I really wish at least one of you was with me. Any one of you would have keeled over laughing at me. It will be impossible for me to do justice to my experience this morning, but I will try.
Some background… I am part of the Outreach and Engagement Team for IJM Ghana and last week we met with Reggie, an Anglican administrator and friend of the Anglican Bishop of Accra (and all-round cool guy with a heart for trafficked kids). Our meeting was to discuss a potential partnership between IJM and the Anglican Churches in Ghana for our work against child trafficking (slavery) here. In the meeting, Reggie asked me to preach at one of his churches on March 5th, in which I can also educate the congregation about the issue. To help me prepare, I attended the church this morning to learn the culture, style, format of the service, and something about the people so that I’m not going in blind next week when I preach.
Here’s where I went wrong…. I told them I was coming today. Big mistake. Reggie met me there at 8am during the latter part of the 6:15 service (they have two Sunday services, each runs 3 hours and 45 minutes!) and introduced me to the bishop and a host of others. Reggie then put me in their hands and said they would “take care of me.” Reggie left.
In between services, I was ushered into a clergy room where I was given a white cassock and a green stole to wear. Now, if you don’t already know this about me, you should know that I’m not from a very “High-Church” background. I’ve been a pastor for over 10 years and I’ve never worn a clergy robe. In fact, I’ve barely seen a pastor wear a robe since I was a kid. Well, now I was all decked out. I just went with it because they said “Wear this so you can sit with us.” Okay. No problem. Only, I found out later that my hosts believed I was an ordained Anglican clergyman (doh!) and they wanted me to help officiate the service. Problem. Big problem.
If you’re a low-church protestant (your church is casual and contemporary) or perhaps you don’t go to church and then you suddenly find yourself in a “High-Church” setting, you feel out of place. That happened to me a couple times in college when I went with some catholic fraternity brothers to Mass and I didn’t know when to stand up or sit down or whether I was supposed to take communion or not.
Well, picture that kind of situation, but now you’re all dressed up as an imposter Anglican Priest, you’re sitting in the front of a huge church with hundreds of people from another culture looking at you and then they expect you to help lead parts of the service!!! For 3 hours and 45 minutes!!!
What could I do? I was already in way too deep. I just had to roll with it. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that half the service was in a local language called “Ga”, which I obviously don’t know. Also, I was the only Obroni (white person) in the church, so I had no hope of blending in.
Allow me to share with you everything I muffed up in this service. They asked me to read the New Testament passage. I thought “No Problem!” This is something I know how to do! Problem. They wanted me to chant. I am not kidding. The presiding minister demonstrated for me how to chant the introduction to the reading- sort of half-singing-half-saying. There was no freaking way I could pull that off so I disappointed and surprised him by confessing I can’t chant. So when it was time, I spoke the introduction and read the scripture (marginally aware of a bunch of guys with candles standing around me) and sat down. I saw many awkward smiles. Apparently I “forgot” to do the incense. Apparently I was supposed to pick up the chain with smoking incense that they were trying to hand to me and consecrate the Bible before reading it.
Fast forward to later in the service, I was thrice (yes, 3) called to the middle of front to ceremonially pray over various things. If I understand correctly, I blessed the communion servers (that can’t be right thought because later I served communion), I blessed a newly-wed couple (I sure hope I got that right), and I blessed everyone with a Birthday in February. Well, that’s what I prayed anyway. I can’t guarantee it was appropriate. I was shown how to put my hands on each man’s head and each woman’s shoulders as I repeated the word that it sounded to me like the head guy was saying. Then lots of confusion about where I’m supposed to stand, when to kneel, etc.
Fast-forward to the Eucharist (in various traditions called Mass, Communion, Lord’s Supper)… They called me up to the altar and I realized it was to help consecrate the bread and wine. I knew I was way out of my element. I’ve done this a hundred times in my church in Davis, but that is a very simple process compared to this and I begged them to let me sit down and observe since I had only come to learn. They agreed. I sat, until they called me back up to serve it! They had me take it while they held the cup and poured way more than I was expecting down my throat. I may have gagged a bit because they asked me if I’m ok. Then after fudging my way through serving people around me, I was put in charge of distributing the wafers to everyone who came up to kneel. People opened their mouths and usually put out their tongues and I just started rapid-fire putting communion wafers on peoples’ tongues (a totally new experience for me). Some people held out their hands, but I was confused by this and decided to just stick a wafer in their mouths anyway and maybe skipped a couple of those. After about 10 of those confusing hands people, I learned that these were folks that wanted the wafer in their hands to dip it in the cup. Whoops! Turns out these were MY PEOPLE and I didn’t even know it.
After all of that, I am apparently still invited to preach next week. I hope Reggie breaks it to them that I’m not Anglican in some kind of tactful way so I can just preach next week and leave the rest to the professionals. Whew, that was a wild ride!
Before I close, I want to also share that there were things about the church that were wonderful. The service was beautiful, the people were awesome, and the traditions were inspiring. About half way through the service, the music changed to a more traditional African style and people started dancing. My favorite part was the offering. Picture long lines of Africans all dressed up in bright traditional clothing dancing and swaying and celebrating as they brought their offering down the aisles to lay before the Lord, whom they love and trust and adore. It was a beautiful sight to behold. I even found myself dancing…in my cassock.