People say if two students start dating during their freshman year at Lehigh, they should put their name on the 4-year wait list to be married at Packer Memorial Church.
As long as they write in pencil.
However, over the last five years, Packer Memorial Church has seen an average of 37 couples per year say “I do,” and the church doesn’t book weddings more than a year in advance.
“There’s just no truth to that rumor,” said Susan Meyers, the coordinator for the Chaplain’s Office. “In fact we don’t even reserve for the year ahead until January of the year prior.”
Meyers also said while some couples simply find the church and campus to be a beautiful setting for a ceremony, most couples do have a Lehigh affiliation.
If either the bride or groom has a Lehigh affiliation, whether it be a degree or a family member who is a part of Lehigh’s faculty or staff, the couple may hold their wedding ceremony in the church and may also choose to bring in their own clergy.
“Many are alumni who, while they were students, met their fiance here on campus and they immediately think, ‘no better place to tie the knot than back at Lehigh,’” Meyers said.
If a couple does not have a Lehigh affiliation, they may still be married in the church, but they cannot bring in outside clergy. Those ceremonies are conducted by Packer Church’s chaplain, Lloyd Steffen.
Steffen has been the chaplain since 1990 and estimates he has married around 250 couples in his nearly 26 years at Packer Church.
“I have couples sign a book that we keep for an internal record, and I finished up a book when I got here that was about half full,” Steffen said. “I’m on my third book now and that’s almost full.”
He said he makes it a priority to meet with couples before the wedding to learn their story and encourages couples to share even the smallest of details. He said he doesn’t marry couples he doesn’t know.
“Every couple has a story,” Steffen said. “I’ve learned people really do come in here from all walks of life. From CIA agents to electricians — I’ve just met all kinds of people.”
Tom, ‘97G, and Catherine Wasser live in the greater Allentown area and were married in Packer Church this past February. The two recalled their experience with Steffen and said they appreciated the efforts he made to get to know them.
“We had our premarital meeting with him and just loved him, he’s so engaging,” Catherine Wasser said. “We were so thrilled that during the ceremony he incorporated so many elements that we had talked about like how we met and the things we like to do and how we felt about each other. It made it really personal and touching.”
Tom Wasser said that during his time as a Ph.D. candidate at Lehigh, he walked by Packer Church countless times but never knew he had the option to be married there. Catherine Wasser found out about the option through online searches and thought Packer might be the perfect place for the ceremony.
“I went to him and said, ‘You know this is really a beautiful church and there’s history there for you and it’s going to be part of my history moving to Macungie and being a part of this area,’” Catherine Wasser said.
The couple said their ceremony was casual but complimented by the beauty of the church, exactly as they’d hoped it would be. Of the many rows of pews in Packer Church, their guests only filled the first few. Catherine Wasser said she was walked down the aisle by her son, while a friend played music from her iPhone at the front of the church.
“That’s exactly what we wanted and it’s exactly what we got, and to do it in Packer Church with that beauty was really something,” Tom Wasser said. “It will never go away. It’s something we can point to and look at with our kids now or grandkids in the future and say, ‘You know mom and I got married there.’”
Kyle Doup, ‘11 ‘13G, and her husband Christopher Brunn, ‘11, were also married at Packer Church this year and spoke to the beauty and simplicity of the ceremony.
“The church was already beautiful enough,” Doup said. “All we did was bring in two flower pieces and that was it.”
While Tom Wasser had experienced life as a Ph.D. student at Lehigh, Doup and Brunn’s relationship had a different connection to Lehigh in that it started when they met on campus as undergraduates.
For Doup and Brunn, it all began in a Lehigh organic chemistry lab and as Doup put it, “That was it.” They met through class and had a similar circle of friends. Five years later, they decided to get married.
The two said the decision to get married at Packer Church was a relatively easy one. The location was convenient for their two families and returning to campus meant returning to the places and memories that initially shaped their relationship.
“It was nice to come back and relive how we first started dating and go back to our favorite places from college,” Doup said.
The idea of a “homecoming” seemed to align consistently with Meyers, Steffen and both couples as each talked about the special connection to Lehigh’s campus that comes with a wedding in Packer Church.
“If you did go to school here and did attend classes here, it’s like a feeling of coming home,” Meyers said. “A lot of high points of your life take place on campus, so I think that when you’re planning another highlight of your life, it just points to Lehigh.”
Tom Wasser said while he had attended four other universities in his academic career, Lehigh always stood out as the institution where he valued his experience the most.
“I was married in a place that’s part of Lehigh University, which is a place that I really respect,” Wasser said. “It just complimented my already great Lehigh experience.”
Steffen discussed the multitude of backgrounds and cultures from which couples come and said that among them, a similar idea holds true throughout each wedding.
“We talk a good bit about Lehigh as family, and I think people who come back to get married at Packer Church are living that out in significant ways,” Steffen said. “They do think of Lehigh as part of their family, and they want Lehigh to be involved in the most important moments of their lives.”