‘Better than planned’: Newly-married couple Mr. & Mrs. Bradshaw on their COVID-19 wedding

When preparing for their wedding, a bride and groom are faced with a long list of items for which they must plan. Church? Check. Reception venue? Check. Guest list? Check. Pandemic sweeping across the globe leading to mass cancellations and self-isolation orders? Well…

With the outbreak of COVID-19, couples around the country have found themselves in a holding pattern as their wedding plans have quickly been upended. Just as circumstances of the pandemic have changed daily since the first reported case of the virus showed up in Colorado at the beginning of March, so, too, have expectations surrounding upcoming weddings.

“It’s been day-by-day,” Ashley Stratman told the Denver Catholic in a March 30 video call. “Two weeks ago everything was in order. Then one day, one thing fell through, then the next day, another thing fell through. Even the last 24 hours have changed a lot. Every single piece is now different.”

Stratman had been eagerly anticipating her wedding to Ryan Bradshaw, originally scheduled for April 17. Friends and family were booked to fly in and all the details were arranged. And then almost one month to the day before their wedding, regulations started to be announced regarding what businesses could stay open and how many people could gather at one time.

“I was feeling a little bit helpless about the situation,” Bradshaw, 36, said. “Now I feel more detached from it. For me, it almost doesn’t matter when (the wedding) happens. The most important thing is that Ashley is there when it does.”

“I plan on being there,” Stratman, 31, joked with him. “Oh good, me too,” he responded, laughing with her.

Ashley Stratman and Ryan Bradshaw were in the midst of planning a wedding for April 17 when the coronavirus pandemic hit. With large gatherings virtually banned altogether, they weren’t sure their wedding was going to happen as planned. Still, they remained adaptable and lighthearted through it all. (Photo by James Snyder Photography)

Despite the stress associated with re-working their plans over and over again, the two remained lighthearted and quick to laugh.

I think it’s bringing them closer together and reaffirming that they are really meant to be together because of how well they are proceeding through all the emotions,” Theresa Francis, one of Stratman’s bridesmaids, said. “Even in the midst of processing it all, they are just the happiest couple.”

Francis introduced Stratman and Bradshaw, having met each individually through her work as a missionary for Catholic Sports. She walked with them as they dated different people, and as she did so, she became more aware of what exactly each one was looking for in a spouse. One day it occurred to her that the qualities for which they were each searching could be found in the other.

They had both been telling me individually that they’ve been looking for the exact same thing,” Francis said. “Before they even met each other they were on the same page.”

She introduced them in early 2019 and by fall, they were engaged. They said the relative rapidity of their courtship and engagement is a testament to their shared desires and goals.

I think the one stability, the one area of peace that I’ve had amongst all of this, has just been that though all the external factors have been changing and difficult, never have we disagreed on anything through the re-planning,” Stratman said. “The most important pieces of ending up at the end of all this together and sacramentally married, all of those things are very much in order.”

“You just remind yourself what the important thing is,” Bradshaw agreed. “We need a priest, a witness and the two of us to show up at the same time. It’s just detachment from the worldly things.”

Additional support continues to come from their families, bridal party, and Fr. Scott Bailey — “We have Fr. Scott on speed dial!” — who will be celebrating their wedding Mass.

James Syder, one of Bradshaw’s groomsmen and the photographer of their engagement photos, was himself supposed to get married on April 5, so he has a particular sympathy to their unique situation.

We understand what they are going through really well because we’ve had to completely cancel our plans until the stay-at-home orders are lifted,” said Snyder, who lives in the Seattle area. “So we just try to provide whatever kind of emotional and mental support that they need while they’re going through this. We’re really glad that we’re able to do that, and they do the same thing for us.”

In the meantime, their certainty in each other and their shared vocation had become something of a buoy to friends like Francis, who is also engaged and hoping to get married in September.

“It brings into perspective just how much weddings have been inflated by society and how much of it is influenced by a social norm,” she said. “To just see all of those pieces fall away and slip out the door, it’s been so much more affirming that in the end, the thing that matters is the sacrament, the marriage, and the fact they have found their vocation. And I just think that is so obvious with Ryan and Ashley.

“Their perseverance and their peace amidst all of it, and their humility and joy, is just beaming. It is such a light to people in such unsure times.”

As March turned into April, Bradshaw and Stratman’s wedding still had no firm date, though they had begun to look ahead to options in the summer. Stratman’s immediate family lives locally, but Bradshaw’s parents would need to travel for the celebration, and he wasn’t sure if they should hop on a plane with so much uncertainty abounding.

“Even if we don’t get married until June or July or whenever, we are weathering this together,” said Bradshaw during the March 30 interview. “Ultimately that’s the most important thing.”

It seemed the lack of concrete plans would be the status quo well into the summer, until about a week before their original April 17 wedding date when, as the two tell it with a laugh, “We both had mild breakdowns.”

