Coronavirus canceled Arroyo Grande couple's destination wedding -- but Zoom saved the day

2020-04-05 | The Tribune (San Luis Obispo, Calif.)

April 05-- Apr. 5--The groom grinned as the bride floated into view carrying a bouquet.

A best friend officiated the ceremony, reading remarks from a printed out piece of paper as well as a brief passage from the Bible.

Friends and family sat snuggled against one another, patting away tears and smiling as they watched the couple pledge their lives to one another.

The wedding between Berenice and Ryan Buckley, held Thursday in an Arroyo Grande, was similar to many we've all attended, except with one key exception.

The entire ceremony was broadcast live online on the meeting app, Zoom.

"I think it is a testament to Berenice and Ryan's strength that they were able to do their wedding in the middle of a global pandemic," the bride's sister, Melody Saint-Saens, said to laughs during the ceremony's virtual toasts.

The Buckleys had been scrambling since early March, when President Donald Trump issued a travel ban from Europe in light of the then-still developing coronavirus outbreak, bride Berenice Buckley told The Tribune.

The couple were originally planning to have their wedding ceremony in France this week. Berenice, who is half French, said the couple planned to get married outside of Bordeaux on April 2.

"I happen to be an extreme planner," Berenice Buckley joked two days before the ceremony. "I've planned for everything -- obviously I forgot to plan for a pandemic."

Buckley said the couple chose to cancel the original ceremony rather than reschedule for a later date because of the uncertainty surrounding the outbreak.

"The idea of rescheduling that whole thing, and for when?" she said. "It just seemed crazy and we just want to be married to each other."

When asked what it was like planning an online ceremony, Buckley joked, "Well, I've never planned a virtual wedding before!"

At first, the couple thought they would hold a picnic ceremony with some of their local friends in the backyard of their Arroyo Grande home. But as social distancing rules became stricter, it quickly became clear that they would be unable to do even that.

Enter Zoom.

The online meeting app is perhaps most known for hosting virtual meetings with coworkers. But in a time of global pandemic, Zoom has shot up in popularity as one of the ways friends and family can still gather together under shelter-at-home orders and travel bans.

As of March, the company says it has more than 200 million daily meeting participants, compared with 10 million in December 2019.

The app has played host to impromptu online classrooms, friend hangouts and long-distance family dinners since the start of social distancing regulations in March.

And now it's hosted weddings.

Buckley and her husband set up the wedding with the help of their close neighbors. They agreed at the start of the coronavirus outbreak to bunker down together so they could all take part in the ceremony, without worries about social distancing.

One of the friends officiated the ceremony; the other acted as a bridesmaid and witness. The couple's landlords, who share the Arroyo Grande property they live on, also attended the wedding -- albeit from a safe distance.

As Berenice and Ryan said "I do" on their back porch in Arroyo Grande, dozens of friends and family members from around the world got to to watch the happy couple from the comfort of their own living rooms.

Some of the virtual attendees would not have been able to attend the original wedding because of travel restrictions, but now were able to take part in their friends' special day online.

"People are excited," Buckley said before the ceremony. "They're like, 'We're going to dress up,' and my friends in Chicago are like, 'We're going to drink.' I think it's important to have something like this right now for everyone."

Zoom weddings aren't without their challenges. A special microphone was hooked up so that viewers could clearly hear the ceremony, and it had to be passed between the groom and the officiant several times when turning pages.

The couple also muted all of the guests' feeds, and asked that nobody write messages on the video's chat feature throughout the ceremony to prevent potential distractions.

But as soon as the couple were declared husband and wife, the congratulations came streaming in.

"Who knew one could cry at a virtual wedding?" one person commented in the video's chat.

"Unmute me, I want to scream!" another happy friend wrote.

Though coronavirus may have thrown a wrench into the couple's original plans, it didn't get in the way of their ultimate goal: to start the next chapter in their lives together.

"For us it's like, obviously we want to celebrate with people we love," Buckley said, "but we really just want to be married."

So they did.