Story by Sean Connolly, photos by Margaret DeCelles, video from Ellen Putzier
Thomas Duddy raised his left hand in a gesture of praise as he and his bride Jeanette (Zimmel . . . until 45 minutes previously) walked briskly down the red-carpeted aisle of Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Shreveport. Some 150 voices in the congregation—Hawaiian voices, southern voices, Minnesota voices, Missionary voices, New Orleans voices, Shreveport voices, Virginia voices, a lone Portland voice (Fr. Chuck Wood’s) and children’s voices—rang out as one voice, “Shout joyfully to God all the earth; sing to the glory of his name!” The ushers swung wide the front doors of the church to reveal a heavy rain hammering the pavement outside. Jeanette’s brother, David Zimmel, a groomsman, trailed behind his sister and felt the panic as the procession neared the doors. Then, as he recalls, “Out of the mist stepped Nick Raway (Mission Division, Shreveport) holding a giant umbrella. Then a neurosurgeon from the clinic where Jeanette works came from the other side, carrying an umbrella from his car.” Thomas, Jeanette and their wedding party continued, through the rain but sheltered by umbrellas, to the getaway car. The congregation sang on, “Let them be jubilant, full of his joy,” and the joy soaked into the people as the rain saturated the ground outside.
This was the third time Christians in Mission team members living in Allendale had married each other. Nathan and Genevieve (DeCelles) Barrett broke the ice in 2007, with Josh and Mary Claire (Busk) Caneff following them in 2012. But Thomas and Jeanette were the first to hold their wedding in Shreveport, in a church just a stone’s throw from Allendale. This meant that neighbors could attend the festivities, and that the festivities themselves could more obviously point to the greater missionary burden the Lord is calling the People of Praise to shoulder in Allendale. Even the wedding cake told a larger story. Its white top displayed a map of the Mississippi River Valley, outlined in black icing, with red dots indicating Indianapolis, Evansville and Shreveport, the sites of the community’s missions, along with the words of a prayer, “Let your glory fill the valley.”
Choosing a Shreveport wedding meant that there were fewer traditions and precedents to fall back on than in a larger branch where community weddings are more common. Every detail, from food to photographer to reception hall, needed to be researched, thought about, decided. With their blood families an ocean away in Hawaii (in Thomas’s case) and a 900-mile drive away in Minnesota (in Jeanette’s case), their Christians in Mission team members became the family to fall back on when it came to planning and executing. The CIM team, in turn, fell back on the Shreveport branch, just as they do each summer when Action volunteers come to town.
For the wedding weekend, 32 guests stayed in the CIM team’s seven houses on Yale Avenue, in addition to the 21 team members who normally live there. Another 31 guests stayed with Shreveport branch members, and hospitality coordinator Patti Deakin says that somehow she didn’t have to turn anybody away. Cliff and Jackie Vaughan opened an empty house they own to Jim and Beth Bulger, and Elizabeth Pease from Servant Branch, Kate Zenker and Annie Bulger from South Bend, along with Justin and Cathy Walters from the Indy South Side and four Purdue University students who slept in sleeping bags in an apartment above the garage. “You never knew who you would be eating breakfast with,” said Beth.
The distances from Shreveport to Hawaii and Minnesota meant that the parents of the bride and groom, Tom and Mary Duddy of Kaneohe (Oahu) and John and Jo Zimmel of St. Paul (Servant Branch), had never met prior to the week of the wedding. The Duddys had never met Jeanette, except through Skype video conferences on their computer.
At the bachelor party on Thursday night, Pat Malone shared a story about Thomas that revealed how deeply Thomas identifies with his Allendale neighbors. Three years ago, Ed Allison, a gentleman in his early 70s, was diagnosed with an inoperable tumor. “Ed was given a short time to live,” Pat recalled. When Thomas heard the news, “he was moved by love for Ed, and he told the Lord in no uncertain terms that this wasn’t Ed’s time to die.” Thomas began visiting Ed, talking about the Lord with him, praying with him, using his skills as a nurse to help him. He got everyone on the CIM team to pray for Ed, and to the shock of everyone in the hospital, Ed recovered. He had arrived at the hospital in a wheelchair, but he left on his own two feet and began living independently again. “Ed will tell you that the prayers of Thomas and everyone else kept him alive,” Pat said.
