October 30, 2004
On Saturday, October 30th, I had the honor of officiating at FOUR (4) weddings at the St. James CCAP Church where I serve as the Associate Pastor. It was quite a day and I thought I would give you a glimpse into what a wedding is like in Malawi, from the Pastor’s point of view.
I left the house at 7:40 a.m. all decked out in my Abusa garb (suit with a clergy collar) headed to the St. James Church which is about a 15 minute drive from the house. The first wedding was scheduled to start at 8:00 a.m., but I knew that would never happen. I arrived at 7:55 a.m. and no one from the wedding party was anywhere in sight (what a shock). I spend the next 20 minutes working with Andrew, the Session Clerk of St. James, on the specific details of the wedding, since I have never done a wedding by myself in Malawi.
By 8:30 a.m. I was pretty confident that I knew what was expected of me, and the wedding party had arrived, so I put on my blue preaching gown and went in to meet the groom and his groomsmen in the vestry. The groom, Dumbani Kapesa, was dressed in a very nice light grey suit with a fake flower in his lapel. Dumbani was about 25 years of age and a very handsome young man. Dumbani had with him a Best Man and two groomsmen who were dressed in matching dark blue suits. I think they may have been rented, but I did not ask. This was the first time we had met, since I had not done the pre-marriage counseling, which was done by the Rev. Nasiyaya, Pastor of St. James, who is on vacation this month. I asked Dumbani if he was nervous, and he replied, “No, this is an exciting day!”
Two minutes later I was standing in front of a congregation of about 500 people. The congregation stood as I entered the sanctuary. The organ began to play at this point and the wedding party began to enter the church. There were 21 children all dressed alike who led the procession, dancing down the aisle. They were followed by two bridesmaids, a flower girl (who was literally throwing handfuls of freshly picked flowers, which are everywhere at the present time in Malawi), the Maid of Honor, and finally the bride on the arm of her father. The whole time the organ was playing music that I had never heard, and it sounded nothing like wedding music in America…but very festive. The entire wedding party danced very slowly up to the front of the church (and I emphasize slowly). It took about 20 minutes for the entire wedding party to get into the church. All this time I was standing, and every one of them bowed as they came past me, the Abusa. People here in Malawi do this to show their great respect for clergy.
The bride (Chisomo (Grace) Banda) is dressed in a beautiful white wedding gown, which looks like it could have been bought in a wedding store in Pittsburgh. The only thing that is really different about the procession from a wedding in the USA is that no one, except me, is smiling. I don’t know what the tradition is, but no one cracked a smile at all during the wedding. It looked more like a funeral than a wedding. They didn’t even laugh at my feeble attempts at humor.
The actual Celebration of Worship for a wedding in Malawi is very similar to that followed in the USA. There is a Call to Worship, Hymn, Prayer, Questions to parents, Questions to congregation, Questions to the couple, Statement of Purpose, Vows, Exchange of Rings, Hymn, Scripture, Short Sermon, Prayer, Declaration and Benediction. Since I only know about 40 random words of Chichewa, I do the Celebration of Worship in English. The only part that is translated is the Sermon and the Session Clerk read the Scripture Lesson in Chichewa. The actual worship took about 30 minutes. Still, no one was smiling!
Following the benediction the wedding party and I adjourned to the Vestry for the signing of the official wedding certificate. This is a very formal occasion, with about six people taking pictures and videos as the certificate was signed by the groom, bride, two witnesses, and finally me. It was not official until it was signed by the Abusa (pastor). Then I led the entire wedding party back out into the church. As we entered the Sanctuary, the congregation erupted into singing, dancing, yelling and cheering. Everyone was smiling now! This was quite a dramatic change from the previous mood of the congregation!
I quickly led the wedding party out of the building where I was involved in about five minutes of picture taking. It was amazing how many pictures were taken at this wedding. In fact, at one point during the Celebration of Worship, one of the photographers asked me to move over a little so he could get a better shot. Picture taking is encouraged at a wedding in Malawi, and the photographers are given free reign. I finally excused myself, since I had three more weddings to do. That is when I discovered that the other wedding party was there and ready to go. Andrew, the Session Clerk, led me back to the Pastor’s Study where I took off my robe for five minutes, and got a cold soda. I was drenched, it was hot today, and my robe is not the coolest thing in the world to wear.
Andrew came back into the Study after making sure everything was ready for the second wedding. He handed me the name of the couple that was waiting and I was quickly up and dressed in two minutes and ready for round two of four today.
The weddings concluded about noon. They were not all as large as the first, but all were well attended events.
As I was packing up my robe and getting my papers together Andrew came in and handed me an envelope containing my honorarium for the day. The envelope had 800 Malawi Kwacha (about $8.00) in it and a note that there were four chickens (live) outside that I was to take home. I told Andrew, my Session Clerk, who worked so hard today that I wanted him to have them. He at first insisted that he could not accept the money or the chickens, but I was very persuasive and in the end he was delighted to receive both.
Driving home I realized that I was drained, but happy. Four couples have been united in Holy Matrimony in the presence of God and the people of God, and the Kingdom and this Abusa are a little better for the effort.