Worship is always a unique experience… whether it’s at Polson UMC in Montana, East Heights UMC in Kansas, at the Subway Sandwich Shop in Polson, at Flathead Lake Camp, at Horizon United Methodist Camp, on Notch Mountain looking out at Mt. of the Holy Cross, at the opening session of the World Methodist Council in Seoul Korea, in China, in Reynosa Mexico, in Pital Costa Rica, at the opening session of General Conference, at Quest Church in Seattle, at Mars Hill in Grand Rapids, or at Jacob’s Well in Kansas City… worship is always unique, it is always (in some way) infused with the spirit of God, and it is always a reflection of the people and the context in which it is created and celebrated. I’m blessed to be able to add a few African worship experiences to my list.
While in Angola, we worshipped at the Central United Methodist Church in Malanje, at the United Methodist Church in Kimbamba, with the Course of Study students out at the Quessua Mission Station, and during the graduation ceremony of the Course of study Students. Each worship experience was unique and enlightening in its own way…
• Central United Methodist Church of Malanje ~ Two days after our arrival, we were treated to our first Angolan worship experience. I remember Alcides, one of our hosts, telling us that there would be three parts… announcements, singing, and a time of teaching… he also told us to expect worship to last about two hours. Announcement time offered up a wide variety of ‘announcements… the announcements varied from ministry announcements to the introduction of special guests (including the three of us and a retired East Angolan Bishop), as well as a unique time for those who had ‘been away from the church’ to talk about their return and why they hadn’t been around. Interwoven throughout worship were many musical offerings… congregational singing, the main choir, a men’s choir, a women’s choir, and a children’s choir all took a moment to share their musical gifts… lots of music and lots of dancing.
On one occasion, following introduction and a word of grace, the congregation sang a favorite song of the retired Bishop who was attending with his family. Multiple offerings were collected during worship… we had several opportunities to make an offering for the musical celebration as well as one main offering for the church. The sanctuary was filled to capacity and the worship space was filled with the noises of life that surrounded the church complex… from the chickens on the church grounds and the young children singing outside during what seemed to be Sunday School time, to noises of street activity and the neighboring apartment complex, our senses were enlightened as we engaged the spiritual practice of worship.
• Kimbamba United Methodist Church ~ Prior to our arrival, we asked if it would be possible to attend Sunday morning worship in a more rural location. Many locations were considered, but ultimately the church in Kimabamba was chosen. Kimbamba is about 23 kilometers, or 14 miles north of Malnje. The trip took about an hour as our caravan navigated the washed out dirt road and made our way through several small communities.
If my memory serves me correctly, the original structure was built in 1968 and destroyed in 1998 during the civil war… the congregation is currently meeting for worship in a small building adjacent to the original sanctuary. We were accompanied to Kimbamba by three district superintendants and about 15 women from the Central Church in Malanje, several of which were riding in the back of the truck we were in, and who provided processional music and a few musical offerings during worship. Following a short time of picture-taking, meeting, and greeting people, we were called to worship by gentleman calling the village in through the ringing of the church bell (a three foot section of railroad rail). Worship lasted a few hours and included many of the elements that we had experienced at the Central Church in Malanje. During our worship time in Kimbamba, Jeremy was afforded an opportunity to preach on the topic of discipleship, through the book of Acts, while Kristen translated in Spanish… most of which appeared to be understood by the primarily Portuguese speaking congregation. Following worship, and an hour or so of down time, the community brought tables from their houses and hosted a meal for us in the worship space. For me, our time in Kimbamba was one of the highlights of my entire journey… the worship was enlightening and the people were amazing.
• Course of Study Morning Worship at Quessua ~ On one occasion, we had an opportunity to join Rev. Andre Cassule out at Quessua for morning worship with the course of study students. While this gathering was devotional in nature it was every bit as spirited as the other worship gatherings we attended and it reminded me of a lot of chapel time back at Saint Paul School of Theology during my seminary days.
During worship each of the three of us were able to address the group through a short greeting and were then treated to a time of teaching from one of the students who taught about the nature of tithing and talked enthusiastically about people ‘making change’ in the offering plate... putting in a large bill and pulling out a smaller bill… "Stealing from God!!" as he communicated it. Many of the course of study students participate in the supplemental salary program, so our time with them on this and other occasions was invaluable.