It was a Sunday afternoon at Hoboken Grace after the last service on November 22. Teams were slowly disassembling the room. Others milled about and chatted idly about Thanksgiving plans. Supplies were being packed up and put away.
Then suddenly, the lights dimmed. The speakers popped. A video flashed on the televisions at the front of the room. And before anyone could tell what was going on, Ryan MacFadyen appeared on screen. The crowd went silent.
When Ryan began to talk, he spoke affectionately about his girlfriend, Tiffany Clarkson, who was standing in the audience. Videos he had recorded over the course of their three-year relationship began to play. Slowly, all eyes turned toward Tiffany. The video ended with a clip of Ryan atop Machu Picchu, in the heart of the Peruvian Andes. There he asked simply, “Will you marry me?” Then he appeared behind her, on one knee, with the ring in hand. Gladly, she accepted.
“I don’t normally get rattled,” Tiffany later recalled. “But my heart was beating so fast. Everything we had gone through for the past three years was going through my head.”
Ryan and Tiffany began attending Hoboken Grace about a year ago, after meeting at Florida State University. There, they grew into a relationship before Tiffany eventually graduated and moved to Portland, Oregon. Ryan stayed for one more year to finish a second degree. Nevertheless, they continued their relationship long distance, and when Ryan graduated as well, he moved out to Portland.
It wasn’t long, however, before a job opportunity brought Tiffany to New York. Ryan naturally followed, with Tiffany settling in Hoboken and Ryan in Jersey City. When they first arrived, they found a church in New York City. Pretty soon, however, the commute into the city every Sunday began to wear them down.
That’s when Tiffany discovered an advertisement for Hoboken Grace in Jersey City. Curious, she checked out the website. Before they had even attended their first service, she had already signed both of them up for a dinner group. They have been attending ever since.
“Dinner group was an integral part of us rebuilding our relationship with Jesus,” said Tiffany. “God had put me in a very content area of my life. Everything was falling into place.” This January, Tiffany will be launching her own dinner group.
For a long time, Ryan had known he wanted to propose to Tiffany with a video. Over the years, he had secretly recorded brief video messages on his phone for that very purpose. And occasionally he recorded them without his shirt on, he joked, never thinking the clips would be viewed by a public audience.
Ryan had watched the videos played during services at Hoboken Grace. He wondered, could he do the same to propose to Tiffany? Ryan approached John Milius with the idea, and a dinner group leader put him in touch with Courtney Perlee, a member of the Video Team.
Together, Ryan and Courtney made his vision a reality, stringing together the clips he had recorded. Courtney also helped film an introduction.
“John and Courtney were crucial in getting the video made,” said Ryan.
Ryan and Courtney didn’t even know each other before they met at a Starbucks to discuss shooting it. “She was super nice. I knew I could trust her,” Ryan said. “And she made the video look amazing.”
Ryan’s plans were set for the morning of Sunday, November 22. The night before the big day, Ryan and Tiffany attended a taping of Saturday Night Live. There, she teased him about his proposal. When was he planning to carry it out? Thanksgiving? New Year’s? She thought she had him figured out.
Little did she know that Ryan was on pins and needles the entire evening. Everything was in place for the next day— both of their dinner groups would be meeting after Hoboken Grace’s 12:30 service under the guise of helping break down the room. He had the ring. All that was left was to pull it off.
“She was the biggest moving piece of the puzzle,” he said. “I just wanted it to be perfect.”
The morning after fared no better for Ryan. Hoboken had just lost running water thanks to a water main break. Tiffany fretted about appearing presentable for church, but her dinner group pulled her back in. She was also unable to switch her service shift, as Ryan had hoped. He feared she wouldn’t make it in time.
“She is notoriously late for everything,” Ryan later joked.
But show up she did — about 10 minutes late, as had been expected. When she got there, though, something seemed amiss. Things weren’t broken down as much as she would have guessed. Off to the side, Ryan waited for the right moment to play the video. His goal was to get her more toward the center of the room. Finally, John asked if he was ready. And Ryan gave him the final go-ahead.
“All of a sudden, I heard my name on the speakers,” Tiffany said. “And he was talking about me.” Initially, she suspected that Ryan had made a story video that was going to be played at church. Soon, however, she looked around and saw people standing and facing her. And slowly it dawned on her what was happening.
“It’s not what I expected of him. He’s so bad with surprises!” she recalled. But she felt that the moment was right for both of them, surrounded by friends in the church that had brought them together. “That really focused our relationship on God, like it should be.”
“We feel truly blessed we found a place like Hoboken Grace,” said Ryan.
Looking back, Ryan says he would have only changed one thing about the video: “I really wish I could have told myself in college: Put on a shirt!”