Two things that are quite different about church life here in Sudan, as compared to the U.S., are the numbers and the stewardship. Our churches in the US typically do not have very large congregations. Here in Sudan a typical parish will have 300 to 400 in attendance at the main church and at least an equal number at various chapels that are part of that parish. A typical confirmation class will have 25 to 35 confirmands each year. The Cathedral parish regularly has 800 to 900 in attendance at two services and has ten chapels with a more than equal number in attendance each Sunday. Three weeks ago some 83 adults and youth were presented for confirmation. If the numbers in attendance are high the number of dollars or Sudanese pounds that are given in support of the church is low. This is mostly due to the fact that most people here have very little cash. They are subsistence farmers and literally live from farm field to mouth. Every Sunday a table is put out in the middle of every church with a basket or bowl on it. During the singing of one of the hymns those making an offering come forward and very publically place a paper bill or two (they have no available coinage) in whatever vessel has been placed out. Most people put in a one or two pound note which is equivalent to 34 or 68 cents. Which is a lot given the fact that they have no cash. Some do not put in anything. There are no yearly pledges, no offering envelopes, no quarterly statements and no giving by check.
Most Sudanese, like most Americans, give to support the church because they think it “the thing to do.” rather than trying to return to God a tithe of all they have been given out of a sense of heart-felt thanksgiving . Sudanese, like many American Episcopalians, give very generously of their time although their time gifts often take a very different form. Things that U.S. churches typically would pay professionals or laborers to do are often done by church members. Yesterday, for instance, 84 men and women dug two foot deep “foundation trenches” for a home that they are building for their bishop, Samuel Peni. They worked for three hours in the very hot sun with picks, hoes and shovels. At the same time 17 youth turned up to mix cement and make large and very heavy concrete blocks for this construction project.nday a table is put out in the middle of every church with a basket or bowl on it. During the singing of one of the hymns those making an offering come forward and very publically place a paper bill or two (they have no available coinage) in whatever vessel has been placed out. Most people put in a one or two pound note which is equivalent to 34 or 68 cents. Which is a lot given the fact that they have no cash. Some do not put in anything. There are no yearly pledges, no offering envelopes, no quarterly statements and no giving by check.
Clergy and lay leaders in the Church here in Sudan are treated with far greater respect and honor than in the U.S. Special seats are set aside at all worship services at the front of the church for the Bishop, his wife, diocesan staff and visiting clergy and lay leaders. Before any announcements, a sermon or a talk is given the person talking specifically acknowledges the presence of any clerical or lay leaders that are present. When a visiting Bishop or important visitor arrives they are very typically met by a large group of waiting persons who are waving palm leaves, clapping and singing songs of welcome. At the conclusion of a worship service the first persons to leave the church building are always the preacher, officiant, lay readers,
the bishop, his wife, and various diocesan staff. When the bishop enters a room all rise and when he is approached people typically bow deeply, take his hand and touch their foreheads to or kiss his hand. All of these customs are NOT examples of rampant clericalism run amok but rather of the deep honor and respect that people have for their lay and clerical leaders.
Significant lay participation in Sudanese church life is a given. In the U.S. the clergy are typically called on to offer a prayer at church or family functions. In Nzara, by contrast, lay leaders are often without any kind of warning asked to offer prayer before meals, in the midst of worship services or on special occasions. It is assumed that all church members can pray aloud, without any kind of written prayers to rely on and with a certain degree of fluency. At the Morning Prayer service at the cathedral lay leaders, not clergy, are the most frequent preachers and leaders of worship. It should, perhaps, also be noted that when we speak of lay and clergy leaders that those terms are inclusive of both men and women. Most priests and lay leaders are men but it is a rare occasion when women clergy or lay leaders do not “up front.”
Many Sudanese priests have very limited education. It is not at all unusual to find clergy who have only finished five or six years of primary school and one year of a bible college. Most U.S. Episcopal clergy have at least finished 19 years of formal educational instruction. Church life here has been disrupted by over 40 years of on and off civil war. Many Sudanese have had to flee their homes and live in the bush or in a neighboring country. Any opportunity they might have had for primary and secondary education much less seminary has often been minimal. Less educated priests are frequently assigned to smaller congregations or act as assistants to better educated clergy Better educated priests who have a knowledge of English and a Bachelor of Divinity Degree may be ordained but find it impossible to support their families due to the fact that priests in Nzara receive no cash salary. They would typically have a mud brick/thatch roofed hut provided for housing and some food is harvested for their use from a previouslparish garden partially maintained by parishioners but no salary. These priests frequently find that they can get very well paying jobs in the government, at an NGO, or in business so they often moonlight at these other jobs or give up any church position entirely. Diocesan staffs and the very largest parishes have better educated clergy. This fact of church life is changing. As peace has come more and more clergy are being sent off for three years of formal theological education.