During orientation, the cultural peeps told us that the first three questions a Malawian will ask are:
- Are you married
- Do you have children
- Where do you go to church
In my limited time here, the most important seems to be where one attends church. Family, relationships and church life define the culture, and they take church VERY seriously.
After a long hiatus from regularly attending church, I have had the desire to reconnect with a spiritual community. I also see it as a way to develop relationships outside of work and my cohorts, stretch myself just a bit more, and use it as a window into another aspect of their culture.
Raised as an Episcopalian, the Anglican church here is the closest relative to that denomination. So, I have attended 2 different churches to get a feel for what I like and have chosen the one closest to me because it is small and has a convent associated with it. They also have a rockin’ choir of young adults, accompanied by a keyboard that can sound like a full orchestra!
Walking into a church of complete strangers intimidated me, particularly when it is expected that you get up and introduce yourself and give a short bio, but I have managed to go for the last 3 weeks, and have made some connections and friends there, particularly the nuns. I don’t know what it is about them, but I am fascinated with the monastic life style, and their sweetness and generosity of spirit.
I generally attend the early service, yes 6:30 am which usually means it actually starts at 7:00, and is in English. However, I LOVE the singing and dancing at the later service but I have to weigh my desire for the music with the language barrier and the fact that it lasts about 2 and ½ hours! Yes, they take church seriously.
Yesterday, I had an experience that was over the top Malawi church. Yes folks, 6 hours! Bear in mind, I have no car, so can’t exactly leave whenever I want. Transport is either taxi or some other person attending so the rudeness factor applies here, walking out is also intimidating.
The Sisters of St Mary are a delightful bunch of 5 Anglican sisters who live and work in the convent near the church. They pray a lot, and care for 150+ orphans who they feed, counsel, and mentor. They also grow tomatoes which they sell, and have chickens and goats.
Yesterday they celebrated the 150th anniversary of the order, attended by 5, yes 5 bishops from the US and Africa, about 150 kids, and 150 or so parishioners from all over Malawi, Tanzania, and Zambia. The tents erected housing the sanctuary (the real church is too small) and the seating were festooned with blue and white fabric they had designed for the occasion. They had ordered 6000 yards of the fabric and members of the community had made every priest (probably 20) custom vestments. The children each had a new dress, and all the Mothers League had long skirts out of the fabric. A very royal blue and white day…
The processional, dedication of the new nursery school, church service, gift giving lasted 5 hours, then we had lunch, another hour. It took about 15 minutes to even get the offerings to the altar. The processionals and gift giving included joyful dancing, music, and some tribal motifs. I am amazed at how long it takes them to process 100 yards, no rush!
All in all it was an very interesting and educational peek into another level of culture here in Malawi. I think I will be sticking to the early, one hour English service in the future.