The rehearsal dinner on Friday night took place beneath a white canopy erected in the grass front yard of 1434 Yale Avenue. Folding tables dressed with white tablecloths held handmade centerpieces: glass vases filled with purple wandering Jew plants and their tiny pink flowers, gathered from the yard. Catherine Bulger (South Bend) arranged the food and service for the 71 guests. It was simple fare: subs from Walmart, homemade guacamole, hummus and salad. About an hour before the dinner, a car from Servant Branch arrived carrying the servants: the Bulgers, Elizabeth Pease, Nancy Grams, Mary Bredenburg and Kate Zenker. This was by design, to enable the CIM team members to pause from their preparations and savor the moment.
After the main course, Thomas and Jeanette stood up and honored their parents. Thomas said that during his late teenage years he had begun living a wayward life. Later, in his 20s, after the Lord had opened his eyes, he had told his father that he wanted to build a stronger relationship with him, even though it would need to be built at a distance. Thomas had decided to move to Servant Branch to live with the Brotherhood for a time and to attend college. “You welcomed me back,” he told his father.
Though it wasn’t mentioned at the rehearsal dinner on Friday night, Ron Gouveia (Oahu), a longtime friend of the Duddys and the only other member of the Oahu branch who was able to make the 4,000-mile trip, sees some parallels between the choices of Thomas and Tom. “The Duddys came to Hawaii in 1980 because of military service. They are originally from the east coast. Five or six years after they came, they had to make a decision about where to go next, and they decided that the Lord was calling them to stay and be part of the Oahu branch.” Staying in Hawaii meant that the Duddy kids would not have much contact with their east coast relatives, and that branch members would have to play the roles of aunties and uncles, of grandmothers and grandfathers. “The Duddys laid down their lives for the building of the People of Praise,” says Ron. “I can see Thomas following in their footsteps.”
In her sharing, Jeanette said that her parents had placed a high priority on personal prayer when she was growing up, leaving a lasting impression. She recalled seeing her mother sitting in a chair each morning having her prayer time. Jeanette didn’t always see her father pray, but she knew that he had prayed whenever she saw him at breakfast reading the comics in the morning paper. Her dad had made a commitment to get his prayer time in before ever turning to the funnies.
After the honorings, the mosquitoes came out in force and the group moved inside 1434 Yale, where members of the Missionary Company from Evansville took up banjo, cello, mandolin and harmonica for the first of several weekend musical performances. Ringing out a riff in the clawhammer style, Nick Holovaty kicked off an uptempo bluegrass number he had written. Mary Timler laid down the low notes by plucking on her cello. The lyrics of the tune spoke of the way in which Jesus spreads his message, “Face to Face, One by One,” also the song’s title.
Just before noon the next morning, wedding guests collected their programs at church from a young teenage girl in a shimmering dress whom Jeanette had befriended over the course of her years living in Allendale. Fr. Chuck Wood (Vancouver-Portland) presided, and Mike Coney (New Orleans), a deacon, preached and received the wedding vows. The first reading came from the prophet Zephaniah: “I will save the lame, and assemble the outcasts; I will give them praise and renown in all the earth, when I bring about their restoration.” The Gospel reading was Matthew 5:1-12, the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the poor in spirit . . . .” In his homily, Mike emphasized that Jesus intended the Beatitudes to be lived out by his followers, and that the blessings and rewards mentioned in connection with mourning, meekness, etc., are meant for this life, not only for the life to come. They are the fruit of living the gospel.
The petitions, like the cake, pointed to mission—both the community’s mission and the mission of the whole church: “For boldness in proclaiming the gospel, for faith in good times and in bad, for greater unity among all Christians . . . we pray to the Lord.” They also included a prayer for Ed Allison, who had taken a turn for the worse in the weeks leading up to the wedding.
The missionaries sang two hymns: “How Firm a Foundation” and a rewritten version of “Hark, I Hear the Harps Eternal.” “The choral music was absolutely glorious,” said Ron Gouveia.
“The Lord was there in such power,” added Teresa Lynch (Shreveport). “The focus was on this wonderful thing that God was doing for Thomas and Jeanette. It wasn’t anything like the traditional wedding. I kept thinking, I wish my daughters could see this!”
The rain that began midway through the wedding ceremony continued, joined by lightning and thunderclaps during the reception, which took place in a hall on the grounds of the American Rose Society.
As she raised a glass to toast Jeanette, Kathleen Mehaffey, her maid of honor, told a bit of Jeanette’s story. Jeanette has lived in Allendale two times, first beginning in 2007, for three years, then again starting in the fall of 2012 (following a two-year stint in the Missionary Company). “When Jeanette lived here the first time, she and Laura Brummer would go out visiting older women who lived alone in our neighborhood. Jeanette was moved by these women and loved them. After prayer and discernment she helped start a walking group with them. Five years later, these women are still walking three times a week and some of the women are here celebrating with Jeanette today.”
