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A Change of Plans: How the COVID-19 Pandemic Affected Temple Sealings for 4 Latter-day Saint Couples

by | Apr. 09, 2020

It was March 24, 2020, and 112 temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had been temporarily closed due to COVID-19.

For some time, Latter-day Saint couples had been watching the news of the temple closures with bated breath, hoping and praying that it wouldn’t affect their wedding date. But as temple sealings drew closer and gathering restrictions became tighter, many couples knew they were going to have to reevaluate their original plans, relying on last year’s policy change that now allows all couples wherever they live to be sealed immediately after a civil ceremony instead of waiting for a year.

Some decided to stick it out and see what would happen. Others were frantically calling temples to choose a new wedding date and be married right away, worried that live ordinances would soon be suspended.

On March 25, 2020, the First Presidency announced all temples worldwide would be temporarily closed that same evening until further notice. For Latter-day Saint couples planning on getting married, the news was devastating. Between trying to get through the temple doors in time and choosing whether or not to be civilly married, Church members' wedding plans changed due to COVID-19 far more than they ever could have imagined.

How did couples reconcile their desires with what was realistically available to them? What did they do to rely on revelation and trust that God really does know best? Four Latter-day Saint couples recently opened up about what they learned when life doesn’t go according to plan—and why they chose to keep moving forward anyway.

A Monumental Effort

Hailey Patera Cahan and Jack Cahan were hoping that the COVID-19 chaos would die down when the Bountiful temple, where they were scheduled to be married in April, temporarily closed on Sunday, March 22, 2020. Though Hailey’s parents would no longer be able to attend, the couple was lucky to reschedule their sealing for Friday, March 27, at the Jordan River temple. The day before the sealing, they learned that all temples had been temporarily closed the night before.

Concerned that restrictions might become even more rigid, the couple considered having their bishop marry them civilly in his office. But ultimately, things fell into place—a beautiful venue of a historic Latter-day Saint church in Sugarhouse, Utah, became available to them. Some family members were able to attend the wedding in person, and others watched via technology. Hailey’s best friend and her friend’s father were also able to handle the food, wedding cake, and decorations.

Jack and Hailey were grateful the policy change last year made their civil wedding an option.

“I think if that rule hadn’t changed, I would’ve wanted to wait until temples were open to get married, so I think it was a huge blessing,” says Hailey. “I didn’t think [that change] would ever affect me, but it actually did, so I’m really grateful.”

Although things didn’t work out as originally planned, the couple is grateful for the opportunity that a smaller wedding afforded them to stay centered on the promises they were making to each other and that they had already made individually with God.

“I was really, really happy that with all of this we were able to focus on what was most important, and it was the marriage and the promises that we’re making to each other and nothing else really mattered at this point,” Hailey says, adding that God guided them through the process.

“I know that God heard our prayers . . . I really think this way, we’ll appreciate [being sealed] even more and realize that we were taking temples for granted before. I’m looking forward to [being sealed] a lot more than I maybe would’ve before.”

Hailey and Jack are planning on celebrating their marriage in the future with the venue, dress, suit, and other details worked out. But next time, it will be a celebration of the most important part—their temple sealing.

“We just have had so many confirmations that [the] decisions we were making were right,” says Jack. “We had prayed and God was such a big part of it . . . I don’t know how it’s all going to work out, but I know that we’ll be able to be sealed when all of this ends.”

A Civil Marriage or a Temple Wedding

Hailey and Jack aren’t the only ones who were unsure whether to wait for temples to open or to be married civilly due to COVID-19 restrictions. As it’s a difficult decision for couples, temple sealer Douglas Calder says there are a few things to keep in mind.

“It's really a prayerful decision the couple needs to make,”  he says. “I think the prophet was certainly inspired to make the decision that couples could marry civilly and then as soon as they are able, come to the temple to be sealed. To me, it is evidence of prophetic seership. Couples don't need to feel that there is anything negative about being married civilly first.”  

This council certainly applies to Zak Baker and Holly Hansen, who have a wedding date coming up on June 12. At 40 and 33 years old respectively, Baker and Hansen say their picturesque wedding should have happened years ago—so they have no plans to put their lives on hold, although they do hope temples will open again soon.

