Aug. 7, 2009 was a classic New England August day: hot, humid and sticky. Tim and Sara Nelson were holding their rehearsal dinner in Harvard Square that evening, anxiously awaiting their wedding ceremony the next day. The heat was on their minds. The next day, however, they woke up to clear skies and a comfortable temperature as they kicked off their wedding ceremonies in Medford, Mass.
Tufts graduate Tim Nelson (E’04, EG’07) and Clark University alumna Sara Nelson were married in Goddard Chapel on the campus of Tufts University on Aug. 8, 2009. The couple met in high school in central Connecticut while they were in the marching band together. Tim Nelson headed off to Tufts to study civil engineering and Sara, two years younger, finished high school and enrolled in Clark University. After they both graduated from college and their respective graduate school programs, they moved to San Francisco in 2007. In October 2007, the couple got engaged.
The Nelson couple said they knew that they wanted an East Coast wedding, because many of their family and friends still lived around Connecticut and Massachusetts. Both Tim and Sara Nelson had spent plenty of time on Tufts campus, and many of their closest friends were from the university. Tim Nelson was very involved in Goddard throughout his time at Tufts, often playing music for ceremonies. So, Goddard Chapel seemed like the perfect place for the couple to get married.
“We’re really connected with the East Coast,” Tim Nelson said. “I think we really were craving a New England wedding.”
He went on to add, “The campus is so beautiful in the summer. … It just had the atmosphere that we were looking for.”
Through Tim Nelson’s involvement with the chapel, he became connected with Father David O’Leary, who married the Nelson couple in 2009.
“We had a religious ceremony, but we’re not very religious, so [Goddard] was a very nice neutral place. We had a connection to the priest and Tim was so involved [with the chapel] even in undergrad that I think it all just seemed right,” Sara Nelson said.
Goddard Chapel, located on Tufts’ upper campus, is the home of spiritual life at the university. Getting married in Goddard is a popular option for many Tufts alums, as it is a central campus location and a beautiful setting.
According to Lindsey Chu, the Chaplaincy administrative coordinator, and Lyn Cooper, the associate director of the Chaplaincy and Catholic chaplain, Goddard is a non-denominational and LGBTQ-affirming chaplaincy. The Interfaith Center, beyond the rainbow steps on campus, can also host ceremonies. A wedding has not been hosted by the Chaplaincy since before COVID-19.
Tufts’ original religious affiliation was Universalist. Goddard, although featuring Christian imagery, is able to be transformed by each community to meet spiritual or ceremonial needs, according to Cooper and Chu.
“The Universalists upheld the inherent worth and beauty in all religious/philosophical traditions. Today we use the language of religious pluralism to convey this posture, but the Universalists are a big part of that history,” Cooper and Chu wrote in an email to the Daily.
Sara Nelson described Goddard as a place of familiarity and comfort.
“I think the Chapel is so sweet. I feel like it’s not very aggressive in one denomination. At least for me, it feels very welcoming, and it’s very intimate. We had 150 people, and it didn’t feel too crowded, but it also didn’t feel like you had half of the church still open or something,” she said.
Although Sara Nelson didn’t attend Tufts, she calls herself an “FOT,” or “Friend of Tufts,” as she spent so much time on campus during college.
While the Nelsons were planning their wedding, Rob Bayless (E’09) and Sara Bayless (LA’08), whose maiden name was Douglass, were finishing up their studies and graduating from Tufts. Six years later, they were also married in Goddard Chapel on June 30, 2015. The Bayless couple laughed when recounting how they met.
“We were both members of the crew team, so we were rowers. … We met down at the boathouse,” Sara Bayless said. “The men’s and women’s teams didn’t interact a ton, but we were at the boathouse together a lot, and so that’s where we met.”
Her husband booed at her as she told the story. “We’re on the record, Robbie, I can’t give all the details,” Sara Bayless added with a smile.
Tufts seemed like the ideal place for the couple’s wedding. Sara Bayless is from Cape Cod, so they wanted to keep their wedding local. However, a wedding on Cape Cod in the summer felt too overwhelming for the couple.
“Tufts was where we met, where we came into our own; half of our friends in the wedding were all from Tufts. And so it was a spot that’s near and dear to our hearts,” Rob Bayless said. “Plus, we were also living in Arizona at the time, so it felt like a really nice opportunity to come back to our roots and where everything started.”
