It wasn’t a chapel or a courthouse, but a public parking lot where Sharonda Williams and Calvin Taylor said “I do” Friday afternoon in Ferguson, Missouri.
As dozens of friends, family members and curious onlookers stopped to watch, the couple sealed their nine-year relationship with rings, vows and a kiss.
The Billy Graham Rapid Response Team’s mobile command unit served as the backdrop for the ceremony, which was officiated by local pastors. Several Billy Graham chaplains and members of the Christian community in Ferguson also participated.
In a booming voice, Rapid Response Team chaplain Kevin Williams told the crowd that Jesus’ first miracle happened at a wedding in Cana.
“Today there’s a wedding in Ferguson,” Williams said. “Today is a signal … to everyone that is paying attention. A change is coming.”
The crowd of wedding guests, including the couple’s five young children, cheered and clapped throughout the short, powerful ceremony. Only the burned-out building a few hundred yards away visibly reminded the wedding party of the less-than-joyful times the city of Ferguson has experienced over the past four months.
The Billy Graham Rapid Response Team—an international group of crisis-trained chaplains that has responded to hundreds of natural and man-made disasters since 2002—deployed to Ferguson because of the chaos that peaked around Thanksgiving. When a grand jury chose not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, rioting happened alongside peaceful protests, and many Ferguson buildings burned.
It was an unrelated incident that caused Sharonda Williams and Calvin Taylor’s house to burn down earlier this week. When three chaplains went to visit them on Monday, the family had nothing. As the chaplains helped connect them with food and clothing, Williams and Taylor shared that they had been together for almost a decade but were never married.
They told the chaplains how thankful they were that God had allowed their entire family to escape the fire, and they made a new commitment to trust and follow Jesus Christ as their Savior.
Then they decided to make another big commitment—to each other.
“They truly do love one another,” chaplain Terri Naber said. “They want to do it God’s way. They want God’s blessing since they rededicated their lives.”
With the Rapid Response Team’s mobile command unit centrally located in the middle of Ferguson, the couple decided to have a public ceremony right there in the parking lot.
Pastor José Aguayo walked them through some pre-marital counseling basics and agreed to marry them on Friday, just a few days after their house had burned.
People walked or rode their bikes to the ceremony, where everyone was welcome. The chaplains got a cake and some food for a reception.
“We’re just honored,” said chaplain Terri Naber, who helped out with the ceremony.
The wedding is one of many surprising ways God is moving in the Ferguson community. There’s still a long way to go, but Friday’s ceremony was a touching moment of joy and hope in the midst of despair.
“Lord, we follow You,” Kevin Williams proclaimed as he stood before the couple—now Mr. and Mrs. Calvin Taylor.
“We submit our lives to You, that the world can see what You can do in Ferguson, Missouri.”
Find peace with God in the midst of chaos.