Brandi Everett and James Chaplin
July 7, 2017, in Philadelphia
Every Sunday morning when James adjusted the pulpit mike and speakers at Sharon Baptist Church, he checked the second row for Brandi, who was always there, and always beautiful.
One fall Sunday in 2012, he did more than look. "Hey, how are you doing?" he asked Brandi as she chatted with friends after the service. " I wonder if I could take you out sometime? If it doesn't work out, I won't act weird. We'll be cool."
Brandi was stunned. She knew James in passing — no better than many of the other congregants at their 7,000-member church. She said no nicely, and left the door a little bit open: "I need to know something about you before giving you my phone number."
James was fine. "I've been shot down before," he said.
Brandi was interested enough to seek more info online. She did not like what she learned. When a mutual friend said James had asked about her, Brandi minced no words. "You go tell him this — I went to his Facebook page, and apparently he's in a relationship. I am not interested!"
Six months passed. Brandi, who is now a civil litigation lawyer with Weitz & Luxenberg in Cherry Hill, had recently graduated from Widener Law School and passed the bar. She was busy looking for work and volunteering at church. "I'm never going to meet anyone," she lamented to a friend. "Why don't guys at church approach girls at church?"
"Because the church girls aren't approachable," her friend replied.
That made Brandi remember shooting down James. The next Sunday, she smiled at him.
"I saw that you are in a relationship," she said when he came to say hello. "I used to be in a relationship," he corrected. "Not anymore." He had failed to update his Facebook status.
After an hour of talking, Brandi, who is now 32, gave James, now 37, her number. They met at a Starbucks near church for what James calls "my first interview." Brandi, who grew up in Pennrose, was living in Newcastle, Del., with her mother. James, from West Philadelphia, teasingly said during his "interview" that he couldn't imagine living in a place that boring. On their first real date, she was his Delaware tour guide, determined to prove him wrong.
They were on the waterfront in historic Newcastle when her brand-new car refused to start. James was out the door and under the hood in a minute. Brandi called AAA. Each admired the other's approach.
"I learned that she gets the job done," said James, who, in addition to his sound engineering work, does construction with Laborers Union Local 135. "She just got on the phone and put everything in order."
"I learned that James is a manly man, which I love," Brandi said. "He is an Eagle Scout, and he knows how to do everything. He's not afraid to get his hands dirty."
A battery jump put their date back in motion. They've been together ever since.
Brandi fell for James because he's the kind of man who takes his mother to a play and his nephews to Chuck E. Cheese's. He's there not to help just her, but also her friends and family, too. "He is lively, funny, and honest. He is a man of his word. And he accepted me as I am," she said.
It's easy to love Brandi, James said. "She is very smart, and funny, too. She's witty and we have chemistry." Brandi is a compassionate person with strong faith, a huge circle of friends, and close ties to her family. "I met her mother and her father within two weeks of dating her," James said.
James was very close to his grandmother, and when she died in April 2014, Brandi helped arrange the funeral service and the meal afterward. That's when James learned Brandi had opened her heart not only to him, but to his family, too.
Before getting engaged, the couple reached out to their church for guidance in communicating effectively and other steps to avoid future problems. What they were looking for didn't exist, so the church created it for them and other planning-to-be-weds. They finished the class in fall 2016 even more certain they should marry.
As fall turned to winter, Brandi planned a vision board party for New Year's Day. She gathered magazines so her guests could clip pictures representing their goals for 2017 and glue them onto posters designed to inspire.
Everyone shared their vision boards and goals with other guests. James asked Brandi to read a portion of his board, which featured photos of couples holding hands and, in the center, an empty square and the words "place your future here."
While she read, he knelt behind her, reaching around to place an engagement ring in the center square. The minute she said yes, James' brother passed out champagne and made a toast. Her father gave a speech. "It was like a mini wedding reception, with the amount of love and happiness that surrounded us immediately," she said.
Their huge church was not the right setting for the intimate ceremony they wanted, so they brought some of Sharon Baptist to the Kimpton Hotel Monaco. Pastor Reggie Johnson officiated. A choir member sang "How Great Thou Art." At the end of the 20-minute ceremony, the pastor did an altar call, inviting anyone who hadn't already to accept Jesus.
Cocktails were served on the rooftop; the reception took place in the Lafayette Ballroom. "It is a real classic and chic place, and that is our style. Brandi is a fashion connoisseur," James said. "James is fly all the time," Brandi said. "He's effortlessly fly."
The couple, who live in Wynnefield Heights, chose a plum-colored tux for the groom to complement the mauve, purple, and silver tones of the room. The bride wore an ivory dress with fabric rosettes for the ceremony, then changed into a mermaid-style dress with peach undertones for the reception.
The music and dancing were nearly nonstop, pausing only for speeches from James' brother, the best man, and Brandi's sister, the maid of honor, who said, "Individually, you're both superstars, and together, you're a supernova."
James is a thinker. When he's pondering life, his expression turns very serious, even if his thoughts are happy. "Don't forget to smile," Brandi advised.
"Seeing her come down the aisle, in the beautiful dress she had on, I was thinking about starting the next chapter of my life," James said. "For a couple of years, I was discouraged, because I had wanted to be married by 30, and things didn't work out the way I had wanted. But if my plan had worked out, I would never have met Brandi. I was thinking about this, and thanking God that this was really happening, not in any way like I thought it was going to happen, but perfectly."
He smiled ear-to-ear the entire time.
Nothing had ever felt as important or as wonderful as taking their vows, Brandi said. "As I was saying them, I took them to heart, and I got extremely emotional. 'To have and to hold, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer,' and I thought: 'This is my husband. This is forever. This is as big as it gets.' I felt extremely blessed, and I felt the weight of it all at the altar."
Best bargain: The hotel offered a 25 percent-per-plate discount for their chosen Friday date in July.
The splurge: Brandi wanted oodles of real flowers and fancy invitations that suggested a five-star event. These weren't important to James, but were to Brandi. "I said, 'You know what? If that's what makes my future wife happy, you only live once.' "
Two weeks in Bali.
Officiant: Pastor Reggie Johnson, Sharon Baptist Church, Philadelphia
Venue and catering: Kimpton Hotel Monaco, Philadelphia
Photography: Sheronda Seawright Photography, Philadelphia
Videography: Howie B. Photography/Videography, Philadelphia
Flowers: Carl Alan Floral Designs, Philadelphia
Bride's ceremony dress: Designed by Maggie Sottero, purchased at Bijou Bridal of Ardmore, Ardmore
Bride's reception dress: Designed by Pronovias, purchased at Jennifer's Bridal, Hockessin, Del.
Hair and makeup: Tyree Williams-Kelly and Lisa Elaine of Tai Couture Salon, Pennsauken