Church Helps Couple From ‘Living Together’ To ‘Husband & Wife’

By Stephanie Lucero, CBS 11 News

PLANO (CBSDFW.COM) – Reagan Hodgkinson was saving the tips she earned at her job as a waitress for her wedding. Now that won’t be necessary because a Plano church has agreed to pay for the majority of the wedding expenses.

During a Sunday church service in April, Pastor Jeff Jones of Chase Oaks Church in Plano offered to help any couple that was living together but not married.

“He said ‘If there’s something holding you back that we can help with, let us know’,” recalled Associate Pastor Jason Williams.

Hodgkinson, 23, is a waitress at a Dallas restaurant. Her fiancé, Joel Ulrich, 32, works for a debt collection company. They have lived together for a year and got engaged last October.

Although there had been a proposal, the couple didn’t expect to be able to afford a wedding for several years. “We’ve been wanting to get married for a while, just couldn’t afford it,” Hodgkinson said. “We just knew that we loved each other and we wanted to get engaged and be married someday.”

Hodgkinson learned about the offer made by Pastor Jones from her boss, who attends Chase Oaks Church.

On April 17 the couple will say their vows at the church, with a reception to follow.

“What I think is really cool is a lot of churches will judge you and tell you what you need to do differently,” Hodgkinson said of her past experience. “What Chase Oaks is doing is not judging, is not telling us how to live our lives, but helping us to live the right way.”

Ulrich says at first he didn’t believe the offer to help pick up the wedding tab. “I was thinking there was some strings attached,” he said.

There were no strings attached, but the couple did participate in pre-marital counseling with Associate Pastor Williams who will also be officiating at the wedding.

The church is also donating the hall where the ceremony and the reception will be held and the music equipment. One of the Life Groups at the church is supplying decorations, flowers, the wedding planner, catering and counseling.

Ulrich, Hodgkinson and their families paid for the wedding dress, tuxedos and the rings.

“Just seeing the outpouring of support, from the church, the people within the church, I think their life has a different trajectory than it had eight, nine months ago,” said Williams.

“I feel like it’s just naturally brought me closer to God,” Ulrich said. “I can definitely see myself growing old with Reagan. This is forever and I’m happy about that.”


One Comment

  1. Victoria Lynn Strickland says:

    More churches need to do this instead of condemning people. This church is truly demonstrating the love of God.

    1. 2sister says:

      It is not showing God’s love to lie to people, and tell them that a sin is okay. I agree that this should be done in a loving manner, but we need to be concerned about people’s souls. The Bible teaches that you are not supposed to have a sexual relationship outside of marriage. I do think, however, it is nice that someone is helping them pay for their wedding.

      1. Roy Rannila says:

        Pray tell, how are you going to save a soul by creating thier wedding?

      2. 2sister says:

        I didn’t say paying for their wedding was going to save their soul. You misread my post. I was saying that we need to be concerned about people’s souls, and so we shouldn’t lie to them and say a sin is okay. I said that this should be told to them in a loving manner. The only thing I said about their wedding was that it was nice for someone to pay for it. I didn’t say, however, that the church should have implied that living together, outside of marriage, was okay.

      3. Roy Rannila says:

        what 2 grown adults do is absolutley none of your business, or the churches business. Ever. Now, if people come seeking guidance, they are inviting someone in. Let’s be clear, if you bother to waste your time and tell me I am living in sin, I will honestly say- Thanks for the info, now go help the hungry. I have little time to waste dallying with a human interpretation of what I need to do. Kinda ruins the whole need for a personal relationship with Christ. But hey, again, what do I know right?

      4. les says:

        i have a question. how many people have sex before marriage ?? this is the same as not driving a car before you buy it !! it’s good that the church paid for the wedding .for those that said no to the question are either fools or liar’s

      5. CC Deville says:

        Roy’s just angry because he loves burritos and not tacos, if you catch my drift. His inner struggle is manifesting in lashing out at the other 90% who aren’t geared that way.

    2. dee says:

      If the church had refused to help and only criticized you would have called them cold or self righteous – You are the kind who will complain about the church and christians no matter what they do

    3. Roy Rannila says:

      Wrong Wrong Wrong. @ Dee. I don’t complain about everything christians do. I rejoice when they practice what Paul called the only real religion there is, taking care of widows and orphans. I find it a huge mismanagement of time and energy to do this, but hey- what do I know. The exact same thing as every single person on this planet. Nothing.

  2. Roy Rannila says:

    So, let me get this correct. They don’t judge you. But help you “live” right? That denotes “they” have “the answers:. I am sure that god loves this couple, unconditionally regardless of the lack of ceremony or paper proving thier worth in gods eyes. Really? How bout helping feed some (more) hungry people, or taking care of (more) widows and orphans. As a gift it would be nice, as a moral compass to bring people closer to christ, this is abjectly disgusting.