Though they had discussed every possible idea from getting married immediately without anyone but a priest and a witness present, to waiting indefinitely for when all their guests could attend, in the end they came to terms with letting go of almost every previous plan, with the exception of ensuring their immediate family would be there.

“We finally called Ryan’s parents and said, ‘We want you to be here — how soon can we get you out here?’” said Stratman.

Father Scott Bailey presided over the wedding of Ashley Stratman and Ryan Bradshaw at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in the presence of the bride and groom’s immediate family on April 17, 2020, in Denver, Colorado. “For us, this really could not have been a better day,” Bradshaw said. “The wedding we planned was not going to be better than the wedding that happened”(Photo by Anya Semenoff/Denver Catholic)

With airports and flights now largely empty, they decided air travel was the best option for them.

“Once they showed up [at the Denver airport] and got in the car and we started driving back home, it felt real,” Bradshaw said. “This is going to happen.”

And happen it did. On April 17, the Friday that had been circled on the calendar months prior to the coronavirus outbreak, Ryan Bradshaw and Ashley Stratman exchanged their vows.

“For us, this really could not have been a better day. The wedding we planned was not going to be better than the wedding that happened,” Bradshaw said, in a follow-up interview a few days after their wedding.

“It was better than expected, better than planned,” Stratman — now-Mrs. Ashley Bradshaw — agreed. “When we were saying our vows, I was so ready and at complete peace knowing that Ryan is the right person, this is the right day. And knowing God was going to give us the graces we needed to make this last a lifetime.”

While only a few people could be present in the pews to share in the joy of the wedding ceremony, unbeknownst to the couple, a caravan of friends awaited them just outside. Safely distanced and remaining in their individual cars, the group waited for Bradshaw and Stratman to walk by so they could honk and holler their congratulations. It was the exact right send-off for a wedding day that came together despite the difficult and unprecedented situation.

For now, the newlyweds are quite content to wait until all restrictions are lifted to have their reception, and are eager to support other friends who are now in similar predicaments. Stratman has three friends in her bible study group alone who are supposed to get married in the next six months. Her advice to them: Circumstances may shift on a daily basis, so constantly be touching base with your fiancé to be sure you’re on the same page, and know what is most important to you both.

“For us, it was super freeing to be able to focus on what’s really happening,” she said. “It really focused us, and I would not change our wedding day for anything.”

COMING UP: Colorado Catholic Conference 2021 Legislative Recap

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On June 8, the First Regular Session of the 73rd General Assembly adjourned. Over 600 bills were introduced this session. Policy primarily focused on transportation, agriculture, healthcare, fiscal policy, and the state budget. However, the legislature also considered and passed many bills that could impact the Catholic Church in Colorado.  

Some bills that were passed will uphold Catholic social teaching and protect the poor and vulnerable of our society while others pose potentially harmful consequences to the Catholic Church, its affiliated organizations, and Colorado citizens who wish to practice their well-founded convictions. There were also many bills that were considered by the legislature that did not pass, including two bills that would have upheld the sanctity of life and two that would have expanded education opportunity for K-12 students.  

The Colorado Catholic Conference (CCC), as the united voice of the four Colorado bishops, advocated for Catholic values at the Capitol and ensured that the Church’s voice was heard in the shaping of policy.  

Below is a recap of the CCC’s 19 priority bills from the 2021 legislative session. For a full list of the legislation the Conference worked on, please visit: https://www.cocatholicconference.org/2021-legislative-bills-analysis/  

For regular updates and other information, please sign-up for the CCC legislative network here.  

Six bills the CCC supported that were either passed or enacted

Note: Passed means the bill was approved by both chambers of the legislature and is pending the governor’s signature as of June 9, 2021. Enacted means the bill was signed by the governor and became law.  

HB 21-1011 Multilingual Ballot Access for Voters – Passed  
If enacted, counties where either 2,000 adults or 2.5% of the adult population primarily speak a language other than English will be required to provide a ballot in that language. 

HB 21-1075 Replace The Term Illegal Alien – Enacted 
With the enactment of HB 1075, the term “illegal alien” was replaced with the term “worker without authorization” as it relates to public contracts for services.  

SB 21-027 Emergency Supplies for Colorado Babies and Families – Passed  
If enacted, the state government will allocate much-needed funding for nonprofit organizations to provide diapers and other childcare necessities to families in need, including Catholic Charities.  

SB 21-077 Remove Lawful Presence Verification Credentialing – Enacted    
With the enactment of SB 77, verification of lawful presence will no longer be required for any applicant for a license, certificate, or registration, particularly in the job fields of education and childcare.  

SB 21-146 Improve Prison Release Outcomes – Passed  
If enacted, SB 146 will establish practices that ease the transition back into society for formerly incarcerated persons.  

