They were young teachers and lovers at the same elementary school in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, but, after going their separate ways for 47 years, they reunited to wed each other Saturday at an elegant ceremony at a quaint church in Philadelphia.
Though he grimaced and twisted in pain from surgery on his right leg a few weeks before, Dennis Bernard was determined to exchange wedding vows with Dawne Matthews before 200 guests at the Lutheran Theological Seminary on Germantown Avenue in Philadelphia.
Guests trekked from St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, Toronto and New York, among other places, for the special occasion.
The bride and bridegroom — former teachers at the Gomea Methodist School, where the bride’s late mother, Beulah Matthews, was the head teacher — sat, for the most part, throughout the ceremony.
The bridegroom had entered the sanctuary, from a back-room, on a motorized scooter, because of his inability to stand or walk unassisted for a while.
“This is a first for me,” said the Rev. Colleen M. Butler, of the African Methodist Episcopal Church — usually called the A.M.E. Church or AME, a predominantly African-American Methodist denomination, based in the United States — who presided over the ceremony.
“The bride and groom will sit for the wedding,” she added.
Before the couple tied the knot, Rev. Butler read verses from the Bible about love and marriage, including Ephesians 4:2: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”
“This is a couple that [who] came together in love,” she said. “They met young, and they went their separate ways.
“The importance is that God created this couple to come together,” Rev. Butler added. “With love as their guide, they will now take their vows.”
But, despite the seriousness of the occasion, there were light moments.
Guests erupted in huge laughter when Dennis repeated the exact preface to his vow that Rev. Butler asked of him.
“Dennis, repeat after me,” he said.
The congregation again rolled and roared, with the bride’s unexpected interjection when the groom completed his vow.
“You’re off the market now,” she blurted out.
The ceremony was preceded and interspersed with solo renditions from Andrea Soleyn — “When God Made You” and “Have I Told You Lately.”
She was accompanied on the piano by her dad, Andre “Nicky” Soleyn, son of the late, popular, Brooklyn-based Vincentian evangelical pastor, the Rev. Dr. Isaac Soleyn.
Hours later, after pictures were taken by the entire bridal party, the Rev. Dr. Thomas Thomas — a chaplain in the Vitas Unit, at Methodist Hospital in Philadelphia, where he and Dawne work — told the reception, at the Brossman Center next door, that Dawne was, obviously, very delighted to be married.
“I’ve never seen a young lady so happy,” said Rev. Thomas, a Kerala, India native, before offering prayers. “Dennis, you’re happy to have her as your wife.”
Yolande “Betty” Matthews, one of Dawne’s sisters, told the reception that her sister, a registered nurse, “worked seven days a week, two shifts a day before she met Dennis,” who carries the nickname “Long John.”
“’Long John,’ I know you’ve been blessed with the best woman in the whole wide world,” said Yolande in toasting the couple.
Fred Williams, who resides in Mississauga in the Greater Toronto area, urged the couple: “When you have to say, ‘I’m sorry’ mean it and don’t repeat it.
“Thank you both to be part of your day,” he said. “And, I hope to see good things for many years to come.”
Eddie Bernard, Dennis’s younger brother and “look-alike,” said he was “encouraged, based on observation, to see Dawne and Dennis bring such a medley between family and friends.”
Vida Bernard-Iton, Dennis’s sister, a lecturer at the St. Augustine Campus of the University of the West Indies in Trinidad and Tobago, said: “Two hearts were joined as one this evening.
“There are things that will make a marriage work,” added the former tourism director in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. “One of the most important things is communication.”
She then added: “Be honest, respect, love and treasure each other, as you’ve been doing.”
Philadelphia resident Joy Harry, Dawne’s aunt, who hails from Troumaca, a small but very popular village along St. Vincent’s western coast, said she met Dennis, for the first time, a year ago.
“He has got a gem,” she said in her toast. “Dawne can do everything, and she does it with a smile.”
The Bernards’ family member, Dianna “Jane” Browne, who resides in New York, likened the wedding to “a family reunion.”
“I count the Bernard family as the Browne family,” she said after asking her three grown children — including former St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Windward Islands and Combined Islands middle-order batsman in cricket, Colville Browne — to join her center-stage.
“The recipe for a good marriage is to take Christ into your marriage,” Mrs. Browne advised.