Many brides have a close relationship to the officiant of their wedding. But when Sarah Jackson Smith stood with Kubi Johnson in front of the priest who was about to join them in matrimony, that relationship was closer than most. The priest was also the mother of the bride. The Rev. Susan Heath is currently the Fellowship of South Carolina Bishops’ Public Education Initiative Coordinator and a former canon at Columbia’s Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. “This was something very important to me,” says Sarah Jackson. “How many people have the opportunity to have their mother officiate at their wedding?”
The ceremony was about much more than the ties that bind a mother and daughter or even the connection between a bride and groom. It was clearly a joining of family and friends.
This merging of souls began more than six years ago, when Kubi and Sarah Jackson were both working in Washington, D.C. After meeting at a party and dating for several years, they discovered they not only had an interest in each other but also in pursuing a similar career path. Both are currently in law school, with Sarah Jackson in her third year at the University of North Carolina and Kubi in his second at Duke.
During a visit to Columbia for Christmas, Kubi planned to ask Sarah Jackson’s parents, Susan Heath and Rush Smith, for their blessing. And while Susan and Rush, married for 31 years, could not have been warmer and more welcoming to Sarah Jackson’s intended or more in favor of their union, Kubi was still extremely nervous at the prospect of formally asking for their blessing. “Susan and Rush are tremendous,” says Kubi, “but I still got butterflies.”
With her parents enthusiastically on board, the next step was for Kubi to propose. Kubi’s aunt had presented him with his grandmother’s wedding ring. “It was a huge step because I didn’t know anything about jewelry,” says Kubi. “I didn’t know how to even get started.” Together, Kubi and Sarah Jackson took the ring to Tiny Jewel Box in D.C. and had it modified, making it their own. Once the couple had decided on the changes, Sarah Jackson took herself out of all communication about the ring. “I had seen it, and I had signed off,” says Sarah Jackson. “I wanted to be surprised by the timing of the proposal!”
The ring was completed shortly before the couple planned to embark on a trip to Costa Rica. Kubi picked up the ring that had been delivered to a friend’s house the previous day with the intention of proposing on Saturday before leaving as a newly engaged couple the following morning.
“Once you have the ring, it’s like a weight,” says Kubi, jokingly. “I only had it in my possession for about 36 hours, but I was so ready for it not to be mine.”
Unfortunately, Sarah Jackson had a paper due on that particular Saturday, and Kubi was concerned about her finishing in time for his planned proposal. “I was sitting at my little desk, typing away,” says Sarah Jackson, “and he’s asking, ‘When are you going to be done?’”
Luckily The University of North Carolina and Duke were playing basketball that night and Sarah Jackson knew that Kubi, a UNC grad, would want to watch the game, so a 5:30 tipoff served as an early deadline for the paper. “I had texted a friend to maybe meet up with us for a beer after the game,” says Sarah Jackson. “But I was just wearing this terrible T-shirt and jeans.”
“I thought it was cute!” Kubi says.
Sarah Jackson laughs and shakes her head, saying, “I probably should have thrown the shirt away five years ago, but now I never can.”
Before that first jump ball, Kubi dropped to one knee and officially asked Sarah Jackson to be his wife. It turned into a wonderful night, filled with promises, Champagne, and a basketball game the two of them will never forget.
Planning the Details
After the trip, many details had to be arranged for the wedding. Trinity Episcopal Cathedral was, of course, selected as the ceremony site, primarily because it was the church in which Sarah Jackson grew up but also because Susan and Rush were married there. In fact, having a parent perform the ceremony has become a family tradition, starting with Susan’s father who officiated at her wedding.
The whole family was involved in the wedding details. “It was really fun,” says Susan. “Rush and I went with Sarah Jackson and Kubi to the caterer and had tastings, then we went back and tasted more. We all had opinions, but ultimately we just wanted what Sarah Jackson and Kubi wanted.”
Kristi Wilcox and Blake Faries of Loosh Culinaire provided the catering for the reception with some very memorable dishes, including a dip called muhammara that the team created based on a dip Kubi and Sarah Jackson enjoyed during their time in D.C. “They put their stamp on it,” says Rush of the wedding food. “One of our guests texted them afterward because he liked the muhammara so much. He wanted to find the recipe.”
Ally & Eloise Bakeshop created the beautiful, four-tiered wedding cake, with a special request from the bride. “I really wanted to incorporate peaches into the cake because my dad grew up on a peach farm,” says Sarah Jackson. Rush’s parents owned The Peach Tree, a peach farm and roadside market in Filbert, S.C.
