Clarence Chan (36) and Joanne Tham (32) made news last week, when they became Singapore’s first couple to get married in the metaverse.
The Chans were married in a hybrid “phygital” wedding.
What that means is there was a physical wedding with a holy matrimony conducted by the couple’s marriage mentor and licensed solemniser Reverend Eugene Seow, as well as a metaverse segment, which involved the couple sealing their vows at a virtual altar.
I got the chance to hang out with the Chans after they returned from a mini honeymoon in Phuket.
They shared their love story behind the metaverse wedding, their hopes and dreams for the future, and most importantly, where they see Jesus in all of it.
How we met
It may come as a surprise to some, but for all the buzz around the metaverse matrimony, the couple met physically at a media event back in 2014 as they were working in the same industry (Clarence was running Bandwagon and Joanne was in public relations).
From then on, they remained acquaintances in the media industry until National Day 2020 when Clarence broadcasted a message on WhatsApp about a new Instagram filter Bandwagon had created for the occasion.
“I just replied to those text messages out of courtesy,” recounted Joanne. “We’re both in the same industry, so it’s always nice to encourage your fellow industry friends.”
The ensuing conversation between the two then involved the usual industry small talk where both agreed they should “catch up” over a meal soon.
Joanne was both surprised and impressed, however, when Clarence actually sent her a follow-up text with some available dates for that meal they had talked about.
And that was how the two reconnected, which coincidentally happened during Phase Two (when gatherings could only have up to two people).
“We were presented with a dating opportunity!” said Clarence with a laugh.
Indeed, timing is something that the Chans have learnt is in God’s hands.
Though finding a “life partner” had been on his mind through adulthood, Clarence shared he was thankful to have gone through a very interesting season in the midst of the circuit breaker prior to meeting Joanne in 2020.
During the circuit breaker, Clarence stayed in the house all by himself at the time as his sisters had gotten married and moved out. His parents, who are missionaries, were not in Singapore.
“In this period, where you are alone and solitary, the natural thing to do would be feel lonely and isolated,” he reflected. “I should have been wanting to get more companionship, maybe through online dating or something like that.”
But at the time, Clarence was listening to a series of sermons that explored being a “yâchîyd”, which the speaker shared was a term used to describe Jesus – solitary but not lonely. The term also means uniquely and wonderfully made.
Clarence’s takeaway from these sermons was that while he was alone, he had Christ as his companion.
“Immersing” himself in that concept, and being cognisant and mindful about God’s presence in his life, he spent his free time reconnecting with a lot of his personal passions like the piano and starting a faith blog on Medium to record and share how God has moved in his life.
There was also a minor point in these sermons about how “sometimes the best things are right under our noses” that struck Clarence deeply.
“For the longest time, I always thought that I would not date anyone in my phonebook because I already knew them and did not see them as romantic connections,” he said.
“I was very sure. But it turns out, God works in mysterious ways — she was under my nose the past eight years.”
Back then in 2020, Joanne had been out of a relationship for a period of time and was not looking to rush into anything.
Her friends were asking her to put herself “out there” in the hopes of meeting someone, but Joanne did not have the peace from God to move forward in that area yet.
Instead, she was convicted to spend time building relationships with her family and friends and focus on cultivating her inner life in ways like delving into the Word.
On one such soul-searching night, she prayed about a life partner: “God, I just want to surrender myself to You. I believe that if there’s someone out there for me, You will lead me to him instead of me putting myself out there.”
Joanne even had a “little request” to God — that this prospective life partner would be someone whom she actually met in her 20s (when she was at her “cutest”!).
To her, this candid request added more “difficulty”. Now in her 30s, the odds of ending up with someone you met in your 20s would be low since most of them were already attached or even married with kids.
Just a little while later, this special request would be fulfilled in God’s timing.
When Clarence and Joanne met up for that meal they had talked about, things simply clicked together.
In conversation with Joanne, Clarence found her to be a driven, intelligent and ambitious woman. In time, he also came to prize how she understood his mission as CEO and founder of Bandwagon and supported him.
Joanne, who was pursuing a master’s degree at SMU at the time, saw in Clarence someone who loves God, is righteous, humble and generous. “He never fails to offer a drink to the pump attendant at the petrol kiosk!” she quipped.
Though her very first impression of Clarence was someone who was a bit “flirty and over-friendly”, Joanne soon realised that Clarence is simply someone who cherishes getting to know the people around him and spending time with them (he even suggested date ideas that included her grandma!).
Both Clarence and Joanne agreed they had a lot of laughter and fun together on their dates.
Indeed, so electric was their bond that they got together within two months of reconnecting.
“And within three months of that, I actually already asked her whether she could see us being more than just a boyfriend and girlfriend – like potentially settling down together,” shared Clarence.
“And then within nine months of that, I proposed. Ten months later, we got married!”
Chemistry aside, however, the couple agree that the chief factor for their relationship’s success was that they both love Jesus and share the same Christian values.
“The world may say, act fast, do this or do that, or go check out this app. But sometimes the Lord works in the opposite way,” Clarence reflected. “As we rest in Him, He works for our good.
“That’s been the theme in our relationship as well. When we just choose to rest in Jesus and have Him at the centre of our lives, He can really accelerate these things. And He makes it such that we have all the support that we will need.”
Why we had a wedding in the metaverse
As wedding bells loomed, turning the idea of a metaverse wedding into reality was not such a far-fetched notion for the couple, since Clarence is a big believer in Web 3.0 and is greatly excited about the future in this area.
