Loved ones surprise Manitoba newlyweds with cheers outside church after socially distant ceremony
Emergence of COVID-19 in Manitoba forces Winnipeg couple to cancel reception, shrink ceremony
Sun shining down through clear blue Prairie skies, 8 C weather melting away signs of winter — Nathan and Diana Woltmann almost couldn't have asked for better conditions for their spring wedding.
Unfortunately, coronavirus concerns meant a long guest list had to be pared down to only a handful of close family due to social distancing orders and travel restrictions.
Diana, whose family was forced to stay home in Victoria, B.C., didn't get to walk the aisle locked arm-in-arm with one of her parents. The big reception, outright cancelled.
But the couple was determined not to let a global pandemic stop them from tying the knot Saturday.
And COVID-19 didn't stop friends and family from surprising them outside the church Saturday afternoon with a chorus of cheers and car-horn honking — all at a comfortable distance from the newlyweds.
"Very caught off guard by the whole thing," Nathan said after seeing the socially distanced gathering.
"We're so thankful for our friends and family and for God, who brought us together to this day," Diana added.
Norm and Jan Woltmann, parents of the groom, were among a small group of people permitted to be inside Gateway Church in South Osborne for the ceremony.
"Everything that has happened, everything that's going on — the fear that grips everything in these times — it's all covered by their love for each other," said Nathan's father, Norm Woltmann, ahead of the wedding.
"It's such a great day to share with them that joy in this time."
Manitoba has seen a gradual escalation in closures, cancellations and restrictions since the first COVID-19 cases emerged in the province just over two weeks ago.
Jan said her son and daughter-in-law could see the writing on the wall. The novel coronavirus was spreading, and the restrictions were ramping up.
The couple began emailing their guests.
The big party planned for afterward at the Fort Garry Hotel was among the first things to get nixed on March 14.
Then came the provincial limits against gatherings of 50 or more, which led to another recent email: only a few would be let inside the church. The formal ceremony was cancelled.
Come Monday, gatherings of 10 or more won't be allowed in Manitoba.
Hatching a plan
The cancellations left a big wedding-sized hole in the schedules of the locals on the list of about 180 who RSVP'd. The bridesmaids hatched a plan that would let some of those people still show up for the couple, in a sense.
"You just really want to celebrate them in this time where everybody is so fearful and we don't know what our future holds," said Anita Roulston, Nathan's aunt.
Quietly, behind Nathan and Diana's backs, people organized. They decorated their cars, made colourful posters and set out a route from the church on Rathgar to the endpoint where everyone knew the newlyweds would be heading afterward.
Shortly before 4 p.m., the married couple emerged to bursts of clapping and shouting from family and friends. They had no idea.
"They so deserve it," said Roulston. "We could all use a little cheering up in Winnipeg right now."
'Nothing takes away from that'
The newlyweds are people of faith, said Jan, and this wedding was meant to be a traditional expression of that. Circumstances made for something a little less conventional but not less special, she said.
Her gentle son and bright daughter-in-law have been through a lot to get here, said Jan.
"It's the idea that we can celebrate these kids today, no matter what," she said. "The joy and the truth of them becoming man and wife today, nothing takes away from that."
It wasn't what they imagined, but Diana and Nathan Woltmann are counting their ceremony as "a big win."
"We just love each other and we're just excited to start our future together, which starts today," Diana said.