Priest in shock wedding. So read the headline in the Natal Daily News the day after our wedding 40 years ago on 29 September 1974.
We were married in St Martin-in-the-Fields Anglican Church in Durban North, where I was the assistant priest at the time. The “shock” was a bit of an exaggeration; “surprise” might have been more accurate. We were married at the regular church service on Sunday morning, and of the congregation of about 400 only about 10 knew beforehand that we were getting married. Not even the guest preacher that Sunday, Fr Michael Lapsley, SSM, knew, and so he too was taken by surprise at the announcement that followed his sermon.
The reason for the secrecy was that I was banned at the time, and was not allowed to attend any social gatherings, that is, gatherings at which the persons present also had social intercourse with one other. There was one exception to this: with the special permission of the chief magistrate of Durban, I was allowed to attend tea parties after regular church services at St Martin’s, provided that those at the tea party had also attended the service beforehand. That meant that our wedding had to be at one of the regular Sunday services that was followed by tea, which at St Martin’s was on the fourth Sunday of each month.
Issuing a public invitation to attend would be likely to attract the unwelcome attention of the Security Police, and we did not want them snooping around and recording the number plates of all the cars outside the church and things like that. In these days of freedom that may sound quite paranoid, but things were different back then. At that very time my cousin’s husband, who was also banned, was facing charges of having broken his ban by attending a friend’s wedding in Pietermaritzburg — he had chatted to a couple of people after the service, and the Security Police interpreted that as a “social gathering”, and subpoenaed a lot of people who were at the service to give evidence, including the Anglican suffragan bishop of Natal, Ken Hallowes.
It so happened that on Sunday 29th September the choir of the Northlands Girls High School was singing a special musical setting of the service, called “The Mass of St Francis” (by aniticipation, St Francis was actually commemorated on 4 October). This provided a suitable excuse: we invited our friends and acquaintances to come to church that Sunday to hear this special choir, so we weren’t actually inviting them to attend a wedding or a gathering afterwards that could possibly be interpreted as a “social gathering” as defined in the Suppression of Communism Act (as amended). So we told our parents, and swore them to secrecy. And the parish priest, Arnold Hirst, knew, of course, and the head server, Richard Girdwood, and Ian Bastable, who had arranged the visit of the choir, and that was about it.
So after the sermon by Father Michael Lapsley, which went on for about 45 minutes, we were married. And, despite the Mass of St Francis, the day was actually the Western feast of St Michael and All Angels.
Thirteen years later, on the Orthodox feast of St Michael and all the Bodiless Powers of Heaven, on 8 November 1987, we were received into the Orthodox Church, and since then we have observed the 8th November as our Slava and wedding anniversary. Slava is a Serbian Orthodox custom. All Orthodox Christians celebrate their name day, the day of the Saint whose name they were given in baptism. A Slava is a kind of family name day, celebrating the day of the Saint on which the first members of that family were baptised. In the case of most Serbs, that would have been several centuries ago, but in our case it is in living memory. It also seemed to be a good custom to adopt in Africa, where ancestors have played a significant role in culture.
As our actual wedding had to be “secret”, in the sense that we couldn’t invite anyone to it, we would like to celebrate our 40th anniversary by issuing an open invitation to friends and family to attend our Slava and anniversary celebrations. With the blessing of the Archbishop of Johannesburg and Pretoria, Metropolitan Damaskinos, and the parish priest, Father Athanasius Akunda, it will take place at Vespers at the Church of St Nicholas of Japan, 156 Fulham Road, Brixton, Johannesburg, at 6:30 pm on Saturday 8 November 2014. As they say in the funeral announcements: friends kindly accept this intimation.
Unlike the original wedding, therefore, we are inviting people to join us. But, like the original event, and in memory of it, the refreshments will be of the “tea after church service” variety”.
It might have been better to plan such a thing for our 50th anniversary, in 2024, but who knows if we’ll survive that long in this world, so perhaps we’ll save that one for the next.
 Actually if the Security Police had been alerted, they would probably have classified the whole thing as a “political gathering” (another type of gathering banned people were not allowed to attend), since Fr Michael pulled no punches when he said what St Francis would probably have thought of the contemporary political situation in South Africa (a “political gathering” was one at which any principle or policy of a state or of the government of a state was discussed). One woman walked out in the middle of the sermon, though whether because of political objections or because she thought it had gone on too long, we never discovered. She missed the fun afterwards, though she might also have disapproved of that too.