Tenting for a wedding? How some couples reserve a day at Duke Chapel

On the last day of each month, Duke plays host to a few more tents — but not in K-Ville. These tents sit underneath the magnolia tree between the Chapel and the Gray building, where couples can camp out to reserve their optimal wedding date.

About 85 couples marry in the Chapel each year, wrote Rachel White, Trinity ‘14, who is the Chapel’s visitor relations specialist. Weddings at the Chapel only occur on Saturdays and occasionally on Sundays, and some Saturdays are already reserved for other events. So there is competition for the most popular dates and times, with 6 p.m. and 3 p.m. slots typically filling before noon ones, according to the Chapel’s website. Although White was not certain how many people tent for their weddings each year, she wrote that she has people camping out for popular spring and fall months.

Sign-ups open at 8:30 a.m. on the first business day of the month one year before the desired wedding date, and in-person sign-ups have priority. So for Katie Wong, Trinity ‘12, to snag her desired August 2014 wedding date, she tented the evening of July 31, 2013 to be one of the first in line the next morning.

Wong and her then-fiance, Andrew Wong, Pratt ‘12, had already set a firm date because they were in a period of transition — she was starting a new teaching job in Charlottesville, VA and he was in medical school — so it was important to them to have that specific day. Doctoral student Shelley Lanpher Patel, Trinity ‘10, had a similar reason for tenting. Patel wanted a June 2017 wedding and only had a few dates that she knew would work for her and her fiance’s families.

While wedding tenting is not required, tenting is embedded into Duke tradition.

“It was just sort of an easy thing to do,” Wong said. “It was like, ‘Well of course you would tent for a Duke Chapel wedding.’”

The bride and groom also do not have to be the ones tenting; in fact, some choose to ask students to tent for them. Andrew Kragie, Trinity ‘15, had an undergraduate friend start tenting for him about a week before sign-ups opened to hold their spot in line. Kragie then took over a few days in when he was able to take time off work.

Others show up the morning of registration and join the line after tenters. Once everyone on-site has signed up, the Chapel then takes reservations via phone and email for the rest of the slots.

The Chapel acknowledges Duke’s “robust camp-out culture” on its website but does not officially endorse or encourage wedding tenting. White wrote, however, that couples interested in wedding tenting must contact the wedding coordinator upon arrival to secure their spot in line. Contacting the coordinator beforehand also ensures the desired date doesn’t have other scheduled events. Other than that, tenters generally make their own rules.

Patel has tented several times in K-Ville and in the graduate school’s Campout, but tenting for her wedding was quite a different experience. The procedure was much less stringent, only needing one person in the tent at night.

When Wong tented, it happened to thunderstorm. She and the other five or so tenters agreed that they could go sleep in Page Auditorium for the night if they wanted to, but she spent the night huddled in her tent, unwilling to brave the rain. Her experience was different from her other tenting experiences at Duke, as well, as she was tenting for her wedding alone instead of with a large group.

Even though Wong didn’t have friends in the tent with her, she said she still felt their support. The tent she used, for instance, was borrowed from a friend still living near campus.

After securing a date, the other planning started up. Wong planned her entire wedding from New York, and at first she was worried it would be difficult to do long-distance planning. But the process went smoothly, and even the most difficult part for her — choosing the music, because the Chapel has strict standards — turned out well.

Kragie and his fiance, Hannah Brown, Trinity ‘14, plan to marry in June and are currently undergoing this process. They have to consider details such as the guest list, matching clothing, transportation, guest lodging, flowers, the photographer and more.

“The modern wedding is a very complicated operation,” Kragie said.

Planning from afar has its drawbacks, namely that they cannot visit potential reception venues in person. But it does have benefits as well. Since Kragie is not in Durham, he feels less pressure to be constantly thinking about the wedding.

Kragie and Brown met at the Chapel. Both were part of the Wesley Methodist Fellowship there, and this played a role in their decision to come back and marry in the Chapel.

“It’s very meaningful to us to get married in the place where we met and that brought us together through our values and our faith,” Kragie said. “And then also to be able to share that with our friends and especially with family and friends who didn’t go to Duke and maybe haven’t spent time in the Chapel before.”

Wong also met her husband during their undergraduate years at Duke, and their faith is tied to the Chapel. She felt a sense of community and belonging there, and that encouraged her to come back for her wedding.

“I think the best thing about tenting and getting married in the Chapel is just being at home,” Wong said. “It’s a beautiful place, and more than that, it was a place where we spent four years building community, friendship, and of course our relationship. … I hope that the Chapel remains to be a symbol of hope and love for many students who are coming through, graduating and looking back on their Duke experience.”

Correction: An earlier version of the article incorrectly identified Andrew Wong as a Trinity graduate. The Chronicle regrets the error.


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