The Williams Family, Newlands Forest. This photoshoot scheduled itself on 17 December 2014, although I didn’t know it at the time. Allow me to elaborate…I’m in Langebaan for Lani and Pete’s wedding. As is the norm, I check to see who’s going to be conducting the ceremony. Someone points me in the direction of a surfer-looking dude who is standing down on the beach. I walk up to him, introduce myself (‘Hiiii, I’m Warren; Hiiii I’m Terran) and he tells me how he’s going to position the couple so that the wind doesn’t blow Lani’s hair into her face. As he speaks during the ceremony I fleetingly think that his approach is quite refreshing. Anyway, that’s that. Let’s move on…
Three days later on the 20th December, I arrive at Suikerbossie to photograph Kelly and Guy’s wedding. As I walk out to the ceremony area, who should be standing there but Terran. We laugh, say howzit to each other and shake hands. Later that evening I see Terran and his wife Julie as they leave the reception. I ask him what he does for a living and he tells me he leads a growing church community in Constantia called Common Ground. I say something like: ‘oh that’s nice, I’ve heard of it before – isn’t there one in Rondebosch?’ and pretend to act interested. He invites me to come along sometime to check it out. I get the sense that he’s being absolutely genuine – no pressure, just extending a hand of friendship. However! I’m thinking: ‘Like surfer dude, SERIOUSLY. Me? You don’t want me ANYWHERE near your church.’ Anyway, I promise to pop down sometime, although I’m not altogether sure whether I really meant it or not. I mean helloooo, who wants to give up a perfectly good Sunday morning to go to church right? Takes so much out of your day.
Another 3 days pass. It’s now 23 December and I’m at Buitenverwachting to shoot Tammy and Warren’s wedding. It’s a Jewish wedding so I won’t be bumping into Terran this time around. But, as I walk into the courtyard who should be sitting there under the terrace drinking coffee with some mates but uh-huh, you guessed it. Terran gets up, walks straight over to me with a huge grin on his face, pumps my hand and says with a laugh (and I quote his words exactly): ‘Duuuuude, God wants you.’ Er, right. Conversation-stopping moment of note. But it gets far, far worse friends, because, with that, I blurt out the words: ‘I know.’ As the words come out of my mouth, too late to stop, I realise that I may well have just lost all of my marbles. I clearly need brain surgery. Anyway, I have a wedding to shoot. I say cheers to Terran and it’s game on as Tam and Wa’s wedding gets underway. Faaaantastic.
It’s the 28th December 2014 and I decide to give this whole Common Ground thing a whirl. I mean, why not – a promise is a promise after all. So I arrive at the 8.30am service. But as I pull into the parking area I see that there are other people arriving. I panic. Oh no! I’m about to go and sing hymns and things with a whole bunch of happy clappers. So what do I do? Easiest route out I’m afraid – I chicken out and drive home.
The following week I send Bianca and Ben their wedding photo list which they need to fill in and send back to me. When they do, I see it’s going to be Terran conducting the ceremony. It’s at this stage that I need to explain a few things. I’ve been shooting weddings since 1995. I’ve met a ton of Rabbi’s, pastors and marriage officers. I have never ever in all of this time met Terran. Never seen him, never heard of him, didn’t know he even existed. And here, in the space of a few shorts weeks, it’s the 4th time I’m going to be bumping into him. No man. Let’s play fair here. So anyway, now I start thinking. I promised him I’d go to Common Ground (and chickening out hardly counts). So Sunday 4th Jan arrives and I pull into the Common Ground car park once again. More explaining: I’m a guy that hangs out in different places of worship – part of the job you know. I’m respectful of any place of worship and I’ve seen a lot of stained glass windows in my life. But to be honest, stained glass windows and pews have never been my thing. They make me feel uncomfortable. Anyway, I walk into Constantia Common Ground and as I come around the corner it hits me square in the jaw. HEY! Church in a Bedouin tent! Rock on! As I walk in, there are people milling around in shorts, t-shirts and slip-slops. Check it out, a family brought their dog along. I sit at the back on a bench – don’t want to be too visible you know. The band plays, everyone is singing. It’s a very, very, very good vibe. I’m doing a lot of looking around – scanning the place for freaky people. I don’t see any freaks, which is an exceptionally good start. A few video messages are played – nice touch. Nobody is wailing or doing anything strange. I see a guy I know. Heck, I didn’t know he went to church! There is a prayer or two. I bow my head respectfully but sneak a look left and right to see what those around me are doing. All good. Then Terran stands up. I’m almost desperate for him to see that I made the effort to pitch, so I’m smiling at him with a kind of ‘look, I’m over here surfer dude’ expression on my face. But he doesn’t see me. The service ends with another generic cymbalta causing diarrhea song or 2. People head outside for tea, coffee and chocolate biscuits. I head home – that’s enough for one day – don’t want to pull a muscle you know. But I decide to go back the next week, and perhaps, maybe, the next…
It’s Saturday 7th Feb. I shoot Ben and Bianca’s wedding at Vredenheim. Terran conducts the ceremony. The following morning I’m back at Common Ground, Constantia. Helen also comes for the 2nd or 3rd time or so. I’m getting to know the songs now, which is a bit tricky for those around me because Warrie ‘Springsteen’ Williams starts bashing it out a bit more vocally. I’m also looking around less and concentrating more on what’s actually being said. Another week – aaaaah Communion. Just as I’m starting to feel settled and now they come up with this whole Communion thing. Think I’ll give it a skip. I notice that nobody minds if I don’t do Communion. Excellent.
