Mochudi is an historic Botswana town, and picturesque, with Phuthadikobo Hill (which Karen climbs last year, despite a failing leg) in the town centre. The town is about a half-an-hour’s drive north from Gaborone.
The major church in Mochudi is Dutch Reformed, owing in large part to the fact that, back in 1892, the Kgosi (‘chief’) refuses to allow any other church to work in the area.
Our goal, though, is St. Matthew’s Anglican Church. Even today there are few Anglicans in Mochudi, Fr. James Amanze tells me. Those that are tend to be the families of people who flee South Africa during apartheid years, and end up here. Fr. James has been reminding me for several days how small the congregation is, but the church – admittedly a small building itself – is full, some 30-40.
We vest in the sacristy in the back – I with my chasuble, Fr. James in alb and stole, and the lay leader in her white cassock and cincture. (Priests do not usually wear cinctures in Botswana.)
The lay leader takes us through the Service of the Word (Scripture and prayers and creed and all that). As we sing a hymn before the Gospel, Fr. James leans over and says a word about my sermon.
I am not aware that I’m preaching a sermon, and I must look horrified, as he immediately retreats and says, ‘That’s fine.’
I wish I were able to step forward on a moment’s notice and give a well-crafted, thoughtful and even entertaining sermon, as Fr. James does. Forgiveness is the theme. Seventy times seven. He even has the congregation do the math. ‘It is easier to do in English, isn’t it?’ he says.
Then we pass the peace. Often, around the world, the peace is very individual and chaotic. Some folks stay put. Others venture out into the aisle, randomly taking someone’s hand. Here in Mochudi it is more organized, though it may not look it. Two elongated circles emerge in the aisle, one moving clockwise, the other counter, so that sooner or later, all have greeted everyone, ‘the Peace of the Lord.’
I am the celebrant, and I venture forth, mostly in English, partly in Setswana, pronunciation taught me last year and which I review this past week. I am rusty, but the congregation is kind. Once, when I am trying to say Jaaka Kreste a re rutile re pelokgale go re (‘as Christ has taught us, we are bold to say’), and trying to say it smoothly, I falter, and they move into the Lord’s Prayer without me, leaving me still with go re unspoken.
At the end of the service we process out, the congregation follows us, and we greet them, as seems to be common around the world. My Western mind thinks what a fine opportunity this is to slip away quietly, but it seems all of them return into the church for announcements.
Next Sunday Bishop Metlha is visiting, and there will be confirmations. Fr. James wants their names. Do they have baptismal certificates? Yes says one, no says another, maybe says a third. ‘Who will present them?’ he wants to know. And afterward, who is providing food. ‘I will bring chicken stew,’ he commits.
I think he is tired, but I provide the excuse. ‘I must take Fr. Leon back to Gaborone,’ he says. ‘He has had a long morning? May I be excused?’
Outside, Fr. James and I stand before the Church of St. Matthew’s sign. Children crowd around for the picture.