Sunday, July 21, 2013

Africa Day 2: ER-D in Ghana

Enough incense to occlude my view of the celebrant. Bow-tie-clad, burgundy-cape-wearing acolytes genuflecting in unison. Women in elaborate dresses. Men n full-throated song. Worship this morning was a little familiar and a lot new.

A fellow pilgrim and I went by taxi to the Anglican Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity. Our driver didn't speak much English, so we started out at a different cathedral but eventually made our way to the right church. We arrived as the procession made its way down the aisle--20 people in various states of clerical dress. And I got the impression that this was a typical Sunday.

We sang more hymns than I've ever sung in a service before. The bulletin listed 16 of them, plus canticles, plus songs not in the hymnal. The service lasted 3 hours, but it felt more like 90 minutes. Still, 90 minutes leaves room or lots of worship. And you wouldn't believe what you can pack in to 180 minutes.

At one point during the service--I think it was after the traditional Eucharistic prayer said eastward-facing and the Prayer of Humble Access and the Agnus Dei and the "Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof..." saide in triplicate--that I turned to my neighbor and said, "This is like Rite I on steroids."

Yet at another point in the service, the bass guitar, drums, and synthesizer keyboard cranked up while everyone in the church danced down the aisle to put their offering in a bucket. (Video to come later). In front of the church were 8 buckets--Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc. plus a bucked labelled "Tithe." It turns out that people put their offering in the bucket with the day of their birth on it. It took me a while to remember that I was born on a Monday, and, by the time I did, it was too late. 

Overall, it was a strange combination of tradition and innovation--Anglicanism and African culture. It was a decidedly Anglo service. (We all chanted the Te Deum and the Gloria and the Benedictus from memory.) And it was a decidedly African service. (My neighbor and I were the only white faces in a congregation of 250+.) Maybe there's something to learn from that.

The word I would use to describe the experience is "lively." It moved. It danced. It took the participant to another place and left us wanting more. Yet it was historic and overwhelmingly traditional. That a balance can be struck between modern and old, colonialist and indigenous, is remarkable. Perhaps there's a way to strike a balance between  familiar and other that gives life to all.

1 comment:

  1. That's what we did at St. John's this morning: a 3 hour service with lots of incense and dancing. Foster loved it... In all seriousness, this sounds like a wonderful, worshipful experience. Can't wait for the video.