“Our dreams have changed so many times by this point in our lives that we have learned to accept what the Lord gives us,” says Baker. “I was happy that they changed [the policy]. I didn’t think it would ever apply to me, but it’s actually the first thing that came to my mind when I found out about the complete closure of the temple. And so, I felt that the Lord prompted that change because He knew it was going to be needed.”

Temple sealer Brian Lee Sellers agrees that despite COVID-19, as long as couples are living their lives worthily now, they will eventually be able to fulfill that desire to be sealed.

“Now as we look at it, we see couples can’t go and get sealed right now,” Sellers says. “However, the Church wants everybody to live a life worthy of being sealed in the temple when the time comes and the temples are open again.’”

Sellers, who has been a sealer for 10 years, says that as couples involve the Savior in their decision, they will know how best to proceed.

“If they are worthy, pray long and hard, and counsel with their bishop and stake president, then they will receive their own personal revelation, as President Nelson talks about, and know what to do. Then they will not carry a sense of guilt about what they decide to do.”

Baker says with that in mind, he and his fiancée are going to play things by ear, moving forward with their marriage even if temple doors have not reopened by their wedding date. They are also focusing on keeping their covenants and inviting the Spirit into their relationship.

“This is something that many people—members of the Church throughout the world—normally face [for different reasons],” he says. “And so we’re proceeding like they would proceed, with faith [to] go ahead and get married and then when the opportunity opens, we’re going to be sealed.”

If a couple does decide to and are able to be married civilly first, Calder, a sealer since 2003, adds that couples should understand that “civil marriage is certainly honorable before the Lord,” and that their temple sealing will be beautiful regardless of when it happens.

“We perform sealings after a civil marriage all the time and they’re very special, just as special as a wedding,” he says. “[The Lord] welcomes [His children] and invites them to come to receive the sealing ordinance because it is the ordinance of exaltation and the ordinance of creating an eternal family unit. And so, the important thing is the fact that the couple is coming to receive the sealing ordinance-—not the timing.”

Baker and Hansen are trusting in the Lord’s timing. The couple had the opportunity to do proxy sealings shortly before the temples closed, which strengthened their desire to be sealed to one another.

“I feel like being older getting married, I always have to keep faith—and it took a long time,” says Hansen. “But Heavenly Father blesses us in the right time and with this going on, He’ll bless us in the right time as well.”

A Different Plan

Tracy Allen had also considered the possibility of being married civilly after keeping her eye on the news related to COVID-19. She and her now-husband, Derek Droesbeke, weren’t planning on getting married until April 18. But by mid-February as the pandemic spread, that possibility began to feel more like a necessity despite all the wedding preparations that were already in full swing.

On March 16 when United States governmental guidance advised against gatherings of more than 10 people, Tracy was almost relieved because she and Derek knew a decision had to be made.

“It relieved a lot of pressure for us to be able to sit down and say, ‘Okay, obviously the wedding that we planned isn’t going to happen, so what experience do we want to have?’ says Tracy.

Tracy and Derek notified friends and family all over the world from Russia and Canada to New York and California and postponed their vendor reservations. With all of the logistics taken care of, Tracy felt strongly they should consider getting married that same week. Both decided to pray about the decision on the night of March 17.

The next morning, a 5.7 magnitude earthquake struck Utah, and Tracy called Derek to see if he was all right. Ultimately, they decided to move forward with their wedding. The following days were a whirlwind: They called three temples to find an opening, Tracy was released as Relief Society president in her young single adult ward, her friends held a virtual bridal shower for her, and family in and out of the state drove in. Derek, a tax accountant in the middle of his busiest season, worked the entire week—including the morning of their wedding, which was held on March 20 in the Mount Timpanogos temple.

“We just felt like we wanted to get sealed and to be together during this time [of uncertainty],” says Tracy. And while she is quick to assert that there is nothing wrong with choosing a civil wedding ceremony in these circumstances, she is grateful for the sealing experience she and Derek had.

She recalls, “Because we were the last sealing of the day and regular ordinances weren’t taking place, we spent 15–20 minutes alone in the celestial room talking about our impressions from the sealing, which was really special.”

