Ask almost any bride or groom to describe the one disappointing feature of their wedding, and they will likely report that it went by so quickly that they were unable to spend time with beloved friends and family members. For many couples, the answer is a destination wedding, which expands the celebration into a multiday swirl of love and laughter.
But not every couple wants to marry out of town. Caroline Welling and Benson Jones, Columbia natives living in Greenville, are one such couple. So instead of taking their nuptials on the road, the couple brought the destination concept to Columbia and created an event-filled, weekend-long celebration that gave them what they desired most: quality time surrounded by family and friends.
“From the very beginning, we wanted our wedding to focus on the meaningful people in our lives who have influenced us with love and support,” says Caroline. “It was important to both Benson and me to share more time with them than a quick hello at the reception.”
Both sets of parents absolutely supported their children’s wishes. “The three most important things in life — faith, family, and friends — came together beautifully,” says Benson’s mother, Lisa Jones. “We couldn’t have asked for a better weekend.”
The joy began in February 2019 when Benson proposed to Caroline after work at his apartment. “I was so surprised and overwhelmed by emotion that I remember saying, ‘I don’t know exactly what you just said, but I think you just asked me to marry you!’” she says with a laugh. “Then I said ‘yes.’”
After a celebratory dinner with both families — a surprise for Caroline — she and her mother, Elizabeth Welling, got to work planning the wedding.
First up was the date. Caroline had hoped to marry during the Christmas season. When she and Elizabeth discovered that Jan. 4, 2020, was available at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, where the family worships, they jumped on it. “Caroline wanted to include a bit of holiday symbolism into the wedding,” says Elizabeth. “Jan. 4 falls prior to Epiphany, so it was perfect.” Forest Lake Club was chosen as the reception site; the Palmetto Club was reserved for the rehearsal dinner.
With dates and locations set, the families set about deciding who to include. “From the get go, Caroline and Benson weren’t about the food or the party,” says Elizabeth. “The guest list sort of created itself because the only people we wanted there were those who knew and loved them. Caroline was very firm about not wanting to meet someone for the first time at her wedding.”
As the date grew closer, Caroline says that she and Elizabeth were in sync about creating a weekend celebration. “My mom and I are really close,” she says. “That can be good or bad when you’re planning something together, but in this case it worked out perfectly.”
The festivities kicked off on Thursday, when Caroline and her bridesmaids met at a salon for pre-wedding manicures and pedicures. Thursday night Caroline chose to have a special dinner with her parents and sister, Emily, who served as her maid of honor. “It was just perfect, being able to spend the night at home together,” she says.
The next morning, the women prepared for the bridal lunch at Forest Lake Club. “It was intimate and traditional, exactly what we all wanted,” says Elizabeth. “We seated people so they could make new connections, which would give them a new friend to visit with at other events.”
One of the most special moments of the afternoon came when Caroline presented her bridesmaids with their gifts: silver dinner bells that had been engraved with the date of the wedding. “We’d held a small party in June at our home so that our close friends and family members from both sides could meet,” explains Elizabeth. “Before he gave his toast that night, my husband, Bob, got the group’s attention by ringing a dinner bell. We decided that presenting the bridesmaids with their own silver bells would be meaningful.” A special guest was also in attendance at the bridal luncheon: Sweet Irene, the porcelain figurine that had topped the cake of Caroline’s great-grandmother. “I knew she wouldn’t be right on Caroline and Benson’s wedding cake, but she was perfect presiding over the dessert table at the bridal lunch,” says Elizabeth with a laugh.
For excited engaged couples, the wedding rehearsal can be a complete blur of step-by-step instructions, more confounding and intimidating than anything else. Caroline and Benson saw it instead as a way to celebrate being in church surrounded by the most important people in their lives and decided to share communion with the entire wedding party, including the flower girls. “I know it’s not something that everyone does, but for us, it refocused attention on what matters,” says Caroline. “It was calming, almost like a pause or a mini-meditation.”
