Love conquers all, or so it did last Saturday, March 21, when Anastasia Ratcliff, a Washington native and 2012 graduate of St. Francis Borgia Regional High School, found a way to keep the wedding date she had planned with her fiance, Colorado native Stanton Skerjanec.
Amid the many public closures and social distancing parameters put in place around Franklin County, the state of Missouri and the entire country to stem the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the couple, who live in Colorado, exchanged vows Saturday at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Washington.
Father Jim Theby officiated at the 2 p.m. ceremony.
Plans had originally called for a bridal party of 12 with some 180 of the 250 invited guests from as far away as California, Colorado and North Carolina attending. But after local politicians limited all public gatherings to 10 people or less, all of that had to change.
Ratcliff was driving to Washington from Colorado Monday, March 16, with her future mother-in-law when she began receiving calls about the new social distancing limits. Initially the number was put at 50 people being allowed to gather, but by Friday morning, the day before the wedding, the number had been narrowed to just 10 people.
Guests and one member of the wedding party began calling to say they had to cancel and could no longer attend. Then Friday morning, the couple began frantically calling those who still were planning to travel to say there was no point, since only 10 would be allowed together.
Ratcliff, the daughter of Dr. Keith and Judy Ratcliff, Washington, credits her family and mother-in-law with helping to keep her calm and mitigate the problems and concerns that were coming up daily, sometimes hourly.
“It was hardest when the Elks Hall canceled. That made it real that we had no space for a reception and people weren’t coming,” Ratcliff said. “That was on Tuesday.”
With only 10 people allowed to be in the church for the ceremony, the couple, who each come from a family of six, were not able to have their entire families with them all at once.
The guest list was limited to the couple, Father Theby, the couple’s four parents, maid of honor, best man, and the groom’s grandma, because Stanton is the first of her grandchildren to get married in the Catholic church.
“She wasn’t going to miss it for the world,” Ratcliff commented.
The couple was able to livestream the ceremony on Facebook so the rest of their relatives and friends were able to watch and be a part of the moment that way.
“A couple of friends sent us photos of them watching the ceremony on their laptops,” said Ratcliff, and that was enough to make the couple feel close to them in the moment. “It brought that community component even though I couldn’t actually be there and hug those people.”
Among all of the people who had to cancel coming to the wedding even before the guest list was limited to 10 people was the cantor to lead the music. That was a big blow to the couple since the music is so integral to the ceremony.
“We really felt like the church portion was going to be for us, and the party was for everybody else,” said Ratcliff, noting she had selected “I Vow to Be My Country” (the same song Princess Diana had at her wedding) to be her processional hymn.
“The lyrics are really beautiful, but by the time we got down to only 10 people, we thought we weren’t going to be able to have any music because we wouldn’t have anyone there to sing.
“But Claire had recorded herself singing the songs we had requested just in case, so we were able to Bluetooth them from the phone and still kind of get that really magical entrance moment. That was really special.”
Walking out of the church after the ceremony, the couple — who had dated for five years before the wedding — was greeted to cheers by their family members who couldn’t be inside.
“It felt kind of good to bring it full circle,” said Ratcliff. “It was great that our siblings could be there outside. I got to sleep that night. I hadn’t slept well most of that week because of the stress.”
‘Shoutout to Our Vendors!’
The wedding did not include a full Mass, just the rite of marriage.
The Ratcliff family barn became the reception venue with small groups of the few guests who were in town coming by at different times to share some food and congratulate the couple.
“Shoutout to our vendors!” Ratcliff remarked. “Front Street Catering. The gal there who did our food was so flexible and so great!
“We ended up doing a fraction of the catering, and she packaged up the rest so we could freeze it or put it in the fridge. And we sent some people on the road with it. That was really nice.
“And the flowers from Four Seasons Florist made the day!” said Ratcliff. “They were a purple wisteria and turned out so beautiful, it just made the day really nice.”
Since there wasn’t room for a wedding photographer on the 10-person guest list, the groom’s father, who does sports photography in his hometown, became the “dadtographer.”
After the ceremony, he rotated the various relatives in and out of the church to pose for all of the family photos the couple wanted while still adhering to the 10 people or less rule.
The wedding party also went around town getting outdoor photos at places like the riverfront.
Sweet Elizabeth’s Bake Shop, Washington, was still able to provide the wedding cake and a mini cherry pie, as requested, for the groom.
The couple’s honeymoon plans have not been affected by the pandemic, since they had always planned to go on a trip next year instead of right after the ceremony.
‘I Felt Very Blessed’
Despite all of the upheaval and turmoil around the last-minute changes to the wedding plans, Ratcliff and Skerjanec said they don’t feel like they missed out on anything. The most important components were present.
“I felt very blessed that both of our families could be there,” said Ratcliff. “The women of our families were such a tremendous help and such a great emotional support . . . you really don’t realize that until these types of moments come up.
“So I think that was really a blessing and gift that I got to share and lean on them in this time. That sort of unexpected and probably otherwise wouldn’t happen.
“Obviously there were a lot of my friends and my parents’ friends who had seen me grow up who I’d wished could have been there, but it is what it is. I got a good husband and some unique family memories to write down, so it was good. I will sleep alright.”
Ratcliff said there was one time in the days leading up to the ceremony that she broke down and cried out of frustration. It would have been much more had it not been for family and friends, she said.
“I had friends texting and calling me all week. Truly I probably would have lost my mind if it had not been for everybody else,” Ratcliff remarked.
Looking on the bright side of things, literally, the couple said they were grateful that the weather was so nice the day of the ceremony.
“We were lucky to get some sun that day in between two days of rain, so God is generous,” said Ratcliff.
And while some people might think this is a story of how a wedding was ruined by the COVID-19 pandemic, Ratcliff feels otherwise.
“I don’t think it is a sob wedding story. I think it was very hopeful and enduring,” she said.