Married in lockdown

Rachael Muluuta

A bride’s dilemma during lockdown

21 December 2019: Bernie Muluuta arrived at London Heathrow airport, soon to ask the parents of Rachael Holyome for her hand in marriage. This was shortly followed by a Christmas day proposal! We arrived back in Kampala in the first few days of January 2020 with high hopes for the year ahead: the picturesque, white wedding dress with all the glamorous trimmings. Family and friends gathered together in one place. A reception with food, speeches, cake, music and dancing. These are all things we anticipate when looking forward to attending a wedding. And these are all the things we had planned for and bought in the lead up to our wedding earlier this year. And yet, these are all things that did not accompany our wedding.

As an English woman and a Ugandan man, we had decided to get married from my church in England before returning to celebrate with our family and friends here in Uganda. So, in February 2020 wedding day plans were in place, flight tickets had been purchased and a honeymoon was booked. Next came the arduous process of applying for a visitor’s visa for Bernie. 

And that’s what we were embroiled in when Bernie, soon followed by my parents, began to say that things were not looking good in the UK. We all agreed that it might be better for us to get married in Uganda and so we began making plans for getting married here. Unsure of how the global pandemic might unfold, a date was soon set at All Saint’s Chapel, Lweza for 15 April. And then came Saturday 21 March: we were with our marriage counsellors as we took in the news that the first case of COVID-19 had been recorded in Uganda. Within ten days we were all plummeted into a severe lockdown. The president was due to speak on Sunday 12 April and we prayed like crazy that ‘scientific weddings’* would still be permitted. And – praise God! – they were!

At this point, God graciously challenged us to put our theology into practice. Where we had been arrogantly certain about what our wedding (and indeed our life) might look like – that we could plan for the kind of wedding we wanted – God reminded us that we are not in control. Whatever control we might have enjoyed in the past was just a gift from the Lord that can be taken away at any moment. We are never in control but God is always in control. Certainty can never be sought in our plans (Proverbs 19:21) but only in the person of Jesus Christ, because he is the one who holds everything together (Colossians 1:15-17). 

Our wedding day arrived and I believe we were the first couple to get married in the Church of Uganda during lockdown. What did it look like? It did not involve the wedding dress that is still hanging up in my brother’s wardrobe! Just 10 people were present in person (including clergy) but 100s more joined in on Zoom. Our honeymoon was spent at home, learning how to live together amid a nationwide lockdown where we were unable to leave the compound. Most importantly, though, we had the word of God and we had Jesus central to it all.

This whole process made us seriously question what a wedding is and isn’t. It isn’t about clothes and food but it is about a man and a woman coming before God in the presence of witnesses, to make solemn vows to one another to put into practice Ephesians 5:22-33. Essentially, marriage is a visual illustration of Christ’s relationship with the Church and that’s why we make such solemn and precious vows. Bernie committed to love me like Christ loves the Church – wow! Jesus sacrificed everything for the Church to the extent that he died in our place so that we could be restored back into a relationship with God. I find it incredible to think that Bernie has committed to being wiling to give himself up for me. What a picture (small and imperfect as it is) of the extent of Christ’s love for the Church! I vowed to submit to Bernie like the Church does to Christ. How does the Church submit to Christ? With a great desire and out of a great love, awed that we get to be in a relationship with the author of creation. Marriage is not always easy, for either of us, but we share a deep thankfulness that in some small way our marriage which brings us such joy is a small reflection of the eternal marriage between Christ and the Church.

*The term 'scientific wedding' was coined by president Yoweri Museveni in April this year. After warning his nation about the dangers of 'Ugandan-style' weddings (that often have around 1,000 guests) he said that couples should have 'scientific weddings' with up to 10 attendees.