church - african style

Joey and I went to a Catholic Mass today - we think. 

One of the women who works for Joey invited us to her baby's baptism.  I have to admit, that baptism was unlike any other baptism I've seen.  First we had to get there.  The driver took us a short way out of town to a road just packed with people.  Joey asked him what was going on and he replied, "Church."  Oh.  That answers that.

So in the middle of the exceptionally colorful throng of people (they bring new meaning to the term, "Sunday Best;" they really go all out), the driver asked a passerby how to get to the Catholic Church.  He pointed to his right and we were conveniently directly in front of the gate.  So in we went to the Church's yard. 

We arrived slightly late (Dad - I swear that I was ready.  Seriously.  The driver picked us up late.  Ask Joey, he'll vouch for me.) and as the usher (as denoted by his green embroidered sash) started walking us up the pews I was horrified we'd be marched to the front (A coworker of Joey's told us a story of a wedding she attended where she was seated in front of the bridal party).  Luckily, we avoided the same fate and took a seat in the back of the church.  The very crowded and very un-air-conditioned church.  With more broken ceiling fans than not.  Anyway, the church was quite simple - one long rectangular room with plywood beams underneath a tin roof.  Small windows punctuated the walls, allowing a much-needed breeze not nearly often as I would have liked.  The Stations of the Cross along the walls ironically chronicled a very white Jesus and his apostles. 

We settled into the pew (actually I settled into the pew with Joey's boss - he settled into a white plastic chair over by the window - lucky) after the opening prayers for the readings.  First reading - nothing out of the ordinary.  Begin the responsorial psalm.  As typical for a Catholic Mass, the reader read the refrain and the congregation repeated it.  Then she sang the refrain.  Okay. 

You know that scene from The Little Mermaid where the lobster says "Cue the drums" and all of a sudden the tropical music starts to play?

All of a sudden there's some great African music and the responsorial psalm is taken to a whole new level.  Everybody's singing, the music is playing - sure its hot in here but I can dig it.  So then we have the second reading and get a repeat performance for the Alleluia.  Then they let the priest have the microphone.

"You.      are de light.       of de world.

A ceedy.     set.  on a hill.
be hid.....

...Let yoooooouuur light so
before men. 
Dat dey may see your good works.

And give

to your FATHAH.
who is. in. HEAVEN."

Very inspirational, I thought.  And clearly, he likes to hear himself talk.  An hour later he finished his homily.  Not like its hot in here or anything.  Guess God just made up for all those times I've missed Mass in the last few months.

I'll give him this - the homily was anything but dry.  He covered it all.  He talked for a while.  Then he sang.  Then he read.  Then he did one of those things where he'd say "Jesus" and the congregation would say "Is the Light of the World."  Repeatedly.  Then he talked some more.  Then he sang with the drums.  Then he talked some more.  He walked up and down the aisle.  He danced.  He asked questions that even the congregation assumed were rhetorical and then said "I would like a volunteer."  He talked about childbirth and labor pains.  And interviewed a woman in the parish about it.  Finally, I have to admit, I stopped listening.  I'm pretty sure he switched to one of the local languages to say something and I zoned out because I was more focused on not passing out from heatstroke.

So finally we move on to the offeretory hymn.  Where they pass the basket.  Well actually that's what they do at every other Catholic Mass I've been to.  Here everybody gets up out of their seat and brings their offering to the altar.  To the music.  And then everybody claps.

Then it was time to kneel.  The man next to me, upon noticing that I was Catholic, was kind enough to share his bulletin with me.  He placed his on the wooden plank of a kneeler and knelt on it, and so I followed suit.  Ow.  I mean, I get that that's kind of the point - Jesus died for us and we kneel down during the part where the bread becomes the body.  But we wimpy American Catholics kneel on padding.  Not so in this little church.  I made it about three minutes before I had to sit.  I thought my knee pads were going to bore through my skin into the wood.

So eventually we sing the "Our Father" to the African beat (honestly probably one of my favorite renditions), and we're on to Communion.  The churchgoers just kind of filed up randomly - there wasn't really any order to the line and so I figured I'd go when the guy next to me went.  Well he didn't go.  So neither did I.  Hmm.

Then we figure its time for the baptism.  The woman who invited us came over and escorted us from our pew outside, where a  large group of people has congregated.  She thanked us for coming, introduced us to her mother, her husband, her friends, and then instructed us to walk with her.  So she starts down the aisle with her baby, her mother, her husband, her friends, and us - the three white people.  The music is playing, the beat is going - and this procession is dancing down the aisle.  So eventually the whole group gets to the altar where the priest is dancing - with a squirt bottle.  He is spritzing everyone with high-powered Holy Water.  As Joey walks past the priest and gets squirted with his third spray of Holy Water I lose it and break into a fit of giggles.  Luckily, we're still processing (most are still dancing) and we made our way back to the pews. 

After the first person gave his ten minutes of announcements and the second started in, we snuck out.  Not that we were very conspicuous to begin with or anything.

Our driver told us we were the first to ever attend anything like that for the local staff.  I'm honored that we were invited and glad that we had the chance to go - but next time I think we'll have to get there early.  And under a fan.  That works.