And so the weeks come and go. By this time I’m getting really used to things. I even start looking forward to Sunday’s a few days ahead of time. I’ve met a few ‘churchy’ people and they seem quite normal really. No fruitcakes or nerds that I can see and believe me, I’ve looked! I’ve also had the chance to listen to a few of the other pastors both within Common Ground Constantia and further afield like Rondebosch, Inner City and Wynberg. Then one Sunday, I’m standing there and it’s like this switch just goes on inside me. All of a sudden it’s all making complete sense and under my breath, very quietly and privately I ask God to come into my life. Look, I’m being a tad clumsy as I speak to God because I don’t know how to pray properly or anything. Bit of a novice you know. Pre-school effort, Grade 1 at absolute most. But I go for it anyway.
I walk out of the tent at the end of the service. To be perfectly honest, I’m standing there munching on a chocolate biscuit, shaking slightly. After all, I have this huge secret that nobody knows about! I’m also a bit dubious as to whether or not God can actually work with me – there’s a lot of water that’s passed under this bridge you know. And that my little friendlies is how the journey began.
All of a sudden I look back and it’s 2 years later. I’m still me, still Warren, but a lot better off in so many ways. I’ve met amazing people, been to amazing events, been Baptised and horror of horrors, even joined a Small Group where we chat and learn about the gospel in a very awesome environment. Oh I can still be all over the place, but I absolutely know that God holds and guides me every moment of every day as he works on those rough edges.
But let’s get back to that shoot in the forest shall we? There we are – Terran, Julie and the kids (5 kids, yes, F.I.V.E.) up in Newlands Forest. You want a challenging shoot – try 5 kids all under the age of 10 charging off in different directions. If anything, you start to pray a lot. I was trying to keep young Eli and Finn from plummeting into the river below when it suddenly struck me. God gave me the gift of photographing people for a reason. So that He could reach me. So that He could get me to sit up for once in my life and take notice of Him. And He used weddings and Terran to do his work for Him.I didn’t see that one coming. When you grasp the enormity of that, whoa, you begin to learn, just ever so slightly, one small step at a time, how mightily great God is. And when He starts to reach your family as well, well that’s just mind-blowing. So here’s the thing. At Common Ground you don’t need to believe to belong. You can just come as you are. Best decision you’ll ever make – comes with a built-in guarantee if you know what I mean. So my little pearl of wisdom for you is simply this – give yourself the space to come along, even if it’s just once. Or, if you’d prefer, take a read or a listen to the podcasts on www.commonground.co.za where you’ll also find all the different congregations in and around Cape Town and their meeting times. Oh, by the way, so many of my brides and grooms now have thriving, growing families. Maybe not 5 kids as yet, but you never know now do you. So mom’s and dad’s, you might want to check out Terran’s blog, which delivers outstanding reads and advice. Go here: http://thedaddude.com/
Now finally, I’m no statistician. Give me a calculator, ask me to add up some simple additions and 9 times out of 10 you’ll get different results (this is completely true). But for those of you who are more mathematically sound, try working this out: 21 years of weddings = a lot of weddings. Multiple a lot of weddings by number of wedding officers. Work out the probability of never seeing 1 x pastor over a lot of weddings by chances of bumping into that same pastor 4 times in an uncannily short timespan (in your calculation please factor in that not once ever have I had a wedding where the same marriage officer has been in attendance even twice in a row). My guess is that you won’t be able to work it out statistically, so I’ll give you the answer. It’s called a miracle.
See you on Sunday bro’s…