It started with having to get up at 5AM this morning because the first worship at the Bishop’s cathedral in Tukuyu at which I was to preach began at 7AM, and its about 45 miles from here. I don’t know of any Lutheran church in the USA that starts worship that early in the morning and if it did it probably would be for the few faithful that really cannot imagine a Sunday without having gone to church.It would a quiet service at home; some liturgy, not too much singing for the few that are there; a subdued meditative thing. Not so in Tukuyu! In Tukuyu, the place was packed by the time the stragglers were seated 10 minutes into the service. Packed with people ready to hear, clap, shout and show that they were awake and ready to engage God.
And it wasn’t just the pastors, Randy and I and God’s people who were there to do this. Three of 5 of the choirs that church can boast about were lined up to sing, dance and make a joyful noise unto the Lord. And did they ever! The biggest choir came in its uniforms because they were raising funds for themselves in order to make a video cd for sale. They had rehearsed some special numbers complete with bright accompaniment, choreographed movements and a heck of a lot of enthusiasm. They absolutely filled the space with their voices and their bodies. But what really knocked my socks off was that the youth choir was also present and ready to rock and roll…in church…at 7AM in the morning! Show me a church back home where that happens when it’s not a lock-in or a special youth event, but the regular schedule of the kids.
The service lasted a little over two hours. There was liturgy, choirs singing, me preaching, Dr. Mwankenja translating, the choir fundraising, parish announcements, and two offerings, one before the sermon and one after. And let me not forget to tell you that it may be the bishop’s cathedral, but one of the in-kind offerings was a rooster (live), it’s bottom packed in a plastic bag and unceremoniously placed under the altar for the blessings by the offering ushers. It went for a lot of money at the after-service auction in front of the church and I hoped that no one would place a bid on it for me, because as the guest of honor I had already been gifted with a men’s shirt (fits Randy) and two fresh eggs. I told Dr. Mankenja that any produce coming Randy’s and my way was going to his house and that is where the eggs are now. He himself bid on watermelon, pumpkin greens, sugar cane and a couple of other things and I think I knew what we are having for supper tonight.
There was a little break between the end of the first and the start of the second service and the kind people of the church had prepared a full breakfast for us in one of the offices. They do this every Sunday for the clergy and helpers so they have strength for these amazing marathon worships and it was indeed wonderful (and necessary) to tank up on coffee and calories before we did it all over again at the 10AM service with 3 choirs (2 new ones and the one fundraising), another round of gathering support for the singers amid much joking and laughter, me preaching, being gifted with a beautiful piece of fabric, dancing with the choir draped in cloth, and the pastor of the cathedral finally getting out of his chair at almost 1PM to shut down the talkers and end the service. More auction and finally it was time to call it a morning and go for lunch, but only after Randy played the video of the organ one more time that is on the container and going to Tukuyu.
And lest I forget, no one allowed us to leave without first piling on some more gifts: several pounds of tea from the local plantation, another shirt for Randy, a dress for me and a framed photo of the cathedral for St. Paul’s. I was overwhelmed by the generosity. These are rural people, poor people, people who have to bring eggs and watermelons and sugar cane and chickens to the church as an offering because they don’t have any money. And yet they thought it was important to shower us with all of that. Maybe it takes being in the presence of God for three hours at a stretch and worship not just with your head and heart but with your entire body to learn and grasp this kind of generosity and grace. Maybe you need to dance and sing in God’s presence until your whole self feels addressed. Maybe. What I know is that I didn’t go to church today. I worshiped.