In almost every society, a wedding is cause for elated merriment. Friends, family and close members of the community gather for an occasion unlike any other — the unification of two people in love entering the institution of marriage.
When City of Refuge Church pastor Jeremy Upton and his wife, Brianna, saw their 15-year anniversary approaching, they wanted to include their entire congregation and invite others to join them in celebration. However, it wasn’t long before the event became bigger than they ever could have anticipated.
“We said that when we hit 15 years, we wanted to renew our vows,” Upton said.
“When you talk about a wedding renewal, it’s a family event, and for us our church family is a part of our family. We wanted to include the church family in that.”
While working out the details in organizing the renewals, they encountered stories within their church about couples who were struggling with marriage — either with the idea itself or with wedding costs. Upton and his family decided to do something about it.
“It hit me: As a church family, let’s step in and do this together, let the church family bear the brunt of the costs if [the couples] would allow us to give them some premarital counseling — time and attention — and help them invest in the marriage itself and not just the wedding ceremony,” he said. “The couples agreed to that, and we wanted to make it this big celebration of a church that still believes in the value — spiritually and naturally — of marriage.”
On Oct. 19, the City of Refuge Church held “The Grand Wedding” in front of more than 200 church members and guests in the Pearl Room of the Palmetto Bay Village Center. Pastor Upton conducted the newlywed ceremonies for Timothy and Lawanda Dansby, Michael and Valesha Magby, and Overton and Evelyn Richards. Following a brief musical interlude by a talented four-piece band which separated the two services, Upton’s father-in-law, Dr. Craig Smith, D. Min., conducted the renewals for the Uptons, Marc and Queen Baker, Leroy and Connie Jones, Damion and Cierra Hickson, Joey and Phala James, and Tyron and Valerie Mobleys.
“It’s a way for us as a family to say: Rather than all of us being invited to your wedding with only a few of us showing up, let’s have it together,” he said. “Let’s have everyone show up, celebrate and come together as a community and applaud people taking this step to have their marriages blessed in the spirit of community and in the spiritual nature we believe God blesses marriage.”
For more information, visit www.refugechurchmiami.org.