Jeanette works as a phone operator at the Spine Institute of Louisiana, where she is known for the limericks she writes on colored paper for the doctors and each of the staff members on their birthdays. “Jeanette carries with her the fragrance of Christ,” Kathleen said. “It lingers in the places she has worked, the households she has lived in, and it rests on anyone who has had a conversation with her.”
Thomas also has a reputation at his job—for praying with his patients, as Nathan Barrett, his best man, pointed out in his toast. Thomas is a nurse at the VA hospital in Shreveport. Recently, he leaned over to pray with a patient as a student nurse stood by, watching him. “I didn’t know we were allowed to do that!” the student told Thomas later. Another time, a patient caught up with Thomas after he had prayed with him. “As soon as you left my room after praying with me,” he said, “I had to call up my family and tell them, ‘You guys won’t believe it, but Jesus lives at this hospital. This nurse just came up and prayed with me!’”
After the toasts and customary first dances, Jo Zimmel called everyone up to dance the Virginia reel, a country dance. “I asked for two sets of eight couples,” she says, but she was surprised when four sets of eight couples arranged themselves and prepared to dance. Soon she was having trouble teaching everyone the steps. One of the servers from the catering company stepped in to help, as did others who knew the routine. “It was more like bumper cars than the Virginia reel,” observed Patti Deakin. “Everyone was laughing and having so much fun, even the catering guys were videoing it on their phones and just laughing.” Cheers rang out as Nathan Barrett and Nick Raway sashayed forward and back while holding Madeleine Barrett (age 18 months) and Marie Elise Barrett (age three). All the while, two uniformed sheriff’s deputies (their presence was mandated by the Rose Society) sat outside the building, with guns and Tasers at their side. (One drove up in a paddy wagon, the other in a Police Interceptor.) The officers were looking serious until Nick Raway sent them inside to get some gumbo, red beans and rice and banana pudding.
The reception ended at six, but an hour later guests began to reassemble back in Allendale for another party. The party grew and stretched across three houses and onto their front porches. Near the end, the missionaries performed a few more numbers. Chris Vieck shared a bluegrass song she had written for her father. The missionaries reprised “Face to Face, One by One,” with the whole crowd joining in on the chorus. Rus Lyons performed a rap he wrote called “The Clear and Present Gospel.” Everyone sang along to the old spiritual, “Ride on, King Jesus,” and to J-T Kelly’s song, “City of God.” The party ended with the Wesleyan hymn, “I Will Arise and Go to Jesus.”
On Sunday, a few of the out-of-town guests toured the neighborhood, including Nancy Grams. “I’ve seen pictures and videos but I was totally astonished. The houses, the porches, the sidewalks—it was really beautiful. I could see how we were being a light just by living ordinary life, just by being who we are in the People of Praise. It’s so easy to do it, because we are right there.”
The next Tuesday, back home in Hawaii, Tom Duddy reflected on the meaning of all that he had seen. “I am proud of the Oahu branch, way out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and the impact that we have been able to have on the whole life of the People of Praise. Over the years, we’ve sent out Dave Sklorenko, Bob and Bev Linczer, Geoff and Sue Kelleher, Bob Chukinas, Larry and Valerie Day, Joe Gomes, Zach Busekrus and others, and now Thomas. Even though we are a small and distant branch, we have been able to have an impact.”
A moment before the wedding party stepped into the aisle to begin their closing procession, Fr. Chuck read a blessing: “May you be witnesses in the world to God’s charity, so that the afflicted and needy who have known your kindness may one day receive you thankfully into the eternal dwelling of God.” Chris Vieck (Mission Division, Evansville), a bridesmaid, said later that the words struck her. “I know one of the reasons Jeanette wants to be married is to take care of lots of people.”
“Individually, Thomas and Jeanette both have a deep heart for the poor and those who haven’t had the gospel preached to them,” said Tom Duddy. “They wanted the wedding to make a statement about that work. Their intention, their expectation is to spend their married life in Allendale. It isn’t a stopping point on the way to something else.”
Thomas and Jeanette are simply moving ahead, two who have become one, into the joy, taking no notice of the rain.
Thomas and Jeanette now live in a house on Yale Avenue that Action volunteers renovated with help from Ed Allison. Ed died four days after the wedding.