    1. 2sister says:

      I agree. It’s nice that they are helping them with their wedding, but they shouldn’t imply that the sin of living together is okay. We are not showing the love of Christ if we allow people to believe a lie and live in sin.

      1. Roy Rannila says:

        Maybe the real sin is sticking the nose where it doesn’t belong. Granted the couple “want” this. I also know people- christians mind you. That join a paticular church as memebers so that they can get married there at no cost. Then quit going. I wonder if anyone might do that in this instance. I wonder how concerned this couple was with living in sin? If they were that bothered a JOP can marry ya quick and legal, and in the christian god’s eyes, right?

        This just cracks me up the more I think about it.

    2. Kara says:

      I attend Chase Oaks, and just want to clarify some things. This church feeds more hungry people, send more people out on missions, digs in to the community and mentors in school, and meets people where they are than ANY other church I have ever been a part of. We believe in coming as you are, before a God that DOES love you unconditionally, being transformed, and going out there and making a difference. Had you sat in on the sermon that day, you would have heard that the message was not about “living together” instead of being married…the message was urging those that live with sin day in and day out and need help overcoming it, let the church know. Christ himself was from a bloodline of foreigners, adulterers and harlots…and those he chose to dine with and spend time with were less than ideal folks. If we are called to be as Christlike as possible, this is an amazing picture of that. Chase Oaks is a great place…come and see.

      1. 2sister says:

        Yes, he forgave them, but he also let them know that they needed to leave there life of sin. He, however, did this in a loving way. For example, he forgave the woman who committed adultery, but he didn’t just leave it there. He also told her to go and sin no more. I’m not saying that you don’t reach out to people where they are at, but you also don’t allow them to think it is okay to sin. I”m not saying that Chase Oaks did that, but the news article doesn’t clarify their position or how they handle that kind of thing. You are supposed to reach out to people in a loving way, and at the same time help them understand what the Bible teaches.

      2. Just Sayin' says:

        2sister, you are a cry baby. Just leave them alone. I like the comment that Les left. You have to test drive a car before you buy it. If I waited until marriage to have a “sexual relationship” with the horrible people I dated, I would never have the perfect wife I am with right now. You make absolutely no sense when you talk about a sin that a book tells you. There may be things about this wonderful couple that you have no idea about. Do yourself a huge favor, and shut your mouth. You sound like a fool.

  3. beth says:

    The church is helping them “live right” by helping them “get right.” Since the church (and most Christian churches) don’t believe in living together before marriage, the option is to help them get married. Thus, helping them “live right.”

    And for the people who suggest that Chase Oaks does not help the community, I suggest you check out their website, google Share Fest, read testimonies from those who attend, who have been helped by them, and who have a healthy, growing relationship with God and others because of the ministry at Chase Oaks.

    1. Roy Rannila says:

      Thats great Kara, if you got time to look at others sin you got time to feed and cloth one more person. I think I will pass on your invitation. I have been to many great churches, and do visit occasionally. The ones I visit tend to be a little more focused on basic human needs at the bottom of the scale. Food, clothing, shelfter,etc. Not to say your church is bad or wrong, just not focused on things that I care very passionaltely about.

      1. CC Deville says:

        Wow, Roy. Your typing skills are amazing. All those posts! How do you do it while bent over a keyboard and being jostled so violently to and fro?

  4. Kara says:

    We all have sin….that’s what grace is for.

    1. 2sister says:

      You’re right everyone sins. God showed us grace by sending Jesus to die for sins. The way you get into that covenant relationship is to confess that Jesus is God’s son, repent, and put Jesus on in baptism. Then you strive to live walk in the light. If you do this, his blood continually cleanses you. Some people, however, try to twist grace to say that they can do whatever they want. I, sadly, knew some people like that. They thought that since had been washed in Jesus blood and saved, they could live in an immoral way.

      1. Kara says:

        You are right…and we have the same view on this. But by helping them move from sin and into a marriage covenant, seeking forgiveness, and turning from that….that is grace too. There was no condoning, just an offer to help move them forward into grace and get them connected in a church. We never said it was ok to live together…which is WHY this issue even came up in the first place.

      2. Just Sayin' says:

        Wow, you are brain washed. Everyone sins, but all you have to do is cleanse yourself with some blood? Jesus is God’s son? What about all the other stories that are way before the supposed year zero that are exactly the same as Jesus? You should watch Religilous with Bill Maher (you probably don’t like him) or The God That Wasn’t There. Just try it, believe me, your eyes will be opened. You listen to some preacher tell you to listen, now it’s time to listen to somebody else. Open your mind and stop having your head filled with lies.