“We had some peaches that were frozen from the farm,” says Susan. “We took them to the baker, and for one of the layers of the cake, she made this wonderful peach filling.”
The flowers had a special “friends and family” connection as well. Julianne Sojourner, owner of My Friend’s Garden and close family friend, not only did all of the floral arrangements but also assisted in numerous wedding details. She helped with the event design and, along with Amber Watson from À Moi Weddings, coordinated vendors, helped map out the wedding weekend, and kept everything running smoothly. “Between Julianne and Amber,” says Rush, “they made sure that train ran on time.”
This was especially important to Sarah Jackson, who didn’t want her mother to have to worry about vendors or timelines on the day of the wedding. “I am not a party planner type,” says Sarah Jackson. “So, it was great to have someone I know and trust to guide me.” Julianne tied a monogramed pendant that Rush and his sister gave their mother on their parents’ 50th wedding anniversary to the wedding bouquet, using a handkerchief that was specially sewn for the event by another family friend.
Similar family touches were everywhere. Sarah Jackson’s “something borrowed” and “something blue” was the sapphire bracelet she wore that belonged to Rush’s sister. Susan wore a similar bracelet, as well her mother’s wedding pearls. The knife used to cut the cake was the same one Rush and Susan used at their wedding, and the goblets used by the couple in their first toast as husband and wife came from Susan’s parents.
Even the clothes worn had a family connection. “I sometimes wear an old tuxedo of my father’s,” says Rush. “It is not black; it’s midnight blue. So, I had a midnight blue tuxedo made for the wedding because I just wanted to bring that memory into the celebration.” Kubi also wore a midnight blue tuxedo as well as his great-grandfather’s cufflinks.
As for the bride’s clothes? She did what every modern woman does. She bought the shoes first. And not just any shoes. Green shoes. “I knew Sarah Jackson was going to wear white,” says Kubi. “I did not know she was going to wear such cool green shoes. That was really jazzy.”
Green and blue were the colors of the day, and Sarah Jackson asked her eight bridesmaids to select their own dresses, something floral in those colors, that they felt happy wearing. “It was a fun, mismatched situation,” describes Sarah Jackson, “It came together really, really well.”
The Big Day
On the day of the wedding, Sarah Jackson’s bridesmaids assembled at her childhood home for hair and makeup, while her aunts and “honorary aunts” — Susan’s best friends — dropped in and out with food and words of encouragement. And Kubi went bowling. “It was an open invitation,” says Kubi.
At the ceremony, the choir struck a particularly moving chord because Sarah Jackson had sung in that same choir with many of the people who were singing at her wedding. “The music was spectacular,” says Rush. “To have these voices in this space was a real gift to us.”
It was for Sarah Jackson as well. “We met with the choir director, Dr. Jared Johnson, who is incredible,” says Sarah Jackson. “I first sang in the Trinity choir when I was 8 years old. And there I was, standing in the back of the church with my parents, waiting to walk in, listening to the prelude. It was so special.”
As Sarah Jackson and Kubi stood in front of Susan, it was clear that this moment was not just about a wedding. It was about a marriage. It was, yes, about the two of them and the life they were about to embark upon, but it was also about family. It was a joining of not just the bride and groom but of everyone in attendance with them that day. Sarah Jackson and Kubi opted to have Susan ask, “Who presents this man and this woman to be married to each other?” to which all four of the parents, Susan included, enthusiastically responded, “We do!”
As Sarah Jackson stood next to her groom and in front of her mother, she cried. “It’s a really powerful moment,” she says. “I’m getting married, and she is 2 feet from my face.”
Kubi appreciated the fact that Susan wove both of their families in throughout the homily. He also liked the fact that while the vows were from The Book of Common Prayer, both he and Sarah Jackson were required to memorize them. “There is no call and response with my mama,” says Sarah Jackson.
But Kubi felt that saying those words on his own made everything more focused on the couple. “It’s really grounding,” he says. “It’s nice to have an anchor to focus on, so that you are not too overwhelmed by the moment.”
Afterward, at the reception, followed dancing, toasting, and fellowship. “I had a couple of friends whose daughters were married not long before Sarah Jackson,” says Rush. “And they said to pay attention. It will all go by so fast. It will be a swirl. So sometime just step aside and think, look around, and see what’s happening.”
Susan agrees. “When Rush and I got married,” she says, “a good friend told me to ‘take pictures with your eyes.’ Pay attention, so that these memories are not just photographs but are also imprinted in your head and in your heart.”
For Sarah Jackson and Kubi and everyone there who helped celebrate their wedding, those “family and friends” moments will be with them for a lifetime.