Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Sundays in Uganda

Sarah and I with Collins from whom 
we have learned so much about ministry
The first service is at 7.15 am, and it's the most well attended of three.  Although very few people are there when it starts other than the worship band and choir.  Even the clergy arrive a bit late.

We process in during a rousing rendition of 'The River' by Brian Doerksen.  I barely knew this song before I heard it in Emmanuel Cathedral but it's a great start to a service.  We line out to reverence the altar together - the provost, vicar, Sarah and I, and the readers.  In fact, no one really walks past without a quick bow - worship leaders, ushers, wardens.  Ugandans know how to do Anglicanism in this respect.  Everybody's a bit of everything when it comes to churchmanship here.  Lightly charismatic worship with uplifted hands, evangelical approach to the Bible, liberal social concern for the world outside, and catholic reverence for the Holy Communion that's set up.  And vestments.  Lots of vestments!

Rev. Collins keeps me right
The service is from the new liturgies of 'Come and Worship'.  It's not a million miles away from Morning Prayer in the Church of Ireland, but fewer canticles.  They project it onto a screen at the front, and the congregation (filling up by now, maybe several hundred) look like they believe every word of what they're saying.  It's essentially a prayer book service, but it doesn't feel like one because people look up and look enthusiastic.

Just a short sermon.  Thirty minutes or so.

Leading morning worship
from 'Come and Worship'
As the service continues, wardens bring bottles of Rwenzori mineral water to us.  One sits on the altar alongside the bread and wine.  What would they say if I set up a bottle of Evian on the communion table at home?

Leaders slip seamlessly in and out of the liturgy, engaging the congregation naturally and warmly but with no frothy blah-blah-blah.  A massive mic floats around as clergy and others share out the service, dropping out every few sentences as batteries run low.  But to compensate, the keyboard, guitars and drums are hooked up to an amp and PA system so as to reverberate across the greater West Nile region.  It's about decibels rather than clarity!

There's a measure of comfort in a hand-held mic when preaching.  By now, there were close to a thousand people in the cathedral.  My biggest congregation yet, probably ever.  What could I say to these people that would connect, relate?  Oh well, give'em a few words in the local language.  Yesu ru ma ovo inzizaro!  (Jesus' name be praised!)  They laughed.  OK so I butchered their language ... but they laughed.

I take the cash ...
The offertory is a sight to behold.  It's not really a cash economy, and rather than put a couple of grand into the collection bags (several thousand Ugandan shillings isn't that much), some bring a 'hand' of bananas, a basket of mangoes or a goat.  The goats offered were not sacrificed, you'll be relieved to know, but were 'offered' so they could be sold for church funds.  Or provide clergy with some milk or failing that some meat, as part of a stipend. 

... but the provost receives the goat!
Then the Eucharist.  To avoid the spread of HIV or hepatitis, it's administered by intinction (dipping), which I prefer by far to using a thousand tiny cups.  The wafers are made mainly of rice flour, so coeliac moi can even join in!

Holy Communion service

Many bow low as they receive the bread and wine.  They have a high regard for the sacrament here.  But one man gets onto his hands and knees and practically crawls towards us.  He's wearing a white suit, he looks rather well-to-do, and generally it's lower class people who bow the lowest.  Later, I ask about this man.  He was a general in Idi Amin's army.  He did a lot of bad things.  He bows so low because he feels so penitent.  I don't know what to make of all this.

Holy Communion service

It's hot under a surplice.  When at last we recess out into the sunshine and back to the vestry, I neck a couple of bottles of water.  And they serve us breakfast.  Why did we have those mangoes this morning?  Milky chai, groundnuts, boiled eggs, bread.

Another two services back to back, after which second brunch and then lunch will be served.  Each service will last a couple of hours or thereabouts.  The record was 3.5 hours (a Lugbara language service, by the way, so we didn't understand much of it!)
In the vestry, so eating lunch number ...
actually, who's counting?

While all this is going on, there are a thousand Sunday School kids, divided into five classes.  We were invited into a class one week to teach them the story of the prophet Samuel anointing a new king from Jesse's sons.  That was a real highlight of the three weeks!  As you can see from the photo, I was really getting into enthusiastic narrator mode, while some of the children acted out the scene.

Jesse said, 'Look how big and strong this son of
mine is.  Surely he should be king!'
Liveliest Sunday School class I've
ever taught!

After a lunch in the vestry, there might be a last-minute invitation to a wedding anniversary reception.  Meaning another lunch!  Otherwise, it was home about half three for a quick rest and some preparation for the next working day.  Which started at 7 am!

Zzzzzz said the mosquitoes.  Lights out, mosquito net tucked in, and before long at all we couldn't hear the bats drop fruit on the tin roof any more because we were zonked and fast asleep.

Recessional hymn after the Lugbara
service (#3)

Last day in Arua with my mentor,
Uber-Pastor Collins

What a congregation of 1000 looks like leaving church. 

Monday, 26 May 2014

Weekdays in Uganda

‘Did you have a nice time in Uganda?’

What do you say?  Where to start?  It was amazing. 