Logistically, weddings can be a nightmare to plan. However, the couples who were married in Goddard spoke highly of the booking process. Not only is Goddard Chapel on a campus that meant a lot to many in and attending the weddings, but the Chapel also has a neutral religious connotation to it, according to the couples.
“We really liked the idea of Goddard because it was a bridge between a traditional church wedding and a less traditional wedding,” Sara Bayless said. “We were really looking for something that was non-denominational, and we did not want a deeply religious ceremony.”
Jennifer Polli (LA’93) and Gregg Greenberg, who graduated from Amherst College in 1992, were also married in Goddard on June 2, 2001. Their reasoning behind this decision, according to Greenberg, was mostly its locational convenience and family history. Polli was part of a long line of Tufts graduates, and although Greenberg did not attend Tufts, both of his siblings attended the institution.
“One of the reasons why it was very easy for us to get married at Goddard Chapel is because my father, who had paid so much tuition to Tufts, really felt like he owned the place,” Greenberg said.
Greenberg and Polli, as well as the Baylesses and the Nelsons, photoshoots around campus following their ceremonies in Goddard, taking pictures in some of their historically meaningful spots.
The Bayless couple based their entire wedding around the campus. Before their reception in Breed Memorial Hall, they hosted a cocktail hour on the roof of Tisch Library. The Chaplaincy said that having a reception on campus is no longer an option for couples, which eliminates the convenient possibility to host an entire day of celebration on campus. For their welcome reception the evening before the wedding, the Baylesses hosted guests at the Shoemaker Boathouse, home to the Tufts rowing teams and the place where they met.
A common thread in all three of these couples’ stories is partaking in a certain Tufts tradition: painting the cannon. The Bayless couple had an especially funny story about this tradition.
“All of the groomsmen went over and were painting the cannon when four of Sara’s friends showed up. … We had half of Sara’s friends and half of my friends painting the cannon,” Rob Bayless said. “We have some really fun pictures of the whole wedding party around the cannon, which was very fun too.”
Tim Nelson and his groomsmen painted the cannon the morning of their ceremony. But for Greenberg and Polli’s wedding, the cannon painting didn’t work out as they had hoped. “Some of Jennifer’s friends painted the cannon for us the night before the wedding,” Greenberg said. “But it turns out that someone painted over it by the time we got there the next day, so we never actually saw it.”
The Bayless wedding followed many other traditions from college, including one at the end of their wedding evening. After their reception, the couple and their wedding parties headed over to a popular date night bar and restaurant in Davis Square that is no longer around. Sara Bayless, however, did not have her ID on her. The bar wouldn’t let her in, despite her being in a wedding dress.
“The whole wedding party was inside the restaurant after the reception and they wouldn’t let me in,” Sara Bayless said.
One of the wedding party members ran across the street to another bar that is no longer in business, described by Sara Bayless as “the dirtiest, nastiest bar in Davis” at the time. The wedding party member told the bartender that they had a lady in a wedding dress who doesn’t have an ID and asked if they would serve her. The bartender said yes, and the entire wedding party headed over to that bar.
“Our friends from Tufts in particular thought that that was probably the best part of the wedding,” Sara Bayless said.
“She’s definitely 21,” Rob Bayless said. “Her mom’s with her, and she’s in a wedding dress.” The couple laughed as they reminisced on a fun evening in Davis Square, still a hotspot for students today.
Many couples return to Tufts’ campus and Goddard Chapel during Commencement and alumni reunions, and some even stop by on Matriculation Day when their children are joining the Tufts community. Couples have also renewed their vows in Goddard.
“These are such special moments,” Cooper and Chu wrote. “You can see [the couple] transported in the sanctuary. That is, of course, what sanctuaries and sacred spaces do—traverse time and space.”
Tim and Sara Nelson now live in San Francisco with their children Logan and Charlie, who are notably named after Boston landmarks. The Nelsons flipped through their wedding photo album, sharing pictures of Goddard, the cannon and Tufts alums holding a Tufts banner in their wedding attire. Sara Nelson emphasized that if they were to get married again, they wouldn’t change a single thing: “It was clear skies. The view of the city was beautiful. Everyone was comfortable. It was just so perfect. It was perfect.”
Rob and Sara Bayless valued being married on the campus where they met, fell in love and spent four years with many of their best friends.
“The people that you meet at Tufts are really, really close friends and stay that way,” Rob Bayless said. “So it was super fun to … share that all at Tufts.”