When the chips are down: Couple adapts to pandemic wedding

When the chips are down: Couple adapts to pandemic wedding

The Rev. Andrew Lay and Ally Lay were married May 23. A Lay's potato chip vending machine was a star attraction at their downsized reception.

ATHENS, Tenn. --  Ally Lay had some big plans for her wedding to the Rev. Andrew Lay. She never dreamed a pandemic would change almost everything and lead to a vending machine full of potato chips.

The couple was married May 23 at Keith Memorial United Methodist Church, where Andrew is associate pastor. Instead of 350 guests, a live band, and a reception at an art center, the celebration happened with 10 immediate family members at the church.

Keith Memorial’s senior pastor, the Rev. David Graybeal, officiated while standing six feet away. Josh Stephens, the church’s worship director, provided the music.

The decision to dramatically downscale was accompanied with a few tears, the couple admits, but they wouldn’t consider putting their guests at risk when public health officials called for social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“Our wedding was not more important than anyone’s life,” said Ally Lay. “As much as it hurt us, we knew we were making the best decision.”

“I’ve got to brag on Ally,” said Andrew Lay. “She handled it with a lot of grace.”

The newlyweds said they realized their wedding plans were improbable as Ally approached her graduation from the University of Tennessee on May 8. Ally celebrated her bachelor’s degree in agricultural education without a ceremony (it was canceled) and the usual pomp and circumstance.

At times, the disappointing reality of the situation made Ally as blue as the dusty blue dresses and navy blue suits she picked out for her seven bridesmaids and six groomsmen to wear.

“But we didn’t want to push back the wedding date,” she said. “We just wanted to be married and start our life together.”

The congregation did what they could to lift up the couple by organizing a wedding shower on Facebook Live, Graybeal said.
“The church was tremendously generous in reaching out to them and showering them with all kinds of wonderful gifts,” he said. “A couple of church members own and operate a cool little store here in town, the White Street Market, and they also showered them with gifts.”
One of the creative ideas for the wedding involved a potato chip company. Over the Christmas break, the bride-to-be joked that she should ask the manufacturers of Lay’s potato chips to provide snacks for the wedding.
The future Ally Lay, who was Ally Clark at the time, sent a Twitter message to Frito-Lay North America “expecting nothing in return,” she said.
Three days later, the bride was surprised to receive a message from the marketing team at the snack company. “They were going to send us a potato chip bar, a photo booth, and set up a hashtag” to celebrate the couple’s nuptials and mutual name.
When the reception was canceled due to the pandemic, the potato chip bar was also crushed. However, the bride and groom were thrilled when they arrived at their revised wedding and saw the marketing team's revised idea. 

A customized vending machine that dispenses free potato chips was a star attraction at the wedding and is still sitting at Keith Memorial. The perky yellow case announces the couple’s marriage date: “Ally & Andrew, #newLAYweds, 5.23.20.”

The couple’s townhouse won’t accommodate a bulky snack dispenser right now, but they have plans for it to serve as a unique memento in a future home. In the meantime, the vending machine awaits the return of the congregation, which has not been inside the building since all Holston Conference churches closed in March.

“When we do return, maybe the church can celebrate with them by getting some free potato chips and just sharing in the outlandish joy of that surprise gift,” Graybeal said.
After the wedding, husband and wife spent a week in a condominium in Florida. “Everything was closed so we hiked and ordered pizza,” Ally Lay said.

The newlyweds hope to take the New England coastal honeymoon they originally planned in the future, whenever it’s safe to travel again. They also hope for a one-year anniversary party resembling the wedding reception that didn’t happen.

“We don’t want people to feel bad for us or sorry,” Andrew Lay said. “It all ended up being good, an intimate ceremony. We are thankful, and we are happy.”

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Holston Conference includes 864 United Methodist congregations in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and North Georgia.



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Annette Spence

Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.