The lay leaders of Francistown

Saturday is our day for the lay leaders’ workshop in the north of the diocese, similar to what we have already done in Gaborone. Actually there are two parallel workshops, one for church wardens, the other for lay leaders. We all gather together at St. Patrick’s, in the town center, and I do a meditation on 1 Corinthians 12. Then it’s tea time.

Afterwards we split up, and the lay leaders and Fr. Amanze and I head to the rectory, where I have been staying, to meet in the living room. We have been expecting, at the most, about 20, but 38 of us crowd inside. No one complains.

We hear many of the same things about what kind of training they need, but not all are the same. Two women say that they want someone to ‘teach us how to pray.’

Unfortunately I never find the chance to learn what in particular they have in mind, but several of us talk about it later. One thought is that ingrained in them is a deep respect for liturgy in the Anglo-Catholic tradition, so they can read prayers from the prayer book but have a hard time spontaneously getting wound up the way they surely have heard their pentecostal neighbors do. ‘Teach us how to pray.’

I hope someday someone will value their appeal and come, holding up for them and others the richness and diversity of prayer, in our tradition and in the church universal.

At lunch on St. Patrick’s grounds I spot a young man sporting a Carolina sweatshirt. Oteng Montwedi is his name. A part of the youth delegation that visited North Carolina some months ago, he wears it proudly. We take pictures.

Two days later he comes to my house to see me off as I return to Gaborone.




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The Feast Day of St. Carantoc

Today is St. Carantoc’s feast day, and the church by that name is celebrating.

If you have not heard of Carantoc, there is a reason: He’s quite obscure. But there are some fascinating (well, odd) stories about this sixth century Welshman. He apparently traveled around with a portable altar, and once he propelled it out onto the Bristol Channel (on a raft, presumably, since it reportedly was made of marble, which limits the meaning of the word ‘portable’ somewhat), with the notion that where it came to rest, there he would build his church.

St. Carantoc's, Francistown

As I prepare my sermon, I set aside the thought that his church would likely have been under water. I turn instead to his encounter with a dragon, at King Arthur’s behest, no less. And sigh. This will not play well for a congregation proud of their saint.

No one can explain to me how a church in Francistown, Botswana, is named for St. Carantoc. It’s hard enough to find any in England, Wales, or Ireland. My uneducated guess is that St. Carantoc’s Church is created by the slightly older congregation (they’re both over a century old) of St. Patrick’s Church, also here in town, and they like the somewhat dubious tradition that Carantoc is trained by Patrick.

As there is no priest in Francistown, they are delighted to have one to celebrate the Eucharist on St. Carantoc’s feast day. Even me, though their tradition is not mine. Their history is Anglo-Catholic, and while I respect that tradition, I am a bit in the dark as to whether I must kiss the altar (they say yes), and when and how I am to deal with the incense. I live in fear that I will accidentally set fire to the altar, or worse (at least for me), my alb. I grew up Baptist, after all. This seems very foreign.

Over the years I have been immensely impressed with how well-trained young people (including the quite young) are as acolytes in Anglican African parishes. It is with some dismay, then, as we walk through the service on Saturday, that the young man who manages the thurible (where the incense burns happily) has never done it before. I have been counting on his experience.

But we manage. The acolyte master diplomatically remarks afterward: ‘We do things somewhat differently here than you are used to, don’t we?’

 

The service over, the church warden instructs me to follow her. I naively think she is leading me to the head of the line for the food now being laid out on tables outdoors. Instead we return to the church, where ‘the celebration is to continue.’

Various groups within the congregation come forward, singing all sorts of choruses, and presenting gifts for the food to come. Eventually I am to come forward and offer my gift, which I do, and even sing a solo, which I do not wish to talk about. Even though they cheer.

Finally we eat. After six hours, I am home.

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‘Belonging’ in Francistown

I spot George Callender’s gray beard as I walk across the tarmac at the tiny Francistown airport early on a Friday morning. I am carrying my new backpack, with University of Botswana blazoned across it, my only ‘souvenir’ – a functional one – thus far.

Rev. Callender is a deacon in Francistown, the only clergy in fact, as there is no priest. He takes me to his home for breakfast. Soon he, his wife and I are eating boiled eggs, bacon, toast, baked beans, and hot dogs.

They are from Guyana. They came over as a young couple, first to Zambia, then to Botswana. They have been here ever since. Their children, now grown, were born here.

Mrs. Callender is growing herbs in pots on their concrete front porch. She and I stand next to them as Rev. Callender speaks on the ever-present cell phone. ‘I have spent over half my life here,’ she says. She smiles. Then she adds: ‘I am told that it does not matter; I will always be an outsider.’

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