A liturgy practicum

I have good memories of the liturgical practice we seminarians at Virginia Theological Seminary underwent many years ago now. I try to remember why those good memories, for I am preparing to lead a practicum with our ordinands at the St. Augustine Theological School.

A few weeks ago they baptize a doll, again and again, at a makeshift font in our classroom. This time we go to the Lady Chapel at Holy Cross Cathedral. It is getting dark, but light still shines from the round stained-glass window high above the altar, a window showing the seals of the four dioceses in relationship with one another: Botswana, North Carolina, Newcastle, and West Missouri.

A small group is just finishing Evening Prayer as I arrive, and I busy myself getting things from the sacristy before belatedly joining them.

The ordinands ask earlier if we will vest for the Eucharistic practicum, and I say yes, thinking they mean the celebrant. But they mean all of them, all the time, so as the Evening Prayer folk leave and our ordinands prepare, I go back to the vesting room, find a white cassock short enough to keep me from tripping over it, and I join them, eight of us surrounding the altar looking nicely priestly and reverent.

I have set the practicum up so that they do differing Eucharistic prayers for differing seasons of the year. That keeps them on their toes, sorting out the proper prefaces and staying attuned to the epiclesis and whatnot – all things a new priest (an old one too, for that matter) needs to be attentive to, even though congregations may give them little thought.

The celebrant puts on her stole and begins, and then another, and another. After each I ask the celebrant to comment on what they have done, then I critique it and others add their comments. At the end, I also consecrate the bread and wine, and we share in communion together.

I never am able to answer why I have such good memories of my own practicum at Virginia, maybe it is just that we were discovering what it is actually like to carry out the liturgical ministry to which we feel we have been called. Maybe that is what happens here in Gaborone tonight too. But what is clear is that our ordinands are taking this all very seriously, critical of themselves – ‘it is so different, when you are the one,’ they say apologetically – yet encouraging to others. I think they do well.

‘We need to do it again,’ one tells me the next day. And God willing, they will.

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Worship at Mochudi

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.

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From Kolonkwaneng to Middelputs

I am sitting in the early morning sun, keeping warm, next to the church in the desert village of Kolonkwaneng. The old church building, of clay and thatch, sits empty now, some 50 feet away across reddish sand. There are signs that goats take up residence in the old building from time to time, probably trying, like me, to stay warm.

Fr. Andrew is hearing confessions in the vestry in the new building. It’s Saturday morning. Soon we will celebrate the Eucharist.

The drive here from Tsabong is about 60 miles, along a newly paved road that clings to the South African border. Only a few months ago it was gravel. Fr. Andrew entertains me as we travel along, pointing out places where he has been stuck in the sand.

The lay minister, Simon Moseki, comes over as I write. ‘It is awkward here,’ he says, looking around the village. ‘No work.’

That’s difficult to respond to, as his English is poor, and my Setswana extends only from greetings, thank you, and that’s fine to being able to say ‘the body of Christ’ at the altar.

A herd of goats comes wandering over, interrupting our congenial silence.

We wait. More people gradually arrive. The goats move on.


At the offertory a ceramic bowl is placed in a plastic chair and positioned in front of the altar. The congregation comes forward, dropping coins into the bowl. I can hear them clang. I add a bill.

The reading is from Mark, the widow’s mite. I wonder if I will miss the bill, as the widow may surely miss her thebe – the Botswana equivalent to a mite – which I think is Jesus’ point.

After the Eucharist we drive away, leaving behind another spot that Fr. Andrew can point to, where he became stuck in the sand.


Middelputs is maybe 20 miles further along. We promise to be there by 2:00, and we are remarkably close, given that our Kolonkwaneng saga starts before nine, we do not leave the church before one, and even then there is communion to the sick, and a meal in Mr. Moseki’s home.

The village of Middelputs is on the Molopo River, which marks the boundary with South Africa. A border post is actually in the town.

The church is tiny, maybe 25 by 25 feet. A cement foundation for a new building is nearby, but it looks as if it were laid some time ago, and no sooner have we arrived than the lay minister, Jackson Ditlhatibi, takes me aside and says they need money to build.

As we follow the same pattern again – confessions, Eucharist, teaching, inviting anyone in the congregation to raise concerns or questions, taking communion to homes – I gather a better impression of what it means in this Diocese to have outstations at considerable distance and to have so few priests to serve them. This is the first opportunity to visit that Fr. Andrew has had since Ash Wednesday.

Lay ministers may be well-trained, or frankly, may not, but it’s clear that priests are missed, and sorely needed. There has been no priest in the parish of Tsabong since 2005.

I think about this as I drive back to Tsabong. Well, about this, and about whether there are any cows in the road. Dusk changes to darkness, and it’s hard to see. Fr. Andrew is resting.

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‘Just fire away’

I am looking forward to being in the congregation at the English-language service at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, and I slip quietly into a pew. I’m barely settled when I am extricated from my spot, vested in an alb, and placed into the procession to the altar. All this, before 7:30 a.m., and I’m still jet-lagged. I sigh.

Not a good beginning.

A good service, though, and after the distribution of the elements at the Eucharist, I watch children come to the altar rail for a blessing. I’m asked to assist. Three young girls are the first at the rail, and I place my hands upon their heads and pronounce a blessing. I’m building up steam to move down the rail when the third girl tugs on my alb. ‘Please pray for her,’ she says, motioning to the second girl. ‘She cannot see.’

I do so. And I pause to watch the three girls leave together, the two helping the sightless one back to their pew.


The second service at the Cathedral is the Setswana-language service, with a dash of English tossed in from time to time.

The retired bishop, Bishop Naledi, is the celebrant, and he has Fr. James sit to his left, and me to his right. During the offertory, he leans over to me and says, ‘I don’t know if you were a Scout, but priests are also always supposed to be prepared.’ He looks at me. I respond noncommittally.

‘Do you have your English prayer book?’ he asks. ‘I want you to say…,’ and here he repeats a few phrases from the Eucharistic Prayer that seem familiar.

I do not know that Bishop Naledi has steadily lost his sight during recent years, and he can no longer read. (He has committed the liturgy for Holy Communion to memory.) Thus, unaware, I hold out the prayer book, asking him to point out what, exactly, he wants me to do. He does not look at it.

The good Bishop leans over once more. ‘Just start right after the Acclamation,'’he instructs, ‘and just fire away.’

I smile. I’ve rarely seen ‘fire away’ in my study of liturgy.

Then he concludes: ‘When you come to "Jesus Christ," stop.’

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