Sarah and I have just finished a three week placement in Madi West Nile diocese.  We were attached to Emmanuel Cathedral in Mvara, just outside Arua.  It’s a short drive from the Congo border, and not that much further the other way to South Sudan. 

It’s green.  Really green.  The BA flight there took us over places you hear about on the news: Benghazi, the Darfur Mountains, Juba.  When we flew over the Mediterranean coast of North Africa, it looked like cloud, or maybe the Arctic, underneath us.  The polar landscape turned lunar as the ground turned white to grey, before the dust turned to golden Saharan sand.  And it went on and on.  For hours.  The time it took to cross Europe was roughly what it took to cross this cosmos of sand dunes.  Massive.  And empty.  Often you fly over remote places, but there’s always a light somewhere.  A few houses in the Atlas Mountains or some sign of human civilization in the middle of Turkey.  But in the Sahara and across much of Sudan, there was nothing. Just sand.

It seemed immediate, when we entered Ugandan airspace, that the ground below us was suddenly verdant.  Welcome to the Pearl of Africa.

After a rest day in Entebbe on the shores of Lake Victoria, we flew Eagle Air to Arua.  After just an hour, the ten-seater descended over lush forest and the River Nile, and landed at the airstrip (there’s no airport building).  Arua town is a chaotic, bustling place, a mainly Muslim centre full of traders and traffic from neighbouring countries.  
Mvara Road mainly frequented by boda-bodas (moto-taxis)

Out the other side is Mvara, a semi-rural ‘holy acre’ of Anglican activity surrounded by traditional straw-thatched huts and rich agricultural land.  If you spit an apple pip into the ground here, you’ll have an orchard in no time.

But khat grows easily here too, a shrub whose leaves induce euphoria, loved by Saudi youth who import it as well as local young people who chew it to escape everyday boredom.

We were taken to the Diocesan Centre to meet the provost of the cathedral, our clergy mentors Alice and Collins, and other staff.  It was our first experience of Ugandan hospitality.  The secretary made tea, and bowed almost to the floor as she announced she was going to pray before we served ourselves.  Then she came to me with a jug of water and a bowl for me to wash my hands.  I’ve done this before in an Ethiopian restaurant, thought I.  But my quick rub and rinse wasn’t good enough, I was told.  So I was given a second chance to wash my hands thoroughly.  Hmmm so it’s not a ceremonial thing.

After the chai (the tea was made with hot milk and lots of sugar) we were supposed to go to our house, unpack, rest and maybe have some preparation time.  But we were about to learn how the next week would pan out.  Can you come to a Fathers’ Union service at 4?  Can you give a short message?  A sermon of about 15 minutes?

There’s only one answer to that when you’re on a placement and trying to make a good impression. 

The day starts early in Africa: sunrise seen from our kitchen
Many work days started at 7 am.  African life starts early.  The alarm went at six, just in time for a spectacular sunrise and a breakfast of bananas and mangoes.  The latter were in season, abundant and just falling off trees everywhere you looked. 

The next week was a gruelling schedule, as we tried to fit in as many school visits as possible before the holidays.  So we visited primary schools.  A delight.  And vocational training schools, for tailors, mechanics and others.  Wonderful.  A teacher training college.  Everywhere we went, we were treated like royalty.  Like Wills and Kate, we were driven to each scheduled place, paraded in to roaring applause, and sat at the front where we were bigged up before being invited to speak.

We never failed to marvel at the behaviour of the children.  There’s no way in Ireland hundreds of kids would behave so well.  Their school assemblies involved some crazy dancing, enthusiastic praise and worship.  The kids moved as one, like the whole school were one organism.  
An active listening story: show me your terrified face!

The highlight?  When I visited the sick and administered Holy Communion by extension.  In one morning, we took the sacrament to a sample of ten homes around the cathedral where there were sick and bed-ridden parishioners.  Some were old and immobile; some were barely aware of anyone in the room and had to receive the sacrament spoon-fed with help from a relative.  Some were in mud huts.  All welcomed me in like an honoured guest and offered hospitality in the form of chai or millet porridge.  

Just a small portion for me please, I've already
eaten several times!
I've never experienced hospitality like it.  We soon realized we didn't need to plan lunch.  Everywhere we went we got boiled eggs, groundnuts and milky drinks.  And the 'roast dinner' of Northern Uganda ... we had that a few times a day!  For special occasions like receiving a guest (as well as weddings, farewells, anniversaries), it's a gut-busting, high-carb feast.  You start with a big slice of enyasa, a sort of porridge made with millet.  Then there are potatoes, rice, beans, spinach, cabbage, meat and chicken.  Every part of the animal and bird, nothing wasted.

Ever seen The Vicar of Dibley Christmas Special?  The one where she has to eat four Christmas lunches?  One day, we had that rather heavy meal five times (Sarah had it a sixth)!  I learned that clergy are offered a lot of food and need tactics to decline some politely.

There isn't much to do after dark in Africa.  We were asleep by 8.30 most evenings, safely tucked under the mosquito net, with only the sound of the bats dropping fruit from the trees above our tin roof.  Resting up for the next day.  

Well, that's what happened on weekdays.  Next time, the marathon Sunday services!  

Zzzzzzz.  Not us.  The mosquitoes.