NORTH RIDGEVILLE, Ohio — The church sanctuary at Cornerstone Bible Fellowship in North Ridgeville was nearly empty just minutes before a 22-year-old bride was scheduled to walk down the aisle.
It wasn’t a ceremony where the invited guests didn’t show up, instead it was a wedding in the era of COVID-19.
“We just really wanted to do it,” bride Olivia Rodgers says. “We were scared that we weren't going to be together during all of this."
That's why Olivia and Cody Rodgers pushed up their April 4 wedding to March 18, just days before Ohio’s stay-at-order went into effect. The couple was supposed to marry in front of 150 guests, but to stay in line with social gathering recommendations, that number dwindled down to 10.
“We had just married my other daughter in January to a full church,” Olivia’s mother, Karen Yunis, says. “It's definitely not what we expected.”
The decision to marry nearly three weeks early also meant that the father-of-the bride was not expected to physically attend. Last summer, George Yunis was diagnosed with an incurable form of cancer. On the day of the wedding, he was hospitalized, recovering from a stem cell transplant meant to prolong his life.
“I said no matter what, I still want the wedding to go on,” he says.
But that didn’t mean the wedding would go on without his presence.
The bride's mother had a solution.
“We decided to just kind of patch him in on one of our phones and they kept the phone with them everywhere they went,” she explains.
They used Facebook Messenger video to keep her husband connected to the ceremony.
From walking the bride down the aisle, to giving her away, he was there by phone through it all.
“I didn't know I was so involved,” he says. “I didn't feel like I was really there, but I felt really honored that they wanted me to be present in some way.”
The father of the bride's presence also included a recording of him singing one of the couple’s favorite songs -- "Angel" by Casting Crowns.
“I almost started crying,” Olivia says. “It was just really beautiful to hear him sing the song.”
“It's just showing that we all have to try to make things work,” George says. "I’m blessed that it worked out. I'm glad she's happy."
The Yunis family plans to have a big outdoor celebration for Olivia and Cody once Ohio’s stay-at-home order and requirements for social distancing are lifted.
In addition to the wedding, the family has another reason to celebrate. George was recently released from the hospital and is now at home doing well.