Friday, March 30, 2012

Preaching with the Bishop

As most of you know, I was ordained a priest by Bishop George Katwesigye of the Diocese of Kigezi  on behalf of my sending bishop, Archbishop Robert Duncan (bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh, and archbishop of ACNA). Occasionally, Bishop Katwesigye invites me to travel with him and preach when he visits a parish for confirmation.  (For my non-Anglican friends, "Confirmation," according to our catechism, "is the rite in which we express a mature commitment to Christ, and receive strength from the Holy Spirit through prayer and the laying on of hands by a bishop."  It is at this point a person is fully received into the church.)

I love these visits.  These are the times that I get to go "deep into the village" and encounter Ugandan life missed by most tourists, and even by those of us whose ministry keeps us focused in town. I also enjoy the closer interaction with the Bishop and some of his staff.

In the photos that follow, I would like to bring you along on one visit that I enjoyed toward the end of last year.

When the Bishop arrives, we always stop several hundred yards
from the church. Drums play in the distance, banners hang, and
a Boys' Brigade strikes up the band with off-key brilliance.
After we are greeted by the leaders of the church and community,
we process between rows of people clapping and singing and waving.
The Bishop smiles and nods and greets and chats as we slowly make
our way to the parish priest's home.

The two choppy video clips below capture some of this joyful reception.
Be sure you notice the beauty of both the people and the countryside.
In the second clip, watch for the drummers in the background. These drums
will be at every church, either suspended from trees or set up on poles.

Upon arriving at the house of the parish priest, the wife
of the priest or one of his children will pour water
over our hands so we can wash in preparation for breakfast.
Breakfast will be tea, bread, chicken, bananas, g-nuts
(peanuts), and other food. They eat a lot at this breakfast,
knowing the service could be very long and lunch far away.
The congregation waits outside, and you can hear the singing
and drumming continue.

After breakfast and thanking the host, we go into a room and
"vest" -- put on our clerical robes.  Outside the house we pray,
then proceed as group to the church.

On most confirmation Sundays, the church is overflowing with
people. Today, well over 700 people are in attendance; many
of them are sitting outside.  They have come from miles around,
some having begun to walk early in the morning so that they can
be here on time. 

The building itself is simple; the streamers you see in this photo are
the only decorations to add a festive air to the occasion. Their joy,
singing, and dancing will provide the rest.
I haven't had the opportunity to get to know other bishops here,
but I do see how Bishop Katwesigye genuinely loves his people,
and is loved by them. His authority is clear and undisputed, yet
his people are at ease with him, and humor and warmth are part
of his interaction, even at formal occasions.

What was unique on this particular occasion, and very touching for
me, is that this time the Bishop introduced me as his "son."
On this Sunday, the Bishop confirmed over 500 people.  That's
right, he laid hands on over 500 people, praying for each one.
They were young and old, men and women, new converts and
long baptized Christians.
Do you see the guy in the middle with his arms raised? He's
dancing.  The Bakiga have a very vigorous dance that includes
stomping and jumping very, very high.  Usually the air is filled
with the dust raised by stomping, dancing, and jumping. I now
know what people mean when they say, "The joy was palpable!"
After confirmations, the joy was palpable in that place. Maybe
you can sense it in the next clip.

And, yes, somewhere in the midst of all this, a muzungu preaches.
Before me here is my Bible, a Book of Common Prayer in Rukiga,
and the order of the service.  It has taken a while for me to
"find my voice" in this culture, preaching in an altered accent and
pace so that I am understood, and collaborating with an interpreter.
(The interpreter for today was a former student of mine, which made
the experience easier and more fun.)

I have come to a place of excitement when I preach. The Lord has
been so faithful consistently to give me a clear word to speak to the
people, a message coming from Scripture through time and culture,
that now I look forward to what he is going to say and do this time.
One of my favorite roles as a priest is serving
the bread and wine to the people. I love seeing and
serving the body of Christ this way (double-entendre intended).
Faces and eyes that are joyful, weary, amused, confused, blank,
worn, hopeful...  All of them come, and all open their hands to
receive the grace we all need and find in Jesus.

This time, rather than serving from the altar rail, my interpreter and I
went down among the people to one of the doors, serving the people who
who were standing outside. Both amuse and saddened, I watched as people
shoved and elbowed their way past others so they could be served by
the muzungu priest.

In the next video clip, you get to hear some women singing a song
they composed just for this day.  At the end of the service, different
groups of people, adults and children, sing songs, dance, and recite
Scripture and poetry as gifts to the Bishop.

The people also bring monetary gifts in envelopes to give to others
who participate in the service. It's humbling, but I am one of the
recipients -- the widow's mite put into the hands of the muzungu
to say 'thank you.'  This time, however, the envelopes were not
addressed to "Muzungu Rev.", but to "The Bishop's Son."

Five (yes, five!) hours later we recess out of the church and back
down to the house of the priest.  No, it's not over yet.  Time for
lunch!  Immense amount of food, followed by sodas, followed by
obushera, a local drink made from fermented sorghum.  I try to
refuse the latter, but the Bishop always insists I drink it, both to
honor the culture and because it helps with digestion. I comply,
but have learned that I can mix it with Stoney (a soda a bit like
ginger ale) to make it more palatable.

After the meal, there are a series of brief speeches appreciating both
the guests and the host.  We then wash our hands again, and give our final
farewells.  The drums start up, and we process out to the Bishops car,
and begin the journey home.


Peggy Ralston said...

Thank you Fr Hines for sharing what you are doing over in Africa with us. I really enjoyed seeing the clips of the local people and hearing their beautiful sing

Shea Geisbert said...

this is awesome, Travis. Thanks for sharing. our prayers are with you guys!

Shea and Eric

Hines Family said...

Thanks, Peggy, Shea and Eric!