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HALLELUJAH WEDDING (Bridge St. United Church)


"To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Hallelujah Wedding January 29, 1884.

"Captain Joe Ludgate, former member of Bridge St. Methodist Church, and Captain Nellie Ryerson, who opened the work of the Salvation Army in Belleville

"Ceremony performed by Reverend William Stacey in Bridge St. Church

"Presented by the Salvation Army Belleville Citadel February 5, 1984"

GPS co-ordinates: 44° 09' 51.62" N 77° 22' 51.81" W (44.16416667 -77.38083333)

Street location: 60 Bridge Street East at Church Street, Belleville

Historical background: Hallelujah Weddings were one of several distinct methods used by the early Canadian Salvation Army to inject aggressive and innovative (i.e. crowd-pleasing) evangelism into their rituals. The liveliness of these ceremonies appealed those who were bored of tired and jaded mainstream religions, following the advice of founder William Booth to "go to the people with the gospel." The Army was known to put on a good show. Glory! Hallelujah!

In this particular case, the two-hour wedding of Captain Ludgate and Captain Ryerson attracted more than 1,000 people, each paying admission. Another 4,000 people gathered outside to cheer the couple on their way to a reception at the new city hall.

From the Belleville Salvation Army web site:

"Nellie Ryerson, 18-year-old daughter of a New Jersey preacher, converted to salvationism a mere 13 months earlier at the urging of Capt. Joe Ludgate, with probably not more than eight weeks preparation for officership, was appointed to take command of Belleville Corps with Lieutenant Emma Churchill. The Intelligencer of January 30, 1884 contained a lengthy account of that wedding, oddly enough held at Bridge St. Methodist Church (now Bridge St. United), since the Army of that day was recognized only as a movement, not a church, and officers were not ordained to perform legal marriages. Early friend of the Army, William Stacy, officiated." (Web site, History of the Salvation Army in Belleville.)

The plaque is mounted inside the church and is accessible only during church open hours.

Hallelujah Wedding plaque


The "Hallelujah Wedding"

The Salvation Army Introduces Itself to Belleville

Have you ever heard of a wedding where admittance was charged, and the place was packed out? Or where the bride and groom were newcomers to the community, yet had leading citizens and officials assist them? Or a wedding which was commemorated a century later? It seems incredible, but it happened—not in Hollywood, but in conservative Belleville; not in the opera house, but in Bridge Street Methodist Church! In a dramatic gesture, the marriage of two Salvation Army officers caught the affection of the city in the first "Hallelujah Wedding" in Canada.

At 2:45 p.m. on Tuesday, January 29, 1884, the doors of the church opened and a great rush of people entered. Between 900 and 1000 persons each paid their 15 cents to get in. The crowd was 80% women and children dressed in their Sunday best. A judge, the chairman of the Board of Education and the police magistrate were among the civic leaders attending. A Salvation Army band, brought in from Kingston for the occasion, played brisk marches. A number of officers of the local corps and from other cities sat together at the front of the church.

At 3 p.m., the announced time of the wedding, the crowd broke out into lusty cheers as Captain Joe Ludgate, the bridegroom, appeared, accompanied by the Rev. Mr. William Stacey, who was dubbed the "Hallelujah Minister" for the occasion. Rev. J.B. Clarkson, pastor of Bridge Street Church, was sick in bed and had called on Stacey, minister of the Congregational Church, to take his place. Ludgate was a pioneer of the Army in Canada.

Then followed a two-hour testimony service. Major Thomas Moore, who was then in charge of all the Salvation Army work in the U.S. and Canada, led them in singing "0 how happy are they" to the popular tune, "Tramp, tramp, tramp the boys are marching." Tambourines rang out as the tempo and enthusiasm gained momentum. The crowd twisted and waved handkerchiefs in rhythm as they sang other choruses. When the crowd was called to join in prayer, there was a thud of knees hitting the floor as church members, Salvationists, and the curious joined in. The petitions were punctuated by fervent "Amens," and "Hallelujahs."

Sergeant Shea of the Kingston Battery related the story of his conversion. Then, after more congregational singing, a man introduced as "the hallelujah tailor," declared that he hadn't had a drink during the nine months he'd been connected with the Army. "Happy Bill," who had come from London, Ontario, jumped to his feet and sang, "He's given up whisky drinking," to the accompaniment of tambourines. Other testimonies followed, including that of the bridegroom.

About 4:50 p.m., the sound of cheering rose from outside the church, clearly announcing the arrival of the bride. The organist pealed forth the Wedding March as all eyes focused on the church door.

Down the aisle, dressed in her regulation blue uniform and bonnet, came Captain Nellie Ryerson, on the arm of Mr. Robert Richardson, the local bank manager. Richardson, it might be pointed out, was no relation to the bride, but one of the leading laymen of the church. Major Moore, as territorial commander, gave the bride away. Mr. Stacey read the traditional wedding service, and the vows were sealed with a ring. The minister addressed the happy couple, wishing them well in their newly-formed teamwork for the Lord, and pronounced the benediction.

Outside the church, a horse-drawn sleigh awaited the newlyweds. A crowd of 3000 lined the streets and windows and even rooftops cheering them on. The journey to City Hall was a bit hazardous, not only because of the many potholes in the road, but also because of some fireworks set off by a sextet of Nellie's admirers. Over 500 people crowded into City Hall for what must have been the biggest wedding banquet ever served in the city, thanks to the ladies of the community.

The handbills which had been circulated throughout the city not only invited one and all to the Hallelujah Wedding, but also to a Meeting to be held that night in Bridge Street Church. By 7:45 p.m., some 1200 crowded into the church for the prayer meeting and official commissioning of the Belleville Corps of the Salvation Army.

Speakers included Captain Hughes and Sergeant Shea of Kingston, "Happy Bill" of London, and other officers from Barrie and Toronto; and even from Newburg, N.Y. There were also brief addresses by church officials, including William Johnson, who mentioned that Joe Ludgate had been a member of the church a few years ago. "During the few months he was here, he endeared himself to all who met him, and all rejoiced in the greater work he was now doing and the success attending his labours," he added.

Major Moore then recounted the progress of the Salvation Army. Begun in England in 1865, its founder and commander-in-chief was General William Booth, a former Methodist minister and evangelist. Three years ago, he said, there had only been three corps on the North American continent; now there were over 150. In Canada, the first corps had been commissioned in Toronto on July 15 of the previous year, and now Belleville was to be commissioned as the tenth corps. Major Moore then presented Captain Nellie Ludgate with their new colours, and the admonition to "take them into every street of the city where there is sin."

The Salvation Army certainly did things with a flourish. The Intelligencer and The War Cry both described the day's events in great detail. The Army had captured the imagination and the hearts of the people.

Actually, the Army work in Belleville had begun four months before this. On September 23, Captain Annie Hassen had held the first open-air meeting in the market place amid the sounds of the tambourine and bass drum, and gradually they had recruited a corps of converts. It was part of a spectacularly successful campaign; a well-planned "invasion" that quickly and firmly established the Army as an important element of the Christian community in Canada. By the end of the decade, there were 257 corps established across the Dominion, in every province and in Newfoundland.

An excerpt from Bridging the Years, a History of Bridge Street United/Methodist Church, Belleville, 1815-1990, by the Rev. J. William Lamb

HALLELUJAH WEDDING (Bridge St. United Church)
Information Last Updated: Sunday October 18, 2020