From Botswana to Mozambique

One guide book describes Beira, Mozambique, as ‘drab, dirty and chaotic.’ Not very charitable, and I find it a good and energizing place to be, but it is quite a contrast to Gaborone, which I leave four days ago.

A flurry of activity precedes that departure: A few lunches with people I have wanted to see but never did, preaching a final time at the Holy Cross Cathedral, packing, a couple more classes to be taught, a kind farewell at St. Augustine, turning over keys to school and flat and car. Fr. James sees me off at the airport.

It is a brief less-than-two-hour flight from Johannesburg to Beira, situated on the Indian Ocean at the mouth of the Pungoe and Buzi rivers, close to the north-south center of this long country. I am here to attend the Annual Synod of the Igreja de Cristo Unida em Mocambique – the United Church of Christ in Mozambique – being held in Chamba, a short distance outside Beira. I am invited because I have written a book about their church – Toward an African Church in Mozambique – and they want to meet me and talk about it. The feeling is mutual.

Comparing and contrasting countries is unproductive and often unkind. Mozambique is one of the world’s poorest countries – although its recent economic growth rate has been impressive and the discovery of oil offshore is promising – and Botswana is considered a ‘middle-income’ country. Thus the fine Botswana roads yield to potholed and patched Mozambican ones; and the modern Gaborone shopping centers, to myriad shops and stalls along the side of the road. That’s what we drive along, and see, as we head to Chamba.

The church building is small, so they have erected a large tent and set up plastic chairs and tables. It’s hot and humid as the synod proceeds with reports from regions and parishes, read in Portuguese by someone, then comments invited, either made in Portuguese or in Ndau, interpreted into the other, then the person whose report it is responds, again in a bilingual fashion, and the delegates decide to ‘accept’ the report, or not. All are apparently accepted. It’s very systematic and organized, but also a bit of a strain for one who knows neither language, despite the best efforts of my faithful interpreter to keep me informed.

Some months ago I send 30 copies of my book to the church here, for them to give away or sell as they see fit. I imagine there is limited demand, as it’s written in the wrong language. But there is interest, and I wonder about it. Theirs is not an especially large church. It is a church that has managed to work out its own identify, largely without missionaries, from the early years on; has faced all sorts of adversity, from colonialism to civil war; and has been left alone to its own devices for many decades. All of those are reasons their story fascinates me. But I suspect my version of their story interests them in part because someone ‘outside’ cares enough and considers it important enough to tell.

Click for list of all past blog posts.

A Johannesburg parish on the Fourth of July

It seems a long time since I was worshipping at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Gaborone on my first April Sunday in Botswana, I think to myself as son Trevor and I walk down the street to the local Anglican parish, in the neighborhood of Auckland Park here in Johannesburg. It’s the Fourth of July.

St. Peter’s is a lovely old parish, very English in its design. Now it boasts quite a mixed congregation. The Rector is Vicentia Kgabe, and she is the Archdeacon for this region of the Diocese.

Today is ‘Favourite Hymn Sunday,’ and the requests have been eclectic. One parishioner asks for the Battle Hymn of the Republic, and this the congregation sings with great energy, seemingly oblivious to its history and our Fourth.

The ‘special prayer’ offered today is ‘for our country, our visitors, and that xenophobia does not arise again.’

Click for list of all past blog posts.

‘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.’

Click for list of all past blog posts.