November 17, 2014 12:00 PM

EXCLUSIVE People EXCLUSIVE

As the doors to the sanctuary of the First Baptist Church in Bentonville, Ark., on Saturday, Nov. 1 swung open wide and Jessa Duggar, on the arm of her father, Jim Bob, made her way down the aisle in a sweeping, blush-colored princess gown with a billowing train, there was an audible gasp from the more than 1,000 guests in attendance. But the radiant bride was looking for just one reaction: that of her beaming but noticeably stunned husband-to-be, Ben Seewald, who surreptitiously wiped away a tear before clasping her hands. “I know,” he told People earlier that afternoon, “this is a day I am going to remember for the rest of my life.”

Combined, the bride and groom have 24 siblings and literally hundreds of extended family and friends, but their wedding was all about the two of them. Ben, 19, and Jessa, 21, stars of TLC’s hit reality show 19 Kids & Counting, now in its eighth season, showed the world they were doing things their way: selecting the very untraditional University of Arkansas Razorbacks fight song to play as they walked out together, choosing not to have a wedding cake and skipping entirely the public “You may now kiss the bride” thing. Though Jessa—who with Ben set up their rules of “courtship,” including no hand-holding until engagement and no kissing until marriage—admitted that waiting for that first kiss was “really hard,” she was determined it would be a moment she and her new husband kept to themselves. When the newlyweds left the altar without so much as a peck on the cheek, Pastor Mike Schadt said, “It was their desire they would share this unique and precious time intimately alone, so just respect that.” As the crowd erupted in applause, Schadt added, “It is very untraditional not to kiss onstage, but I can tell you they are smooching now. The fact they want to do it alone is very precious.” Actor Kirk Cameron, a wedding guest and someone who has been vocal about his own Christian beliefs, made the cross-country trip from California just so his daughters Bella, 16, and Ahna, 15, could witness this union. “My daughters will rarely get the chance to see a wedding where a husband and wife saved their first kiss for their wedding. They’ll never forget it.”

Making the day unforgettable was, not surprisingly, a family affair. Jessa, who wore a T-shirt emblazoned with “Wifey,” did her hair and makeup with the help of her sisters in the church’s bridal suite, while older sister Jill, who is expecting a baby boy next spring, got her toenails painted a lovely lavender by her husband, Derick. (“I’m going to get to do this more the more pregnant she gets,” he explained.) Ten bridesmaids plus Jinger, 20, her sister and maid of honor, passed around bobby pins, hairspray and curling irons. The bride-to-be also decided to forgo any wedding jitters: “I am not nervous, I am just so excited,” she insisted. “I just wish I could be with Ben right now. I miss him; I don’t want to be apart.” But she did shed tears when Jim Bob, 50, saw her in her wedding dress for the first time, telling her, “Jessa, you look absolutely stunning.” Added her mom, Michelle, 49: “I can’t believe my Jessa is so grown. It’s a beautiful, perfect, sunshine-y day.”

On the groom’s side, Seewald family members and groomsmen joined Ben—who had set three alarm clocks in order not to oversleep for his big day. “I set one for 6:15 a.m., 6:16 a.m. and 6:18 a.m.,” he said, laughing—in a prayer circle before the wedding, asking for blessings from God for the couple and any children the two might have. Watching her oldest get married was “like a dream,” Ben’s mom, Guinn, 40, says. “Ben is so very happy. I’m so proud of the man he’s become.” She and husband Michael, 39, are also parents to Jessica, 17, Danielle, 14, Michelle, 12, Ethan, 10, Faith, 8, and Thomas, 5. As Baptists, they are also very committed to their Christian beliefs. How does Michael feel about his new daughter-in-law? “Jessa speaks her mind,” he says. “I like that about her.”

After the couple spent some time “alone smooching,” as Schadt said, it was time to share ice cream sundaes and coffee with guests before departing in a horse-drawn carriage to start their honeymoon. Ben, who is finishing up his associate degree in political science, “may have to take some schoolwork on his honeymoon,” said Jim Bob with a laugh. But for now, the new couple are just focusing on God—and each other. “I have waited for this day for so long,” said Jessa. Added Ben: “I hope as the years go by we’ll have children in the picture, that we’ll be bringing hope to the hopeless and living our lives for the Lord. Fifty years from now, we will be loving each other more and more.”

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