Thursday, April 28, 2011

"Please, manage your time, and come to my wedding!"

I had walked into a lively meeting about how the music ministry and school was to be run, now that Pankaj was leaving for the States in less than a week to get married. Ask the landlady if a gate to the upstairs can be installed; the office will move up there and the gate will keep things secure. That computer needs a password put on it; right now, just anyone can walk into the room and use it. Now, about those dwindling finances….well, looks like we’ll have to economize and provide no more snacks, just tea. Should we start taking up an offering at fellowship? One guy joked that the fellowship already resembled a church service minus the offering; the offering would make it just like a church service!

And oh, Hari, he’s getting married tomorrow. Who’s coming to the wedding? Its four hours away, as his bride is from another town. Tori, are you coming?

“Is he really getting married?” I asked. They had been teasing Hari about getting married since I had left Nepal two years ago. I half disbelieved them.

Hari pulled a pile of cards out of his backpack, shuffled through them, found one to his satisfaction, and clicked his pen open. “Who’s that for?” someone asked.

“For her,” Hari jerked his head in my direction. Someone else laughed, probably Solomon. “How do you spell her name?”

“T-O-R-I,” Pankaj named the letters, “D-A-Z-E—“

“No, D-A-L-Z,” I corrected him.

Now it was Sunil’s turn to laugh. “Pankaj never gets names right!”

Hari finished writing and handed the invitation to me with both hands. My last name was still missing an “l” at the end. It was the invitation not to his wedding, but to a reception at Patan church on Thursday. “My sister is getting married on that day,” he said, “but the reception is for both of us. Please manage your time, and come.”

This wedding was the third one I had been invited to within the eight months I had been in Nepal. The others had been two Rai siblings, who I also knew through the music ministry. I was on my way to work one day, and a motorcycle pulled up beside me. “This is good luck, I have something to give you!” it was Ashish, and he pulled out a wedding invitation with my name on it. “Bishwas, my older brother, is getting married tomorrow. Can you come?”

Turns out, I did know this older brother—he had been coordinating the Putalisadak English language service the last time I was in Nepal. I figured I should attend his wedding, and my boss kindly gave me the afternoon off so I could do so. There, his sister, Anu, informed me that their eldest sister would be getting married next week, at Putalisadak. “You should come!” she urged. So I had attended that one too.

In attending these weddings, I was able to observe how Nepali Christians conduct these affairs. In American, and I would assume most Western, weddings, much is made of the bride and groom. Here, I noticed, it was very much about two congregations—two families—being joined together. The pastors from each church would give a full on sermon concerning what marriage meant to Christians—a picture of Christ and his church, completing God’s image of man of woman joined together, the need for a husband to love his wife and the wife to respect her husband—but emphasizing too the importance of community, and how these couples fit into the life of the church. More than one story was told of failed “love marriages” where parents and elders were not consulted or the community not involved in the decision.

This emphasis on community was also awkwardly present in the way the ritual aspects of the ceremony were conducted. Much was done to the couple, but not by the couple. Elders from each church would officiate these various aspects—deciding two or three times where and how the couple should stand when exchanging vows, abruptly calling for whoever was giving the bride away and if anyone objected to this union, and overseeing the signing of the marriage license (which, I’m not sure is for congregational record purposes or if this was the piece of paper from the local government office as well), and then leading the collective prayer after all this had been completed. The congregation would participate in a short praise and worship session as well, the songs not necessarily about weddings but always Gospel centered.

At each of these weddings, a song has been sung to the new bride as well. Members of the music ministry have consistently been the ones to sing this song. There have been jokes passed around about being the up-and-coming wedding band, or producing an album of wedding songs. And like any self-respecting musicians, they got paid in wedding food.