Anatomy of a wedding in coronavirus times

At a couple-friend's wedding last Saturday, I couldn't help but marvel at how much the virus has changed the way we do things

After postponing their wedding for three months, the two lovebirds were finally joined in holy matrimony on September 5. Peter Odidi and Rose Achieng’, his wife of 23 years, had initially planned to officially exchange marriage vows in a Christian ceremony on June 6 but were forced to put off their plans following Covid-19 containment measures introduced by the government in March.

It was the first wedding I was attending this year and I couldn’t help but marvel at how much the virus has changed the way we do things. Right from the word go, Peter and Rose had wanted a simple wedding. They did not form a wedding committee to help with fundraising and logistics as is the norm in Kenya. Instead they had contacted just 10 friends for financial and prayer support. The pandemic made things even simpler for them. 

They arrived at the wedding venue in separate convoys. They both looked relaxed. At 11:46am, Peter and his best man walked into the sanctuary of Christ is the Answer Ministries’ (Citam) Embakasi branch in Nairobi. They were dressed alike in black suits, blue ties and brown shoes. At 11:48am, the bridal party made its way inside, marching to the tune of a gospel song. The entourage included the couple’s four children – their 12-year-old son, his two younger sisters and the 22-year-old first born – followed by Rose’s younger sister.

At 11:55am, the bride, wearing a creamy white gown and accompanied by her parents, walked up the aisle as the song Sweet Jesus played. The groom and the best man met them halfway and greeted Rose’s parents, who immediately handed her over to them. The couple then walked to the altar holding hands. They were in a jovial mood, smiling and laughing.

It was a ceremony devoid of what Kenyans would call madoido (embellishment). There was hardly any loud cheering; only sporadic clapping. The decoration was muted – only a few flowers strategically placed in vases and petals sprinkled on the simple red carpet. The pillars were draped in black and red cloth. 

In keeping with Covid-19 regulations, the estimated 60 people in attendance sat slightly one metre apart. Almost all wore masks; the only exceptions were the officiating pastor, the church pastor, praise and worship leader, the groom, bride, best man and best maid. The praise and worship session lasted only six minutes. Some people sang with their masks on while others had them lowered to their chins.

Just before the couple took their vows, Pastor Evans Agoya of Citam Embakasi preached an 18-minute sermon based on 1 Corinthians 13:4-13. “Love is not a feeling or passion. Love is commitment,” he said, adding: “You have walked together, lived in the same house together and raised children together because of love. Only love will keep your marriage.”

The officiating minister, Rev Martin Bandu of Citam Kikuyu, had earlier explained the significance of the couple’s decision to solemnise their marriage in church.

“There is power in the altar of God,” he said. “We bring our past to the altar and leave it there. It is a place of sacrifice. Marrying in church means you are committing your marriage to the altar and control of God. That is why I pity those who get married at the Attorney General’s chambers instead of in church.”

There was a light moment just before the vows when the bride’s father complained in jest that it was the third time in 20 years he was being asked whether or not he was agreeing to give his daughter’s hand in marriage – to the same man.

“The first time, Peter’s parents came to my home in Asembo (in Kisumu County) and I said yes. The second time, his brothers came home and I said yes. Now, 20 years later, I am being asked the same question again. This can only be compared to the scenario Peter in the Bible faced when Jesus asked three times if he really loved Him. And I say, for the third time, yes!” he said as people roared with laughter.

The vows and prayers for the couple took 22 minutes, ending at 12:52pm. Immediately after the vows, the parents from both sides shook hands and then sanitised their hands with sanitiser provided by the church. The ceremony ended at 1:05pm and the newly-weds started dancing their way out of the hall to the song, Jehovah I Trust in You.

The photo session, just outside the church building, took less than 20 minutes. But the reception, which was hosted at a hotel in Utawala Estate (about 10 kilometres from the wedding venue), lasted more than three hours as guests waited for the couple to arrive from a special photo session with the bridal party.

After the reception meal had been served and we had chatted, danced, eaten the cake, listened to speeches and presented gifts, it was time to leave for home in the wet chilly weather. But the words spoken in church by the man who turned out to be the master of ceremonies at the reception, stuck with me: “This is the most mature wedding I have ever attended.”