Church in the village

My introduction to church in the village (the Baptist church) was no small thing. The night before, Becky said church usually runs from around 10 to around 12, sometimes going a little over. What she hadn't counted on was taking a special collection for funds for a new church building AND communion. We got out of church shortly after 2:00.

The small, somewhat dilapidated church building was mostly full, mainly men on the left side, mainly women on the right, four benches facing the aisle at the front containing children on the right side, song leaders, drummers and sundry young adults on the left. There was a visiting pastor giving the message and a new person who was also in some sort of pastoral capacity, in addition to the regular pastor (as I understood it). A few deacons (I assume) also sat on the platform.

I was asked to stand and be introduced as a stranger to the group, so Mike mercifully did that for me. The service is all in pidgin English so I catch the drift of everything but am often at a loss as to what the better part of some utterances is supposed to mean.

The message (and the pastor!) was interesting. The preacher was quite adamant about giving God the best; criticizing the congregation for the condition of their building and also warning the people that they couldn't always expect others to do things for them. He referred to the work of the Scotts and the Friesens but I wasn't entirely clear on what he wanted the congregation to think about them.

Of all things, he also referred to styles of worship, even mentioning churches that project the words on a screen, and said the older members like songs from the songbook while the youth like lively music they can dance to. So, apparently it's not only the Western church which experiences The Great Music Debate.

At the end of his message on Exodus 35:1-25 and Proverbs 11:24&25 - from which he extracted "the secret": God blesses those who give freely, who have a willing heart - he held up an offering basket and asked for people to pledge to give astronomical amounts for the construction of a new church building. (Okay, I'm freely interpreting about the astronomical amounts. Not having spent much money yet myself, I don't comprehend the value of money here, but I suspect the numbers he was listing were pretty huge for villagers who mostly farm and don't have much actual currency lying around.) He persisted, slightly lowering the amount but asking for more givers till he'd given 4 offers and had a good portion of the congregation pledging.

I don't know enough about the culture here to know what to think about all this. For one thing, his ironclad promise about prosperity and his harsh statements about poverty being a choice seemed too simplistic and too much like the "prosperity gospel" for my comfort, but Mike and Becky seemed pretty happy with what he said, so maybe his words come across differently in this culture than in the one I'm used to. He certainly was encouraging agency and he castigated the person who prepared communion for not having thought of providing a cloth for wiping hands.

Communion. Yes, after a long (though fairly eloquent and even amusing at times) sermon and a protracted money appeal, and after the offering (the ladies trooped out of the building, hung around outside for a while, then trooped back in clapping and singing to deposit our offering, after which the men went up, without having gone outside), we had communion. The bread was the usual cut-up pieces of white bread and "the cup" was, of all things, (can you guess?) Coca Cola. Oh yes, the real thing. I was wondering what it would be as I looked at the cloth-draped communion table. I daresay I would not have guessed that, though on the other hand, I wasn't wildly surprised when it was revealed.

I can't remember whether it was immediately after the offering or at the end of the service, but another un-Western thing that happens regularly as part of the service is a short auction. Some people bring produce instead of money for the offering. The produce is then auctioned off to the higher bidder to take home and eat. Today there were 2 long pieces of sugar cane, 4 pieces of monkey kola and a bagful of coconuts (auctioned off one by one).

After the service, Mike told me the preacher is a teacher at the seminary in Kumba and one of the more well-spoken of the men I will hear in the village. Only ordained ministers may administer communion in the CBC and the regular pastor in the village is not, so this man gave communion to the village for the first time since May - which was the last time he was out. That explains why the building was fuller than usual.

Though I noticed it was running overtime, my rear was growing numb from the hard wooden bench, and the place was warming up from all the bodies, I never would have thought it was 2:00 at the end of it. So, though I might have asked for a more ordinary service for my introduction to the village, I survived quite all right.

Oh, I forgot to mention I was asked to pray! Yikes! In hindsight, I realize I probably should have stood to pray, and, of course, I'm sure I spoke too quickly, but surely you can't ask for much when I'm put on the spot like that and have no idea what the prayer before the sermon usually sounds like here.


Popular Posts