyn: “I had all these ideals as a girl. I wanted it to be like this, or like that.

“But, because Covid lasted longer than expected, I have been challenged to re-think why I want those things or why I had an ideal wedding in mind and how much that matters.

“That thought process has been challenging in a good way.”

Josh and Stephanie Cheah who got married on April 10 this year had the same experience of having to relinquish long-held dreams of what their wedding would be like.

Stephanie and Josh had to postpone their wedding by eight months and whittle down their guest list from some 800 to 100 to meet regulations. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Cheah.

Their original wedding day was August 15, 2020. In April that year, they had sent out e-invites to some 800 guests who spanned the globe. About 600 indicated they would be happy to attend the event, even if it meant travelling to Singapore.

“We have family in Malaysia and Australia,” said Stephanie, 26.

“And friends from Columbia, Papua New Guinea, Nepal, Faroe Islands, South Africa, the Netherlands, Taiwan and Hong Kong,” added Josh, 29.

The couple, known for their friendliness and warmth, had accumulated their international guest list from their travels as well as from Josh’s stint with Operation Mobilisation on board the OM ship, Logos Hope.

“A short delay now, but a lifetime of marriage.”

Just as they were finalising the catering for their church ceremony and their families were making arrangements for flights into Singapore, the country announced it would go into a month-long lockdown. 

On the day that would have been spent on their pre-wedding photo shoot – April 7, 2020 – Singapore entered Circuit Breaker mode.

Said Josh: “We didn’t know how long the situation would last. That was the question mark.”

Given the uncertainty, the wisest course of action was to put the wedding on hold.

Said Stephanie: “I was okay initially till I had to send messages one by one to tell people that we were postponing our wedding.

“Then, the reality of cancelling the wedding became very disappointing.”

Tip 2: Prepare your guests for changes

When safe distancing measures change as the pandemic situation changes, the guest list will need to be adjusted as well. On paper, it is a numbers game. In reality, it involves relationships and potential hurt feelings.

Josh and Stephanie had the difficult task of having to leave out guests who had originally been invited to their wedding. Thankfully, they had several months to employ diplomacy.

“In April 2020, we told them that we had to postpone the wedding and that they would hear from us in a year. Then, we left it at that,” said Stephanie.

For those they saw regularly, such as church friends, the couple would casually mention that, with capacity limitations, they would not be able to invite many people.

Said Josh: “With some people, we brought the topic to the table quickly. With others, if they don’t ask about being invited, we just smile.”

Tip 3: Look at the big picture

Josh has a favourite saying which he coined for Stephanie: “A short delay now, but a lifetime of marriage.”

This has been how they have viewed all the delays and disappointments that Covid-19 brought to their wedding plans.

Josh and Emmerlyn have a similar long-term view of their union.

Said Emmerlyn: “God is in control. He is just as merciful, just as loving and kind despite Covid.

“Covid hasn’t taken the excitement of marriage away from us.

“The small ‘m’ points to the big ‘M’ of Marriage (between Christ and the Church) and that is the really exciting thing.”

“As we prepared for the wedding, Ephesians 5:31-32 became very helpful in reminding us what marriage is to God. There is the physical marriage and it is the small ‘m’, but the capital ‘M’ Marriage is the one between Christ and the Church which we look forward to.

“We have learnt to hold loosely the things of this earth. We can get disappointed but He has been good to force us to concentrate on the things that matter.”

Added Joshua: “The more excited you are about what God says marriage is about, the less you hold on to wanting the wedding to work a certain way and wanting things to work smoothly.

“So, we can’t have a buffet lunch or a large wedding. But the small ‘m’ points to the big ‘M’ of Marriage (between Christ and the Church) and that is the really exciting thing and that really helps us not be disappointed.”

Tip 4: Use technology to stay connected

Though the numbers attending the physical event have to be kept small, couples can use technology to connect with their virtual guests.

Josh and Emmerlyn will be live-streaming their wedding on YouTube so that more than 600 people can witness their solemnisation.

“We are using our church’s live stream system so it will be a multi-camera set-up,” said Joshua.

They also recorded their band playing in place of live music.

Josh and Stephanie, who held their wedding at a hotel, hired a professional team to film the wedding as well as to stream it live via Zoom. Four cameras covered the event and there was a producer who chose the best views from each camera for the virtual guests.

The couple wanted to make sure their Zoom guests had a good experience too. So, they hired a professional team to film and stream the wedding, and an audio team to ensure the sound quality was good. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Cheah.

They also hired an audio team to ensure that the sound quality throughout the wedding was good. The technical aspect of their wedding cost them up to 30% of their total wedding budget.

“It was worth it from the point of view of our guests’ experience. We thought: How can we honour our virtual guests because there would be more people online than on-site?

To test the viability of a Zoom wedding, Josh surprised Stephanie with a Zoom proposal.

“So, we put in the resources to ensure that the Zoom wedding was good and the live stream was stable,” said Josh.

The couple thought of the idea of a Zoom wedding because, when the Circuit Breaker happened, they had migrated their outdoor workout sessions with friends to Zoom.

“Our families in Malaysia joined us for the workouts as well. So, we thought this Zoom thing could work,” said Stephanie.

To test the viability of a Zoom wedding, Josh surprised Stephanie with a Zoom proposal after one of their workout sessions. Though only a handful were physically with the couple then, many more were able to witness the proposal online.

“We had 50 to 60 screens coming to work out with us. Then, the proposal happened,” said Josh.

At least 300 people attended their wedding via Zoom.

Having a Zoom wedding allowed Josh and Stephanie’s many friends and relatives from abroad to attend the wedding. Some 300 virtual guests were able to witness their wedding. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Cheah.

“My mummy has a lot of friends whom she couldn’t invite to the wedding but we told them we had Zoom so they could invite more friends to the Zoom wedding.

“Her Malaysian kampung friends were included and they were very touched to be invited,” said Stephanie.

Tip 5: Customise for the fewer guests  

One good thing about a modest guest list, the couples agreed, was their ability to be more personal with their guests.

“Having a small group helped us to customise our gifts.”

Josh and Emmerlyn have special door gifts planned for the guests who will be attending their solemnisation ceremony.

“We will be giving out tote bags which one of our close friends designed. In them, we are giving out different books. For our Chinese speaking guests who are not believers, we are putting in Mandarin Gospel tracts.

“We also ordered different Christian books for different people. We thought of our guests and got them books that would suit them. Having a small group helped us to customise our gifts,” said Emmerlyn.

Stephanie handwrote each of the 100 place cards for her guests, completing them with  personalised messages.

Tip 6: Surrender to God’s timing

Though they did not see it then, Josh and Stephanie now consider the delay of their wedding providential.

They had originally wanted to plan their wedding and oversee the renovation of their new home at the same time. Then, their wedding was postponed.

So, they only had to manage the renovations. It was then that Stephanie realised that, had both happened at once, she would have been overwhelmed.

On hindsight, Stephanie and Josh were able to see some blessings that came with the eight-month delay of their wedding. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Cheah.

Covid-19 regulations did not affect their renovation plans but the family from whom they bought their HDB flat was affected.

“They couldn’t move into their new home so we let them live in their old one while we waited things out. And we collected rent from them.

“The rent really helped us because we had to start paying for the flat,” said Stephanie.

They also managed to work things out with the venue provider and vendors they used.

“They charged us 2020 prices. It was important because prices rose quite significantly this year,” said Josh.

“God’s favour was in the timing of things.”


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About the author

Christine Leow

Christine believes there is always a story waiting to be told, which led to a career in MediaCorp News. Her idea of a perfect day involves a big mug of tea, a bigger muffin and a good book.