Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Palm Sunday at All Saints Cathedral

Here's what happened on Palm Sunday.

I caught a matatu in front of Kolping House and headed up Kampala Road. Paid my 500 Ush and headed up Kyagwe Road to All Saints Cathedral.

On the way up the road, I paid 200 Ush for a branch of palms, and got a picture of the vendor (with his bemused permission). The cathedral is at the top of the hill, slightly back from the road. As I approached, I learned that the next service was not at 10:00, as I had been told by the reception desk at the guest house, but at 9:30, so I was glad I was very early (I arrived at a little after 9). There was a group standing about, and I found a bulletin on a chair. I learned that the officiant for the 9:30 Morning Worship Service (not communion) was the Vicar, the Reverend…Diana Nkesiga. How cool is that? Guess I don’t have to stay totally under cover.
I saw that the 8:00 Holy Communion service was meeting in a tent outside the building. Until I realized that the people in the tent were the overflow from the crowd inside the building. Took me a while to figure that out.

Meanwhile, I was looking at the all-African crowd. I saw one young woman standing near me with a T-shirt that had ‘San Francisco’ on it. “San Francisco!” I exclaimed. “That’s where I’m from!” Her name was Joseline Katusabe and after we talked for a little bit, she offered to help me through the service. At about 9:20, the group that had been standing outside the tent started to move forward towards the door of the church. Joseline said, “Come with me” and held my hand in hers behind her back. We waited as the celebrant at the 8:00 service said the Eucharistic Prayer (he broke the bread with a crack when he said, “This is my body, broken for you”) and the congregation received communion. At the end, the ushers cleared a VERY small path out through those of us waiting and the choir and altar party threaded their way out.

Then the crowd surged forward into the church building and I grabbed on to Joseline for dear life. She led me down a side aisle and we sat in a pew on the gospel side of the church (I think it’s the gospel side; the left side as you face the front), that was perpendicular to the front (i.e. facing the side) and next to a pillar. The place filled up almost instantaneously and soon the praise band started. I had to laugh at myself, knowing that I had always said the one kind of church service I wouldn’t tolerate was a praise service.

The 9:30 service started at about 9:40 with a praise song of “Hosanna” and everyone shaking their palm fronts—a good bunch of them, not just a single frond. And it had a kind of pompom appearance around the church. Palm-palms, as it were. I wish I could have taken a picture, but I didn’t have the nerve. The Vicar, the Rev. Diana, led us in a confession, a form of the 10 Commandments that I liked very much (from the ASB 1980—Anglican Service Book, perhaps?). It added kind of a commentary on some of the commandments that fleshed them out a bit. She also introduced the preacher for the day, the retired archbishop of Uganda, wonderfully named Livingstone Nkoyoyo. She said, “I’m not sure we should call him retired since we are always asking him to work.” He stood up and made a little jest about being back from Switzerland and about how he was from the Switzerland of Africa, which made everyone laugh.

Then more praise music. Then the intercessions, led by a man who prayed very well indeed. The prayers sounded planned but in no way canned, quite a feat. They went on for a while.
Then two readings: Philippians 3:7-11 (read by a woman named Jolly Kamwesigwe), and the gospel, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, followed by the Apostles Creed, and two collects: for Ash Wednesday and for the day.

Then came the announcements: the Notices, as they are known here. OK, first of all, Rick Warren is coming to the cathedral the week after Easter—not to preach, but for two talks: one a dinner on Friday, March 28 at 40,000 Ush, another a breakfast for everybody at 5,000. I’m not sure I’ll get there, but I’m mighty impressed. Next, the Rev. Diana announced that it had been a hard week at the cathedral: they had had a funeral every day! The week before Holy Week! My heart went out to them all right there. She also asked visitors to stand, “first you in the tent out there,” and there was some clapping from the tent that spread to the nave; “and anyone here,” so I stood along with a couple of other people, including three other mazungu, two men and a woman.

I had noticed these three earlier because the two men were brazenly taking pictures and video with huge cameras. I had only just a little bit ago noticed the woman. And it’s rotten of me to say, but I thought they spoiled the effect; it was the cameras that did it for me—and jealousy that I couldn’t take pictures, or at least thought I shouldn’t and so I refrained.

Then the vicar said, “We have some guests from Compassion International,” and the three palefaces I just described stood up, so that’s who they were.

All visitors were invited to go to the provost’s office after the service. So I knew what I would be doing.

Then she read the Banns of Marriage. I had never heard this done before, but couples who are planning to marry have their names and hometowns announced (and there were about 15 couples preparing for marriage), ending with, "If anyone knows why any of these persons should not be married, please see the clergy." The list of names and hometowns, along with parents' names, is also listed in the bulletin. And those who had been announced the week before, with a note that "additional banns are posted on the notice board."

After some more music and the offering (collected in those little bags on posts), we got to the sermon from the retired Archbishop. I believe he preached in Luganda, with a translator standing next to him speaking in English, and even though it wasn’t the deepest sermon I ever heard, I enjoyed it very much. The archbishop is a very entertaining speaker, full of humor, and said some things I still remember: regarding Christ’s triumphant entry, “When you are put in a new position, you face new opposition.” Speaking of the Greeks going to Phillip, “He had a Greek-sounding name and they probably felt more comfortable going to him than someone with a more Hebrew-sounding name, just as someone from Switzerland felt more comfortable calling me, ‘Livingstone’ than ‘Bishop Nkoyoyo,’” which got a laugh. The Greeks asking, “We would like to see Jesus,” had him remark, “Many people have seen Jesus, but fewer people have actually allowed Jesus to change them.” He gave a number of examples of this, mostly from family life, that had everyone laughing. The one I liked best was that when there’s one car in a family, the wife will say it’s our car, but when there is a second one, the wife will say, “That’s MY car.” Which I thought was pretty astute. He was an equal-opportunity critic, and the men came in for a lot of grief as well.
His basic point being, don’t just see Jesus, be changed by Jesus.

And what I realized is that I have, I have allowed myself to be changed—by Jesus, I suppose. Certainly I would be more likely to say by God, but Jesus is right in there. I had all sorts of church ambitions which have been thwarted and now I am here and I feel I have allowed myself to be changed, and I’m very glad of it. So when they had the prayer afterwards, inviting people to raise their hands if they wanted Jesus to change them, I didn’t raise mine. It’s already done, almost without my knowledge.

The service ended with the benediction and then “All Glory Laud and Honor” as we left, shaking our palm-palms.

1 comment:

qoe said...

Sounds like a wonderful experience! "We shall all be changed" ... this is not something we should seek in this life or wait for in a life beyond, but I think it means embracing what circumstances exist in the moment, knowing that there is no such thing as coincidence--or if there is, it is God's work, meeting us.