Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Worship African Style

What was I thinking?

I messed up with today's post by over looking one of the most astounding worship services our congregation has ever had. So I'm posting a second set of words about it.  It was like summer was coming and they needed to throw in every idea anyone's had and left unused all year long.  Clearing the slate, so to speak, to get ready for low attendance while everyone goes on vacation, mission trips and camp during the summer.

I seriously doubt that was the case if only because we're not that organized at the First Presbyterian Church in Garland, Texas.  I like to think maybe God had a hand in it.  But it was a total hodgepodge of worship styles, a smorgasbord of all things spiritual. And a smashing success. We were limp afterwards.

For music we had the Kinder Choir of three, four & five year olds not only singing but banging on the marimba, sometimes with an older kid standing behind them to keep them from attacking each other with the mallets.  Then we had the adult bell choir giving us an unplanned 90 second intermission while someone ran to find one of the ringers who we found out later thought he had time to run out for some fried chicken to contribute to the pot luck lunch after worship. I really couldn't tell there was a note or two missing from the song, it still sounded great. I'm not a musical person.  Notes mean nothing to me. 

The worship service was billed as "Children's Chapel style" to show the congregation what we do when we take the kids out of the adult service. We're trying to move from the established Children's Story where one adult with a microphone tells a story to the kids who go back to their pew afterwards and have to sit still during the sermon.  What we've introduced to take it's place is Childrens Chapel and I am almost foaming at the mouth over how great this new idea is.

For one thing, we have a small chapel sitting right there across the Narthex that is the perfect size for the kids. The children start worship in the Sanctuary with their family.  They stay for the Passing of the Peace, music and other introductory activities.  When it comes time for the scripture reading, the kids gather at the Chancel and leave for the Chapel. There they do all the same things the adults are doing across the hall, they're just doing it all on their own level and with their own special energy.

They have a prayer of illumination, sing a song, read scripture from The Message, then have a sermon in the form of a skit, craft or discussion.  Then we have another song, write down names of people we want to pray for (the pieces of paper become our offering), say the Lords Prayer with motions and then go back to resume worship with their families. Everything is timed perfectly so the kids are ready to return to the Sanctuary just as the ushers take the offering up to the chancel.  And one of the kids walks with the adult ushers to take the Chapel offering. The first time I saw children usher in their offering alongside the adults I got it.  This is truly worship.

It is one of the most stupendous uses of children's energies and imagination that I've ever seen.

Last Sunday's sermon that we shared with the adults was a skit about when Jesus ascended to heaven and the disciples were left looking up at the sky.  We learned to look for Jesus, not in the clouds, but in everyday life. While we are waiting for Jesus we can help friends who are lost or share your lunch with someone who is hungry.

And, just in case you think the kids don't pay attention to anything in church, I couldn't remember a lot about the sermon just now and had to ask my grandkids who remembered it all, right down to the fine details.

However, last Sunday-- being our hodge-podge worship,  we had the most unusual offering ever in the mdist of this already new and different worship style.  Are you ready for me to describe it?  I'll wait while you get another cup of coffee. Rest up and fasten your seat belt.

We've had an influx of new members from Cameroon.  Cameroon, like Guatemala, has a strong Presbyterian presence, thanks to all those missionaries from years ago.  Most of our new members are first generation immigrants but multi-generations Presbyterians. Divine Kuja's father is a Presbyterian pastor.  Once Divine and Mercy Kuja and Rosa Befedi-Mengue became comfortable and accepted by our congregation they started inviting friends.  And the friends who were already worshipping at another church in Dallas found out that our church is closer to where they live so they've been moving their memberships to Garland.

The mission committee figured it was time to celebrate this event, get to know our new members better and see if there was a way we could establish a relationship with Presbyterians in Cameroon.  So we suggested collecting our offering "African style."  And the way they take up an offering to God in Africa is by singing and dancing up the aisles to bring their contribution.  They had been careful to wear traditional African robes on Sunday.  They don't always do that.  Mostly on special occasions like a baptism of one of their kids or a wedding or Easter.  But Sunday our Sanctuary was alive with bright colors and prints.  And dancing in the aisles.

The most interesting thing happened.  My staid Presbyterian "Frozen Chosen"  family saw how much fun the Africans were having dancing and  they wanted to dance up the aisles, too.  People who normally mail a check to the office once a month were scratching around for a bill or two that they could dance around and put in the plate. My granddaughter estimated the offering to be about three times the usual size.
The rest of church was kind of boring after that.  I turned to an old friend who was visiting after moving away a couple of years ago and told her to "come back soon because we're going to handle snakes next."    She asked me if she needed to bring her own snake but sounded game for anything we wanted to do next. I think we're on to something here.

Afterwards, we all went into Fellowship Hall for a potluck lunch with standard Presbyterian casseroles next to African dishes like fried plaintains and spicy chicken dishes.

We had a chance to talk to our new members and find out a little bit about them.  I can say "beautiful" in Lydia Tatang's language now.  I got to spend some time visiting with her daughter-in-law. I found out what Theresia does for a living.

The mainline denominations are in flux all over this nation. Some Presbyterian churches are dying out.  Some are merging with others when membership goes down. My congregation is one of the few to have grown in the last year.   God has entrusted us with a surprise ministry in some people from Africa.  And I think we're going to love it.        


Since I posted two sets of words today you might want to keep going to read about Water.    

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