I had my first African worship experience this morning and oh what a joy it was! As a pastor visiting St John’s UMC, I was expected to sit up front and participate in worship. While initially a little anxious about this, it was incredible. Sitting up front facing the congregation was the perfect vantage point to see the faces of those in worship. Admittedly, this vantage point in the U.S. does not always bring me the joy I found today. We in the U.S. are much more inhibited than those here in Liberia, and we tend to complain a whole lot more too! I can only imagine the phone calls I’d get from parishioners at any of the churches I’ve served if our worship lasted for two and a half hours!
This morning we sang and we danced in the joy of the Lord! Yes, this pastor danced in worship! After singing several lively praise songs, the opening hymn was Blessed Assurance. As we sang the first refrain, This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long …, I was overcome with emotion. Listening and watching as people who have so little material possessions claim such faith was humbling. We in the U.S. have so many trappings we think will make us happy, yet keep us from truly living a joy-filled life. I was also aware that my tears flowed because I know that I could never have had this experience 153 pounds ago. I am grateful to God for my health and vitality and I don’t want to waste a minute of it!
During this opening hymn, the pastor came to me to share what he wanted me to do during worship — read scripture. He assigned me a familiar passage from Luke 3, Jesus’ baptism, the exact passage I had preached on at home last Sunday. This, too, brought more tears as I felt the connection between these two congregations and was reminded of baptism and God’s claim on our lives as God’s beloved children.
After more singing, scripture and prayer, the message was brought by Farmer to Farmer missionary, Rev. Cathy Ake. She spoke of our connection to one another and our work together. Then it was time for the offering. Oh, if only we in the U.S. could make our offerings as cheerfully as Liberians! They sing and dance their way forward to place their offerings at the altar. It was truly Spirit- and joy-filled! May we pray for such a fresh outpouring of the Spirit in the U.S.!
Sitting up front I didn’t want to be disrespectful and take pictures during worship, but I did manage to sneak in a few pictures of the joyful givers. Pictured below is also our team, dressed and ready for worship.
Until next time, peace …