There was only one bittersweet part—guests were limited to only the sealer, both sets of parents, and one brother from each family.

“There were just . . . so many empty seats, and I just knew the names of the people that were supposed to be in those seats,” Tracy says. “And that was hard because I do think there’s something really beautiful about communities coming together to celebrate this new joined journey for their loved one.”

Tracy and Derek plan to celebrate their wedding with friends and family when time and circumstances allow. In the meantime, they’re grateful to be together and take this opportunity to focus their marriage on Christ.

 “The whole experience has made us both feel stronger and more secure in our relationship with each other and also our relationship with God,” she says. “That was something that was shared by our sealer, that as we turned our lives toward God, as we put Jesus Christ at the center of our lives, that it would draw us closer to each other. There’s obviously a lot ahead of us, but I've already felt like that’s been true just in the first week-and-a-half of being married.”

An Eternal Focus

Carolee Waddoups Teuscher, age 38, had been dreaming of a temple wedding ever since she received her endowment in 2006. Before that time, Carolee spent more than a decade away from the Church, giving birth to two daughters in that time. After her fresh start, however, she had faith that she would one day attend the temple with an eternal companion.

Years later, Carolee met Tyler Teuscher in April 2019 on a dating app. A father of one daughter, Tyler had a previous history of drug abuse and had also spent more than a decade away from the Church. Before he met Carolee, he had been searching for an eternal companion for several years, and as neither had been married before, the two were looking forward to being sealed in the Draper Utah Temple on March 27.

But as the temples started closing, Carolee and Tyler decided that they would still get married civilly on what they felt was the slight chance of all the temples closing.

Shortly afterward, though, the temples closed worldwide, and the couple was devastated.

“Because I wasn’t always active in the Church . . . I think it’s one of Satan’s greatest tactics that he says, ‘You’re not worthy,’” Carolee admits. You weren’t worthy to enter the temple, so Heavenly Father had to shut the doors to make sure you wouldn’t enter in.’ And that’s a real thought.”

Despite these thoughts, the pain of not being sealed in the temple at this time was eased, Tyler says, by the knowledge that they could be sealed in the future without having to wait a year for that to happen.

“It made the decision to move forward with a civil union at this time easier to swallow, erasing the uncertainty of how long COVID-19 will last and when our marriage for eternity could happen,” he says. “Once COVID-19 has eased, Carolee will be the first one [in] the temple line.”

On Friday, March 27, Carolee and Tyler were married civilly in a chapel in Holden, Utah. And while it may not have been the temple sealing they had so long dreamed of, not only were their daughters able to hear the words of the ceremony but family members, including Carolee’s 91-year-old father, were able to watch the proceedings via technology.

The way events turned out has put everything into perspective for them.

“I think that weddings today, people get so caught up with the perfect meal, the perfect flowers, venue, gathering, dress, music, seating arrangements, gifts, dances, honeymoon, that they forget they already found the perfect companion and have a perfect Heavenly Father,” says Tyler.

Carolee and Tyler are also grateful that during COVID-19, they had the opportunity to keep their focus on the Savior and they hope that in the future they will be sealed not only as a couple but as a family with their children.

“We both have a lot of history of utilizing Christ’s Atonement and needing Christ in our lives—not just in the really challenging times, but also recognizing His hand during the really joyful times,” says Carolee. “We had a really amazing event and union to focus on. . . . I feel so blessed to have been able to focus on the things of eternity while the world was in commotion.”

Photos of Jack and Hailey Cahan courtesy of the Cahans
Photo of Zak Baker and Holly Hansen by Kave Art Photography
Photos of Tracy Allen and Derek Droesbeke by Michele Trichler
Photos of Carolee and Tyler Teuscher by Essence Artistry, Britney Olsen
Danielle christensen

Danielle Christensen

Danielle is a features writer and editor for LDS Living. Previously, she served as web producer for Church News, where she managed their website and social media platforms. Danielle is a graduate of Brigham Young University in English and has been published with Deseret News, Church News, BYU Magazine, and Spires Intercollegiate Arts and Literary Magazine. Follow her on Twitter with the handle @danielleechris.

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