Sunday, March 11, 2007

A joyful noise

For today's Sunday worship we were given a selection of 10-15 local parishes and asked to choose one to attend. Boy, did I make the right choice! Twenty or so of us boarded a bus to the township of Tembisa, about an hour's drive from the conference center, to attend services at The Church of the Holy Name. It's a poor township, with dusty roads and lean-to shacks and roadside stands selling chips and Coca Cola.

We were quite a collection of pilgrims - 4 bishops (Panama, Micronesia, 2 from Brazil) and an assortment of clergy and plain-old-folks from Canada, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Tanzania, Brazil, and the United States. As we entered the church, we were ushered right up front, people waving and grabbing our hands. Such an outpouring of affection for strangers!

Among our number was Fr. Michael Lapsley, who lost both hands and an eye in a letter bomb attack in 1990 and founded the reconciliation group The Institute for Healing of Memories. In a gloriously impromptu manner, Fr. Michael was called on to preach, because the church's rector said that he couldn't possibly preach with Michael in the congregation. As told the story of his move to South Africa in the 1970s and the struggles with apartheid, an energetic woman translated his sermon into Sesotho (I think). She gave it all she had, using big hand motions and facial expressions - added enormously to the already amazing story that unfolded.

And the music! How can I adequately share the music of the day with you? Well, hear a little of it for yourself. (Please forgive the lousy video. I was trying to be unobtrusive in the worship service with my little digital camera.) Lots of call and response, heavenly harmonies, dancing, moving, clapping. Only one song was in English - the Prayers of the People responses, with the rest in local dialects. Whenever the song leader called out a hymn, she'd give hymnal pages for Zulu, Afrikaans, English, Sesotho, and about three other languages. People seemed to be singing in one dialect, but I guess you could choose which way you wanted to go with it.

The service lasted about 2 hours and 45 minutes, but let me tell you, the time flew by. I have been to much shorter services that seemed to last a lifetime. Not this one. There was too much to experience for even a moment's boredom.

If you ever, ever get the chance to experience an African church service, do yourself a favor and do it. I wish our churches made strangers feel so welcome and so energized. It was exhausting, but heavenly.


Liz said...

Wonderful, so spontaneous and natural. Uninhibited, lost in wonder. What an experience!

Elsie said...

Absolutely glorious, Mary. I bet the people there will be forever in your heart.

MaryB said...

Thanks, Liz and Elsie! Yes, an amazing, never-to-be-forgotten experience.