A day at church


In Tanzania, no one is eager to return home from church for NFL kickoff or a coveted brunch reservation.  Church is the main event, and it is an all-day affair.  Last Sunday, Elizabeth and I accompanied three other American missionaries to Mvumi Makulu, a large, relatively prosperous village about an hour’s drive from campus over bumpy dirt roads.  This was our first real immersion into African Christianity, and it was certainly an exciting experience.  This particular Sunday was a special day, since the parish priest, Father Daniel, was leaving his post to come to Msalato to study for his Bachelor’s Degree.  The service lasted well over four hours.

Before the service, we were welcomed into Fr. Daniel’s home for chapati (a traditional, delicious flat bread) and tea.  Village children were continually peeking in the door trying to get a glimpse of us without us noticing.  When we caught their eyes, they would bolt away giggling.  Later, when we were taking pictures, the children all pushed their way to front trying to get into the picture.  Since mirrors are rare, our digital cameras offered some of them the first glimpses they had ever seen of themselves.

From the very beginning of the service, music and dance took center stage.  Since it was Fr. Daniel’s last day, choirs from all five of the churches in his parish attended.  With so many people, the service had to be held outdoors.  Women’s choirs and youth choirs took turns performing lively song and dance.  Every song told a story, though we didn’t usually understand them.  The service was in Swahili, and much of the music was in Chigogo, the language of the local tribe, the Wagago.  Almost everyone in attendance participated with some form of music or dance.

The service featured a liturgy of the Word, three infant baptisms, a sermon, and an hour-long going away ceremony for Fr. Daniel.  Parishioners brought forward gifts for the journey, including sugar, flour, colorful cloths, and a half-filled bottle of cologne – whatever each person could afford.  Groups danced their way forward, greeting Fr. Daniel and his wife, some of them several times. The western missionaries weren’t exempt!  It was a joyous and celebratory occasion.   Afterward, we were welcomed as the guests-of-honor for a meal of beef stew and rice.

For the next year, we will be attending parish churches with our students.  It seems we have a lot to look forward to!

Most photos of the church service are by Magi Griffin, a missionary from Atlanta working for the Diocese of Central Tanganyika.  Thank you, Magi!


Author: Benjamin Locher

Benjamin Locher grew up with his parents and two younger brothers in Johnstown, Pa, about an hour and a half east of Pittsburgh. He graduated from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., with a degree in government and a minor in Information Systems. It was there that he met and fell in love with his joyful, sweet, beautiful and a only a slight-bit crazy red-headed wife, Elizabeth. They met at the Canterbury Episcopal Ministry and first really got to know each other during a mission trip to Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic. After graduating, Ben worked as an Information Technology consultant for CGI Federal in Fairfax, VA and then as a web developer for the action-tank American Solutions, in Washington D.C. Today, he works for SRA International as a web developer at the General Accountability Office, a wing of the U.S. Congress. Ben is a member of St. Paul’s Parish on K Street in Washington, DC, where he is an altar server and ward secretary of the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament. He is looking forward to the chance to get out of his comfort zone and share the love of Christ in a more particular way, though he is wondering if his deadpan sarcasm will translate into Swahili!

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