Mystery Worshipper: Liturgist
Church: St Andrew's Cathedral
Location: Kasulu, Tanzania
Date of visit: Sunday, 6 April 2008, 9:30am
The cathedral is a large structure made of locally fired bricks, with large, unglazed windows and a corrugated iron roof. There is a free-standing bell tower near the west door. The interior is fairly plain except for brightly coloured fabric hung around the sanctuary. The altar is free-standing on the nave side of the sanctuary, with chairs around the walls and additional seats in the open area east of the altar. The choir sits in a section of one of the transepts, in choir stalls angled so that they also face the altar.
This and the local mosque are the principal religious institutions in the centre of the town – there are other churches in several of the nearby villages. The diocese also sponsors a secondary school and a Bible college near the cathedral.
Kasulu is a small town in the Kigoma region of western Tanzania, essentially bush country. The region is actually quite beautiful, with hills, rivers and evergreen forests. Although the town houses government and UN offices, and has a hotel and some modern guest houses, much of the population in the area still live at a subsistence level. There is no general electricity supply or proper roads. The residents of Kasulu depend heavily on agriculture. The town springs to life during the dry season (May to August) with several religious youth meetings and festivities, presumably because not much farming takes place at that time of the year.
The Rt Revd Gerard Mpango, Bishop of Western Tanganyika, was the celebrant, assisted by the Rt Revd Sospetre Ndemka, suffragan bishop, and about 30 priests and deacons whom I could not identify. This was a special event, the opening day of a diocesan clergy conference, and nearly all the clergy of the diocese (over 200) were present, vested and in procession. Nearly all the priests and deacons wore tippets and surplices (the deacons had the tippet over one shoulder as if it were a stole), though I did spot one stole and one alb with the tippet tucked into the girdle like a stole. Bishop Mpango wore full vestments in red with gold mitre; Bishop Ndemka wore rochet, red chimere, and red stole. Mrs Liturgist and I were there in a semi-official capacity – as a clergyman, I had been invited to give a presentation about missions, and Mrs Liturgist to help with developing the college library. At the last minute I was asked to preach at this service.
What was the name of the service?Ushirika Mtakatifu (Holy Communion).
How full was the building?
There was one empty seat in the back corner of the sanctuary, but the rest of the building was packed with people. Those who couldn't squeeze in stood in the doorways. The bishop estimated that about 2,500 people must have been present.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
All arrivals received a warm, friendly greeting.
Was your pew comfortable?
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
A bit noisy but with a reverent excitement about being there for worship.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
Kwa Jani la Baba, na la Mwana, na la Roho Mtakatifu. Amen (In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.) At least I think that was it; my Swahili is pretty limited.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
For the most part, none. The people seemed to know the hymns and service well enough to join in without books. Some brought their own prayer books. They use a local variant of an older Book of Common Prayer that incorporates elements from 1549, 1662, and, I think, the African liturgy that the late Leslie Brown put out when he was Archbishop of Uganda.
What musical instruments were played?
Keyboard, guitars, flutes and drums.
Did anything distract you?
In a way everything did – it was obviously Anglican but not your typical American or British service. However, the distractions were the type that drew my attention to the worship rather than away from it.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Happy, and even clappy, but not what I think of as "happy-clappy." Rather, it was very cheerful but also very well ordered. The worship was joyful, not stiff, but it was liturgical and did not seem to be taking many liberties with the prescribed forms. It was in Swahili, which I do not understand beyond a dozen or so words. The choir led the whole congregation in song throughout, except for one or two anthems. There were several songs scattered through the service, some traditional hymns in Swahili and others with a definite African flavour. In most cases the choir both sang and danced the hymns. The intercessions seemed to be essentially the prayer for the whole state of Christ's Church, and in the 1662 position, not spontaneous, but not rattled off. At communion nearly everyone received.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
29 minutes, including translation time.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
Since I was the preacher I will refrain from commenting. It was the first time I had ever used a translator, though, and it seemed to go very well.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The epistle reading was from 1 Peter 5 ("Elders, tend your flock. Flock, submit to your elders and cast your cares upon the Lord"). The Swahili word for "elder" is wazee; there is another word for old person that means, literally, "one who has eaten much salt." An elder may be old, but he is always experienced. Clergy should care for their charges in exactly the manner Peter prescribed.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The sheer enthusiasm of the people for Christ. This was especially evident at the offertory, when the whole congregation danced up to the front to make their offerings. Also, the choir dancing as they sang.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The language barrier made it impossible to participate fully – but Mrs Liturgist and I both felt immersed in the experience.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We couldn't avoid being caught up in the crowd.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none – just friendly conversation in the churchyard and, for me, a gathering with the other clergy.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – What a joy to be in a packed church of spirit-filled worshippers! But alas, this is not my home and I do not know the language.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The sheer joy of it all, and the opportunity that we both had to address thousands of Christians with a shared faith.