SB 21-158 Increase Medical Providers for Senior Citizens – Passed  
If enacted, SB 158 will allocate more funding for senior citizen care, which is currently understaffed and underfunded.  

Eight bills the CCC opposed that were passed 

HB 21-1072 Equal Access Services For Out-of-home Placements – Enacted 
With the enactment of HB 1072, Colorado law now prohibits organizations that receive state funding for placing children with adoptive or foster parents from discriminating on, among other things, the basis of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or marital status. This new law will likely to be impacted by the imminent Fulton v. City of Philadelphia U.S. Supreme Court decision. 

HB 21-1108 Gender Identity Expression Anti-Discrimination – Enacted 
With the enactment of HB 1108, “sexual orientation,” “gender identity,” and “gender expression” are now recognized as protected classes in Colorado nondiscrimination code. This may have serious religious liberty implications for individuals and organizations that wish to practice their well-founded convictions on marriage and human sexuality. 

SB21-006 Human Remains Natural Reduction Soil – Enacted 
With the enactment of SB 006, human remains can now be converted to soil using a container that accelerates the process of biological decomposition, also known as “natural reduction.” 

SB 21-009 Reproductive Health Care Program – Passed 
If enacted, SB 009 will create a taxpayer funded state program to increase access to contraceptives.  

SB 21-016 Protecting Preventive Health Care Coverage – Passed 
If enacted, the definition of “family planning services” and “family planning-related services” will not be clearly defined in law and could potentially include abortion. Furthermore, SB 16 removes the requirement that a provider obtain parental consent before providing family planning services to a minor.  

SB 21-025 Family Planning Services for Eligible Individuals– Passed 
If enacted, SB 025 low-income women to be given state-funded contraception, “preventing, delaying, or planning pregnancy” services, which includes cessation services and sterilization services.  

SB 21-142 Health Care Access in Cases of Rape or Incest– Enacted  
The enactment of SB 142 removes the requirement that, if public funds are being used, a physician must perform an abortion at a hospital, and instead allows for abortions to be performed by any “licensed provider.”   

SB21-193 Protection of Pregnant People in Perinatal Period– Passed 
If enacted, SB 193 will eliminate an important protection in Colorado law for a preborn and viable baby when a woman is on life support.  

Five bills the CCC supported that failed  

HB21-1017 Protect Human Life at Conception – Failed 
HB 1017 would have prohibited terminating the life of an unborn child and made it a violation a class 1 felony.  

HB 21-1080 Nonpublic Education and COVID-19 Relief Act – Failed 
HB 1080 would have established a private school and home-based education income tax credit for families who either enroll their child in private school or educate their child at home, thereby expanding education opportunities for families during and after the pandemic.  

HB 21-1183 Induced Termination of Pregnancy State Registrar – Failed 
HB 1183 would have required health-care providers that perform abortions to report specified information concerning the women who obtain the procedure to the state registrar of vital statistics, thereby increasing transparency in the abortion industry.   

HB 21-1191 Prohibit Discrimination COVID-19 Vaccine Status– Failed  
HB 1191 would have prevented individuals from being coerced to take the COVID-19 vaccine by either the state or by employers.  

HB 21-1210 Modifications to Qualified State Tuition Programs – Failed 
HB 1210 would have allowed families to use some of their private 529 savings account funds for private K-12 school tuition for their children, including at Catholic schools.   

One bill the CCC opposed that failed 

SB 21-031 Limits on Governmental Responses to Protests– Failed 
SB 031 would have made it more difficult for law enforcement to protect innocent lives when protests turn violent.  

Two bills the CCC was in an “Amend” position that passed  

SB 21-073 Civil Action Statute of Limitations Sexual Assault – Enacted  
With the enactment of SB 073, the statute of limitations on bringing a civil claim based on sexual misconduct will be removed as of January 1, 2022. Under this law, victims of sexual abuse can pursue a civil cause of action if the statute of limitations has not expired, the abuse happened in Colorado, and the abuse could be considered a felony or Class 1 misdemeanor if it was a criminal case. 

SB 21-088 Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act– Passed  
If enacted, SB 88 will allow victims of childhood sexual abuse to sue public and private institutions for abuse that occurred between 1960-2022. Victims would have three years to bring a historical claim, starting from January 1, 2022. Claims brought during this window would be capped at $387,000 for public institutions and at $500,000 for private institutions, with the ability of a judge to double the damages depending on how the private institution handled the situation. Despite unanswered constitutional concerns regarding SB 88, the Colorado Catholic dioceses will also continue to offer opportunities for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to receive support in a non-litigious setting.   

While the legislature has adjourned the 2021 legislative session, there is still the possibility that they will reconvene later this year. To stay up-to-date on Colorado legislative issues and their impact on the Catholic Church in Colorado, be sure to sign up for the CCC legislative network HERE.