|Conducting wedding last weekend by the side of a river|
If that is true generally, it is even worse when it comes to weddings—and brides (and their matrons) are the chief culprits. Guests are kept waiting for many hours before the event commences and no apology is given for the lateness. It is assumed that the guests should understand…after all, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime event—our wedding.
This is wrong. We African Christians ought to be "Christians who just happen to be Africans" rather than "Africans who just happen to be Christians." The Christian Faith must change everything about us—including our timekeeping. As Christians, we should emulate the example of God whose timekeeping is perfect. For instance, he said to Abraham, “Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son” (Genesis 18:14). Sure enough, at the appointed time—about that time the following year—Sarah had a son!
Similarly, God expects his people to keep their appointments with him. For instance, he told the Isrealites, “Let the people of Israel keep the Passover at its appointed time. On the fourteenth day of this month, at twilight, you shall keep it at its appointed time” (Numbers 9:2). And, remember, these people had no watches—hence the use of twilight to tell the time. Yet, God expected them to keep their appointments with him like clockwork, and not to come to the place of worship as if they were strolling off for a beer at a local bar.
Add to this the perfect clockwork he has infused in the movement of the planets in the various solar systems in the universe, and you cannot doubt that time matters to God. Those of us who are Christians should ensure that one of the visible signs of our godliness is the price tag we put on the commodity called time. Punctuality is the way in which we prove this. Only then will others in our culture follow suit.
Therefore, being convinced of this, I made it a rule long ago that the weddings I conduct would end at an agreed time, whether they start late or not. I also tell the couple getting married that, depending on how late they are, certain items will begin to fall out of the program and only they would know since they attended the rehearsal. Their guests would not—unless, of course, the sermon also disappears. I tell them to warn their cameramen so that at the commencement of the wedding they take shots that exclude the pews, which are often quite empty. Then as the pews fill up, they can capture wider shots. That way, when they come to see the pictures of their wedding they will never know that they said their vows to an almost empty church building.
Finally, I tell the couple getting married that if they come late I will not be upset and so there is no need for them to apologize to me as if they have spilt coffee on my suit. (I tell them this because I have been at a wedding or two where the bride or groom has come very late and the officiating minister has visibly lost his temper. One could almost see fumes coming out of his ears!) Hence, when I am conducting a wedding, I take my station in front of the auditorium “at the appointed time”—and wait. If they do not show up by the time the wedding is supposed to end, I dismiss the congregation and go on to attend to my other pastoral duties. As simple as that!
I recall in the early 1990s when I made this resolution, despite my telling the couple getting married that this is what I would do, they still came after the time I said the wedding would end. Well, they found that I had already dismissed the congregation and was just preparing to cycle off (in those days my mode of transport was a bicycle). Out of sheer pity, I made them sign the legal documents in the parking lot.
Since then, in the last twenty years, I have had one or two weddings that have lasted thirty minutes, twenty minutes, or even ten minutes, instead of the normal one hour and fifteen minutes. However, I am glad to state that this has been the exception to the rule. I know that my fellow pastors in Africa will hardly believe me, but almost all the weddings I have conducted for the last twenty years have started and ended on time. In fact, during rehearsals, couples often tell me that their friends have already warned them about this—that they will be sorry if they come late for their wedding.
On one occasion, the couple getting married gave me a time for the start of their wedding that I discovered was an hour later than the time on their invitation cards. When I asked them about it, they said that it was deliberate so that their wedding would start when more people were present. I refused. The Bible is very clear. A Christian’s word must be his bond (see Matt 5:37, 2 Cor 1:17-20). If you tell people you will meet them at a particular time, you must keep that time—even if they come late.
What often happens now is that guests who are unfamiliar with this culture at Kabwata Baptist Church are the ones who come in time for the closing prayer. They are often shocked. “The wedding is already over? We were sure that it would start late like all weddings do; so we took our time to get here. What happened?” Nothing!
So, I have proved that Africans can be good timekeepers. “African time” is a myth. If we can be on time for weddings where we are the worst offenders, we can be on time for anything. With sufficient incentives, one can change the culture. Those of us who are leaders should set a good example. We must be on time for all our appointments—whether with God or man. We must then demand that God’s people follow our example. Let’s face it—sometimes we will be late. However, where it is obvious that we are running late, we must inform the other party (which is not a problem in this cellphone era) and apologize about it. Late coming is no laughing matter!
There have been two occasions when I have bent the rule. The first was last year. I took my position “at the appointed time” and the bridegroom arrived on time. However, the bride was late—very late. I could read the thoughts on the minds of the guests who knew my rule. They knew that this was going to be a very brief wedding—probably ten minutes long. To their surprise, the wedding took the usual length. The reason for bending the rule was because my sermon was on the subject of patience! I needed to teach the bridegroom that he was going to have to learn to be patient with his wife, especially with respect to timekeeping. I did not want to undermine the sermon by an apparent impatience on my part. I explained this to the congregation when I began my sermon, and everyone relaxed and enjoyed the full wedding ceremony.
Your comments, please?
The second time was last Saturday. I conducted a wedding that began one and a half hours late. I still conducted it full length. Why? It was because the couple had already forewarned me and the reasons I was given were understandable. To begin with, the wedding was taking place very far away from civilization, somewhere in the bushes of Africa. Almost all the invited guests were going to be making their way there for the first time and so being hard on time was not going to be fair on them. Secondly, the bride was being brought to the wedding in a canoe. And canoes have no speed gauge to enable paddlers determine the speed in order to arrive on time!
|The bride being brought by her father to the wedding!|