Indeed, Clarence’s work with Bandwagon Labs already involved holding concerts in the metaverse since the start of this year.
So he broached the idea of a metaverse wedding with Joanne, who at the beginning was still “pretty lost” when it came to the metaverse.
“I was really clueless, to be honest. I had no idea – like what’s Decentraland? What’s The Sandbox?” she admitted with a laugh. “But Clarence is quite patient, always taking time to sit me down and explain the concepts!”
Through conversations like these, however, Joanne became increasingly receptive to the idea of a wedding in the metaverse, and also grew excited over the opportunity to support Clarence in his passion for frontier technologies like cryptocurrency and the metaverse.
Personally, she also saw an opportunity for friends and family who are not very tech-savvy to learn and see what can possibly be achieved through technology in the future.
With most of the whys settled, the hows became clearer and were resolved in divine timing.
When Clarence saw a tweet by The Sandbox co-founder about a multimedia design agency that wanted to host a wedding in the metaverse, he jumped at the chance and later found out that the founder of this agency, Smobler Studios, was his director when he was a teen actor.
That existing relationship really helped the couple and the design agency to “co-create” the wedding. For instance, as lovers of colonial buildings, the couple enjoyed seeing The Alkaff Mansion recreated virtually. Even the bride’s dog, Bella, was present for the big day, albeit in voxel form!
Clarence and Joanne especially relished bringing the “impossible” to life through the metaverse, such as by having a Cinderella horse-drawn carriage and even supertrees planted around the mansion.
Guests received door gifts that were quite unique: They were issued a host of digital collectibles such as attendance passes as NFTs straight into their wallet via QR code. In the future, the couple hopes to continue creating utility and value for these digital identifiers in the metaverse.
Clarence even shared that the day before the interview, someone’s uncle who is over 60 years old reached out and told him that, as a result of the Chans’ wedding, he had managed to set up a MetaMask wallet to collect the NFTs and had become quite curious about these new technologies.
For Clarence, this was one highlight of the wedding — being able to introduce friends and family to the metaverse during one of the couple’s biggest milestones.
For Joanne, she was glad that the “phygital” nature of the wedding meant she could also enjoy the traditional, physical elements of the wedding such as the march-in and being able to walk down the aisle.
The holy matrimony was also deeply important to her.
“I’m the only Christian in my family,” she said. “So it was a good chance to open up the idea of faith in God to my loved ones and share what the importance of God and marriage mean to us.”
Clarence added that in the lead-up to the big day, the couple really wanted to be intentional in walking with the Lord and honouring Him through their wedding.
That mindset helped them to seize every opportunity to share about Christ and what God has done in their lives through “tenderhearted moments”.
“So these kinds of moments are just about seeing how God has been faithful,” Clarence affirmed. “He has been faithful in bringing us to where we are thus far. It’s really the Lord’s faithfulness that has seen us through.”
Where we see this going
The Chans have a grand plan to create a virtual space that records and celebrates the milestones of their lives.
“Actually, the metaverse wedding is just a start,” Clarence said excitedly. “We’re also thinking of what our anniversary is going to be like in the metaverse.
“We want to do a time capsule to capture our real-life love journey in the virtual world and create something our future generations can look back on. Instead of photo albums, it’s a metaverse journey. We are definitely thinking ahead, of how this wonderful time capsule of our family and our lives can document our testimonies as well.”
The couple hope that in creating this “experiential gallery” of their journey, they will be able to share their testimonies to whoever visits their corner of the metaverse.
On the note of outreach, Clarence and Joanne also believe the metaverse holds huge potential for the Church.
Noting that live-streamed services are comparatively more “static” experiences, for example, Clarence pointed out that churches can have spaces in the metaverse that are more interactive and social.
“In the metaverse, people go there to make friends with others,” Clarence observed. “You may wonder why would they want to socialise when they have friends in real life, but you’d be surprised – people just go into the metaverse trying to find out what they can do there.”
That alone is a great starting point for friendships and deeper conversations.
Thinking a little further ahead, Clarence can also see believers “questing” together to learn more about the Bible with play-to-earn incentives that encourage engagement and ownership.
“It basically opens up the Church to a brand new audience,” he continued. “There are just so many possibilities. It hasn’t fully been explored — sharing the goodness of God inside the metaverse.”
Joanne affirmed her husband’s sentiment: “It’s hard for non-believers to actually enter a church, especially if you don’t know anyone there. So the metaverse will be a quite an interesting touch point for people who are keen to know more about God in fun ways.”
What we’ve received from God
Ultimately, Joanne said that she feels incredibly blessed to have been able to go through this whole experience: “We have had a lot of favour from our parents, our community around us, our church leaders – they have really been there for us showing us a lot love and favour.
“On hindsight, we are actually very blessed that this has happened to us. We did not proactively seek for this. Thank God, things just fell into place and came together very nicely. It really is a huge blessing.”
Clarence revealed that he learned God honours us as we honour Him: “We don’t do it to get honoured by Him, but in our desire to honour Him and share our testimonies and lives very intentionally in the lead-up to the wedding, He really favoured us.
“When we honour the Lord, He never shortchanges us!”
- What would your wedding be like?
- What does the Bible say about marriage and a wedding?
- What are some practical ways you must realign your vision of marriage to how God sees it?