  5. rd says:

    I have to agree with Roy on one thing- he points out that anyone can get married by a JOP and it is just as valid. I despise the notion that someone has to spend a lot of money on a wedding. These people weren’t delaying the wedding because of money, that’s just a cop-out. I got married for $50 (for the preacher) and the cost of lunch at a restaurant for the guests. I didn’t feel the need to spend hundreds or thousands on a dress that I would wear one time and then beg people to buy on craigslist because I spent all my money on the wedding. I took a dress out of my closet, called our preacher, and asked him to come over to our apartment (yes we were living together) and marry us. My parents and 4 other friends came over. Churches like to point out that you should take the money God gives you and use it wisely. Spending a buttload of money on a wedding is not wise, whether the couple or the church is paying for it.

    1. Paul says:

      That’s a good point. To technically be married ,all they needed was a license and vows before a minister or publc official. Nto need for big $$s there .. I’m sure even a ‘debt collector” could afford that little.

  6. Beanz says:

    Great, now they’ll be divorced in 5 years max. When will people learn that marriage simply doesnt work.

    1. Just Sayin' says:

      Wow, you’re cool

  7. warters says:

    We couldn’t afford a “wedding” so we got married by a judge. Why is this couple so special that the church would do this for them? If the couple couldn’t afford a JOP, and the church wanted to pay for the JOP, that would have been acceptable and a great story for the paper, too. It seems a waste of financial resources that could be better put to use, such as feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, helping the elderly, providing shelter for the homeless, supporting the families of our troops…etc. Where did they get the money to do this? Did this “money” come from the offering plate? Are they going to pay for the next couple that can’t afford a wedding, too? Where will they draw the line?

  8. Paul says:

    Don’t forget that TX is one of the few states that still recognize dommon law marriage. It was probably created by good Christians so that those couples who didn’t actually have “licenses” or coudln’t afford a full-blown wedding weren’t considered “living in sin”.

  9. Stephanie says:

    Can we please remember the couple that is the focus of this story? I appreciate and completely agree that we live in a culture that could definitely use its financial surplus to better the lives of those who are poor, hungry, or homeless. But this couple wouldn’t have been reached by those ministry areas of the church that deal with the poor and hungry. Reagan says in the video that Chase Oaks was the first church she had been into that she didn’t feel judged, and that’s big, really big. These two people are just as important in God’s eyes as two people that are homeless, and if this is what it took for Reagan and Joel to be more open to God and the church, then Chase Oaks did exactly what it needed to. In answer to the question, “Where does the church draw the line?” It shouldn’t. The church’s mission is to help draw as many people as it can to a relationship with God through whatever means possible. For some people, that draw comes through the annual coat drive the church does to give people warm clothes in the winter, or the “birthday” bags that the church donates to Collin County Children’s Clinic so the families can afford birthdays. Sometimes, it’s cleaning, painting, and supplying a school or fixing a dilapidated house for an elderly woman and all the other service activities that happen at Sharefest and throughout the year. For Reagan and Joel, it was providing the opportunity for their dream wedding. Just because Chase Oaks helped this couple doesn’t mean the church doesn’t do all those other things y’all are ranting about. It just means that the church found an opportunity to reach a couple that normally wouldn’t step foot in the church.

  10. Dean says:

    Awesome story! Love seeing more churches reach out to the community in tangible ways rather than just talking about love…

  11. Sean W says:

    Thank you for covering great stories like this that remind us that there are great acts of love and kindness to be thankful for going on all around us in the midst of earthquakes, tsunamis, nuclear leaks, etc that we hear so much about…

  12. Ellie says:

    I am SERIOUSLY awed by how selfish and immature the majority of these posts are. What happened to just being happy for people. I witnessed the fund raising efforts and love that these people showed this couple…..and I don’t even go to this church! Why do we have to judge EVERYTHING…..whether we love Christ or not it’s not our place to judge who SHOULD get what or not and whether it’s right or not. Grow up please and see the cup half full….not half empty. People put a lot of hard work and time into this….they are the real story…people reaching out to love and help others….why in ANY instance would that be wrong???

  13. Roy Rannila says:

    @ CC Deville Wow. You have a definite picture of what my life looks like. Tell you what, hit me up on FB then lets have coffee and compare notes. Maybe, if you are capable, you will see something different then the internet images burned in your head.
    @ Ellie- Why? Because its stupid. It isn’t news and it isn’t based in love. It is based in an orginizations belief that they are “right”. The nay sayers can butter it up, dress it in the robes of “the love of Jesus”, or whatever they want. The point is there is no sane reason to do what they are doing. If you wanna pay for a wedding great. Don’t dress it up as “right living”. They weren’t living wrong in the first place.

