Thursday, December 8, 2011

In many ways life in the church in Nzara and in the United States have a lot in common and in other ways are really quite different. For instance both churches use The Book Of Common Prayer to guide their worship BUT here the Zande translation is from the 1662 English Prayer Book. This means that the Gloria, which our Eucharist begins with, comes at the conclusion of the Sudanese service and that the ten commandments are read each and every Sunday at the service’s opening. Only two lessons are read each Sunday (one from an Epistle and the other a Gospel lesson) and they are on a one year rotating schedule. These are actually printed in the ECS Prayer Book/Hymnal. Our lessons include one drawn from the Old Testament, are on a three year rotation and are not printed in the Prayer Book. The hymns that are part of the Sudanese Prayer book only have the words printed (following the English practice) and do not have any accompanying music. Many of the hymns that are sung would be familiar to our ears because we sing the same tunes but many are drawn from evangelical hymnody sources. Many of the hymns have been memorized by the older members of the congregation. There are very few hymnals available to the younger members of the congregation because they are currently out of print. New hymnal/prayer books are on order but no money is available to pay for them.

The church in Sudan was planted or begun by English evangelical Anglicans who were sent out by a missionary society called the Church Missionary Society or the CMS. They were what used to be called a “low church” group. The CMS emphasized the importance of the Bible, simplicity in worship, and an almost puritanical morality. Thus it is that the church seasons (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany Lent, Easter, Pentecost) are largely ignored. Most people have never even heard those terms and days like Ash Wednesday pass without notice. Every Sunday white, never green or purple, cloths cover the altar. Many churches do not have a cross. Clergy wear black cassocks and white surpluses with black stoles or tippets. There are no candles on the altar. The bread and the wine of the Eucharist are replaced with broken pieces of English biscuits or cookies that are dipped in cool aid rather than wine and then placed in ones outstretched hands. Total abstinence from any form of liquor is strongly urged for all and insisted upon with clergy. There are no kneelers or kneeling cushions.

Men and women sit on opposite sides of the church except for the choirs which are seated together but sing in male and female sections. The main service at the Cathedral, where we attend, begins at 11:00 each Sunday and is typically three hours in length. It is based on the Prayer Book’s service of Morning Prayer. The Eucharist is about an hour service and is at 8:00.

The length of the main service is primarily due to the fact that there are typically three choirs each of which sing at least two or three songs each. The service which we have just come from included confirmation and the ordination of 4 deacons and two priests. It lasted six hours and had 1,300 people in attendance (most sitting under trees outside the church where they listened to the service). The service featured music sung by five different choirs sing (3 from the Cathedral and 2 from other parishes). Each choir have different outfits that that they wear. The 74 children in todays childrens choir featured girls in pink and green colored dresses and boys in purple over-shirts. The young men in the 54 member youth choir who sang today wore black pants and shirts, accented with white shoes, belts and ties. The girls wore long dresses made of cloth featuring blue and green flowers on a tan background. Every song that is sung is accompanied by various movements. Every hand, bottom, leg, arm, head and foot is in constant movement. The songs are accompanied by drums, a wide variety of “shakers” made of gourds, tin cans or bells and very loud electric guitars. In most parish churches they don’t have electric generators. Instead they use hand made harps of various sizes, drums and shakers. Many songs are of what musicians would label a “call and response” type. A soloist will sing a phrase and the choir will repeat the singers words. Many songs are composed by choir members or the choir leaders. Any time there is any music being sung women in various parts of the church will issue forth with a very high, shrill almost yodel like cry of delight and encouragement. During the singing various members of the congregation will sometime get up and dance in the aisle, clap their hands, sing along, or simply sway with the music. An all pervasive sense of genuine joy permeates the music and worship life of the Nzara Diocese.

Like most African Episcopal churches, those in Sudan encourage fallen away members to make public confessions before the entire congregation. They then go through a period of instruction and amendment of life, and then finally are publically readmitted to the congregation and to communion.

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