HAZEL GREEN, Alabama When, after 33 years of pulpit ministry, the Rev. Bobby Eads, most lately senior pastor of Hazel Green First Baptist Church for 18 years, decided to retire from the pulpit, a door opened for him to take his pulpit on the road. Eads and his wife, photographer Susie Eads of Suzy E Photography, got nudged into starting a wedding business, .
I saw a listing, Beach Wedding Business for sale, online, Susie said. I was already doing wedding photography, and I love beach weddings. I think it is just the perfect place to be. When you stand at the edge of the ocean, you can t help but feel how small you are and how big God is.
It matched what we were already doing, Bobby said, completing Susie s story in the comfortable way that the couple of 31 years have around each other. Susie already knew about wedding planning and . And since I m a minister, we could do the whole nine yards.
The Eads already loved going to the beach. They keep an RV parked there, making it easy to spend a few weeks there when they have weddings planned. Otherwise, they live in Hazel Green, near Bobby's aging mother.
The Eads are moving in to the destination wedding service just as destination weddings in the U.S. are reaching all-time highs. There are at least a dozen beach wedding planners in the Orange Beach area. The by , with information collected from 13,000 brides and grooms married in 2013, shows that more and more couples are opting for weddings outside of their home churches or synagogues.
In 2013, 24 percent of weddings were considered destination weddings, that is, the ceremony was performed in a vacation site, not at home. Only 33 percent of those getting married in 2013 chose to do so inside a traditional religious institution, a fairly significant decline from 41 percent who did in 2009, and a decline that appears to be steady.
The oddest venue the Eads have used was the mezzanine of the Dallas Cowboys stadium at half-time during the Alabama-Michigan Kick-off Classic in September 2012. The bride was a dedicated Alabama fan; it was the groom s first game.
Talk about standing on holy ground, said Bobby, making a joke for the benefit of Susie, an avid Alabama fan.The Rev. Bobby Eads usually includes a sand ceremony during the beach wedding service. Sand gathered near the wedding spot is placed in vases, and during the wedding, the man and woman take turns pouring in their container, signifying how they each bring everything to this marriage and how they can never again be separated in the same way. For weddings involving families that were blending, the Eads include separate vases for each of the children. (Courtesy / Suzy E Photography)
Couples may not be choosing a church as a wedding venue, but most couples do want to include religious aspects in their service, Bobby said. They know that at least a few of the couples who have found them, either through word of mouth or online, were influenced by knowing that Bobby and Susie conduct their business with the sense of doing it with God s leading.
God is also a big part of our lives, and we really wanted religion in our ceremony, said Suzanne Gibson, who was married by the Eads this year. We knew that Bobby would incorporate our love of Jesus into the ceremony, and we wouldn t need to be in our home church.
Even couples who are active in a home church are drawn to the ease of a destination wedding.
Laurie Skaggs Varnon, a police officer with the University of Alabama, and her husband, who owns his own business, realized they simply did not have time to plan a wedding if they were going to use the church they planned to join after they were married.
It was so easy! Varnon said. Susie asked me what we wanted and also gave us some good ideas to consider. The wedding was set from that point. We didn t have a care in the world that day. Bobby entertained the families as we took our pictures.
While couples come expecting to merely repeat vows or something, Bobby said, during the ceremony itself, he invariably sees the realization of the enormity of their vows settling over them. A few couples have taken advantage of the pre-marital counseling he offers, usually done via Skype. Whether or not they have, during the ceremony itself, Eads makes sure to allow plenty of time for the gravity of their commitment to pull them to earth.
You see it it hits them, Bobby said. I usually use First Corinthians 13, and I read it slowly: Love is patient. Love is kind. I want that to sink in.
It s important to us that the couple realize that the wedding is not the most important thing -- the marriage is, Susie said.
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