The wedding story of Denise Ray and John T. Shields

Denise Ray and John T. Shields jump the broom. — PHOTOS/SHIRA YUDKOFF/TRIBUNE PHOTOGRAPHER

Denise Ray and John T. Shields were married by the Rev. Dr. Kevin R. Johnson, senior pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church in North Philadelphia. The ceremony took place on Sept. 9. It was especially meaningful for the bride to be married in this house of worship where she has been an official member for more than 38 years and an attending member for more than 50 years. Having known each other for 31 years, Denise and John’s union was truly a celebration of love, friendship and commitment.

The bride was dazzling as she was escorted down the aisle and given away by her brother, Kenneth Ray of Philadelphia. Her beautiful strapless gown was accented with white satin appliqués and rhinestones throughout, with a modest, but elegant train. A custom-designed wrap made of flowing organza and silk rhinestone appliqués was exquisite.   The groom was handsome in a traditional tuxedo and traditional black tie.

Denise, 60, is a graduate of Howard University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Later, she earned a master’s degree in clinical social work from the Bryn Mawr College of Social Work and Social Research and then a doctorate in marriage and family therapy from Drexel University. 

The center of Denise’s professional experience has been in Philadelphia Juvenile Court. Since 1991, she has practiced privately, treating individuals, couples and families.

John, 69, is a graduate of South Carolina State University, where he majored in physical education. He found his purpose in helping young people on probation to utilize their physical talents to stay out of trouble. He is responsible for directing hundreds of youth to organized basketball as a positive resource.


How they met…the proposal

John and Denise’s meeting, more than three decades ago, occurred when both were employed by the Philadelphia Family Court. At the time, he was a juvenile probation officer and she oversaw a volunteer program for youths involved in the court system. Denise described John’s proposal as, “A mutually sweet and exciting agreement to move our long-term relationship to a higher level.”


The Wedding Party

The couple’s parents are deceased, but lovingly remembered. Denise fondly refers to John as “Tee.” Tee’s only nephew, Edward Shields, served as his best man and traveled from Michigan with his family for their special day. Denise’s aunt, Lunette Ray of Philadelphia, sat in place of her mother.

One of Denise’s closest friends, Marlene F. Watson, served as her maid of honor. Other attendants wore a variation of Marlene’s luxuriously vibrant fuchsia gown. The lovely bridesmaids, who were all Denise’s nieces, were Saireah Ray, Alexis Henry-Ray, Anastasia Henry-Ray and Imani Fletcher. Denise’s brother, Kenneth Ray, was also the groomsman.


The Reception

A fabulous reception followed the ceremony at the Four Seasons Hotel in Center City, where the couple danced their first dance as man and wife to “Close to You” by Bebe and Cece Winans. In keeping with tradition, the bride’s bouquet of white calla lilies, roses and hydrangeas was caught by her niece, Candice Ray, and the garter was caught by one of the bride’s brothers, Darrell Ray.

Among the guests celebrating the joyous occasion were: Van Woods, John’s college roommate who traveled from South Carolina, and Judge Paul P. and Mrs. Panepinto. Judge Panepinto appointed Denise to the position of deputy chief of juvenile probation in 1999.

Members of The Bright Hope Baptist Church family included the senior pastor, the Rev. Kevin R. Johnson and Kimya Johnson , the Rev. and Mrs. Pluria Marshall of Maryland, the Rev. and Mrs. George R. Taylor,  the Rev. Omari Hughes and his fiancée, Natalie Marshall, Derrick Sawyer, Aaron White and other fellow worshipers.

Judge and Mrs. A. Frank Reynolds, Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, former Councilwoman Augusta Clark, Dr. and Mrs. Michael Whitaker, Mr. and Mrs. William “Sonny” Hill, Mr. and Mrs. Patrick Oates, Lionel and Ruth Simmons, Mr. and Mrs. Fran Dunphy, James Flint Jr., Mr. and Mrs. Horace Owens, Mr. and Mrs. Geoffrey Arnold, Mr. and Mrs. James Roundtree, Troy Roundtree and Denise’s fellow members of The Philadelphia Chapter of Carats, Inc. were also among the jubilant guests.



“It was an absolutely incredible day. Everything went by so quickly. I still find myself reliving missed moments through the stories of friends and relatives. The weather had been rainy all week, even the early morning of the wedding, but the sun soon came out as if to ready the day for the ceremony and reception. Following the ceremony, the entire bridal party was whisked away to the hotel for the grand reception. Our family and friends were jovial and ready for our arrival. We all felt so very special. Pictures were taken in the hotel’s beautiful courtyard in front of the waterfall as guests looked on admiringly. The young bridesmaids were full of excitement and awe and were endeared by the guests. It was a fantastic day where God answered prayers and ensured that all went well,” Denise said.

“My maid of honor remarked that my family, in their excitement, provided guests with a sense of how the Rays celebrated holidays when my mother was alive with her amazingly warm personality and preparation of special meals. My husband characterizes it as a very happy day and a day he could do all over again,” she added.


The Honeymoon

“The last song played at the reception was intended to provide our guests with a clue as to where we would honeymoon. The Isley Brothers’ ‘Atlantis’ is such a beautiful and mystical song,” Denise said. The newlyweds traveled to Paradise Island in the Bahamas and stayed at the Atlantis Resort. They described it as “perfect.” Denise and John loved the view from their suite on the 19th floor overlooking all the water scenes. “We especially loved the amazing turquoise waters of God’s vast ocean and awakened to this spiritual phenomenon every morning for a week,” the new Mrs. John T. Shields reflected.

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