  14. Bridesbf says:

    These people that say why doesnt the church spend their money on hungry people etc.. Why dont YOU donate money yourself if your so worried about it. I was a bridesmaid in the wedding and sorry to burst your highhorse bubble, but this wasn’t a cop out so they didn’t hVe to pay for the wedding . Reagan was crying with awe that people who didn’t know her from
    Adam was helping her out. You people have no
    Idea what this couple has been through , shame on you for your judgment. God is the only one who can judge and hopefully in the end you people pass clearly!

  15. Roy Rannila says:

    @ bridesbf- No one has really been on a highhorse bubble. I do work extensivley to feed people. It is what I do. I also don’t think that this couple used the church to have a wedding. Though I am sure some will. As far as shame, judgement, blah blah blah- really? The only person really sitting in judgement on this thread who has been in judgement has been CC who is a troll. everyone else has been quite passionate about thier beliefs and sharing them. Thats both sides. So please attain the maturity to discern that.

  16. Cindy Webb Pandolfo says:

    To 2Sister: I attend Chase Oaks. We do not condone sin. We pray for everyone because we are all sinners. We do judge. That is God’s job. God sent the Holy Spirit to convict people of their sins. Jesus said the first commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind and soul. He then siad the second commandment is to love our neighbors as we love ourselves and that all commandments rely on these two. Our church loved this couple as they love themselves. That is our job – to pray, love and serve others.

  17. Ashley says:

    @R.. This isn’t about maturity levels. I agree with dee if the church spends their time and money on something else you people would still complain. Society just isn’t happy with good deeds being done. We all need to stop and thank that their are still some good people left out there no matter what the good deed is. Simple

  18. xylia says:

    you don’t need a lot of money to get married.. its the desire to have all the trimmings that everyone in the US think is the only way to do this. its nice that the church is helping–but they could have gotten married without spending a lot of money on trimmings….

  19. WH says:

    So, what is the real problem here? Some of you seem to have a problem with adults coming to a mutual decision and agreement. Others seem to object to the way that decision is being reported. Others seem to object that good people are offering to do good things in a good way and that folks are taking them up on their offer. Really?

    A few definitions are in order to make sure I am effectively communicating (as it appears some of the posters are concerned with the level of maturity, intelligence, and motives of folks who respond):

    Irony (or is it hypochrisy) – “You are wrong to tell people how they they live is wrong!” To be plain – by telling those you disagree with that they are “wrong” you are guilty of the very thing you condemn.

    Love: reaching “all” IS the goal. Some in need of “love” are not hungry, widowed, or orphaned. The command was to reach ALL. CEOs need grace, mercy, and forgiveness too. So, if everyone only ministers to the homeless, no one would be left to minister to those in mansions (they need love too, yes?). And, if everyone only cares for the middle class we will be ignoring the poor and those in other countries who do not fit our definition of “middle class”. That is why it is called “the Body of Christ”, and why we are called to minister where we are called, and with the gifts we are given. It is never to be easy, or under our own power, but also never under condemnation (as I am seeing in some of the more hateful posts condemning people for not “feeding the hungry” when the truth is they don’t know what else those people are doing with their time and resources).

    Forgiveness: not needed unless someone does something “wrong”. That is “sin”. Pointing out the fact that everyone does something wrong (e.g. sins) is not evil or being superior…in fact, several people in this string that are claiming that the church people should mind their own business are engaged in pointing out that those church people are doing something wrong and that they should change the way they live (which, by the way is called hypocrisy). If God is the standard, then ALL have sinned and fall short of His Glory.

    Somehow, the illogical and hypocritical folks here (those telling church people how to live while saying that the church people should stay out of other people’s lives and that they should stop telling people how to live) have forgotten the context of this story – the people in question had to GO TO THE CHURCH to receive what was offered. No one was forced to participate, no one was guilt-ed into participating, and no one was harassed/preached at into doing this. This was something this couple WANTED to do, so how does anyone condemn a group of people who helped them make their dream come true?

    Re-read the article. This couple was already saving to get married (they were ENGAGED). The couple was living together. The couple heard the offer. The couple obviously did not want to simply live together any longer and wanted the kind of wedding the church people offered to help them with. All parties agreed. No judgment on either side (although several people in this post have no problem with judging while demanding no one judge anyone). If that is not Christ-like, what is?

    Jesus spoke the truth, told people what was right and what was wrong, and left it up to them to make a choice to change or not. John 3:16 includes “whosoever will” not “you must!” Why can we not do the same? I, without apology, will stand and tell a thief that they are wrong to steal and that their lifestyle is not right. Not because I am judging them, but because it IS an act of love to let them know (in a loving manner) what God says. (Now, if you don’t believe in God, I would think you would still want murderers, thieves, liars, con artists, etc. to be told that what they are doing is not “right” and that they should change, even if you disagree with MY reasons or motivations for telling them!)

    In the words of the great philosopher “why can’t we all get along?” Or, in the words of Jesus “love one another.”

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