Elizabeth, Caroline, and Emily arrived at the Palmetto Club for the rehearsal dinner to find a lovely surprise tucked into their place settings — hand-embroidered handkerchiefs, a gift from Lisa to each of the three women. Elizabeth’s had been monogrammed in a pretty shade of green that perfectly matched the dress that she would wear to Caroline’s wedding.
After a blessing and dinner, Boyd Jones, Benson’s father, began his speech by quoting Ecclesiastes 4: 9-11, a reminder of some of the blessings of marriage. Bob Welling also spoke, telling Benson that he possessed the qualities he would have wanted for his own son. “The speeches were beautiful, funny, and heartfelt,” says Caroline. “We laughed and cried.”
Exhausted from the festivities, Caroline awoke the next morning to find that she had overslept on her wedding day. “Of all the days!” she says.
Spending the day getting her hair and makeup done with her bridesmaids and having family and friends drop by was one of Caroline’s favorite parts of the weekend. Elizabeth agrees. “At first it felt a little odd to have all of our pre-wedding events except the rehearsal dinner at Forest Lake, but that was actually one of the reasons the weekend worked so well,” she says. “From the moment we arrived, friends were in and out, food was in constant supply, and we had the run of the space. We just felt like we were having our own little house party.”
The early part of the day was also successful because the men were at Forest Lake as well, playing golf before retiring to another part of the club for a groom’s lunch, where the groomsmen received engraved silver julep cups from Benson. With the exception of Caroline and Benson, the groups were back and forth all day long. “Seeing everyone having so much fun allowed me to relax and enjoy myself,” says Caroline.
The room where the bridesmaids had their hair and makeup done was also an ideal perch from which to watch the guys come in from the 18th hole of the golf course. Caroline recalls spotting Benson as he walked in. “I loved being able to see him, unobserved, and know that in a few hours we would be married,” she says.
Benson appreciated the golf outing for a different reason. “Being out there with my dad and my friends really helped me stay calm,” he says. “It’s always easy to be around people you love.”
The wedding itself ended up being as splendid as everyone involved knew it would be. Dr. Gabe Fluhrer, who had conducted Caroline and Benson’s pre-marital counseling at First Presbyterian Church, offered a scripture reading that was followed by the service. In honor of Benson’s Scottish heritage, Caroline, in a bateau-necked lace gown, carried a bouquet scattered with thistles; it also contained wax orange blossoms from her great-grandmother’s wedding veil. Caroline’s veil had been worn by three of her cousins so they referred to it as the “sisterhood of the traveling veil.” Her pearl and diamond jewelry had been her grandmother’s. The ring that Caroline slipped onto Benson’s finger also came with a story. It was made from gold sourced from three very special rings: two wedding bands from Lisa’s parents as well as from a small piece of Caroline’s engagement ring when it was sized down to fit her finger. “The Bible says that a threefold cord is not quickly broken; Benson’s ring symbolizes a threefold cord,” says Lisa. “It means that Jesus, Caroline, and Benson are woven together.”
Arriving at Forest Lake Club for the reception, guests were greeted by light jazz courtesy of the Parker’s Back Trio. When the newlyweds arrived, the music seamlessly merged to dance tunes as the reception band stepped in. “It was Bob’s idea to start with jazz, and it really set the tone,” says Elizabeth. Special foods and drinks were served as well, including ham biscuits made from ham cured by Elizabeth’s Virginia relatives and Virginia Gentleman bourbon, which is distilled in Virginia by a company once owned by a member of Elizabeth and Bob’s family.
For Caroline and Benson, the highlight was the sense of love and companionship that permeated the evening. “Everyone seemed so genuinely happy to be there,” says Caroline. “We felt incredibly loved and supported.”
Benson felt it as well. “These were the people who made us who we are,” he says. “Gathering our community to celebrate for more than just one evening was so special to us both.”