Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Preaching Across Cultures

Since we have arrived in Uganda we’ve been exposed to a full month worth of sermons and several speeches at the various events we’ve been invited to. Public speaking in Uganda comes in many styles some are similar to what we’d expect back home, but many Ugandans are very flamboyant speakers with a sense of humour.

We had the opportunity to attend an interfaith (Anglican, Catholic and Muslim) event emphasizing the unity of these faiths particularly against common social issues here in Uganda. The first lady, Janet Museveni was present so it was quite the event, with many local politicians present. Although we couldn’t understand many of the speeches, which were largely in Runyankole, we could still tell they were all engaging speakers. They were constantly getting the audience to laugh and to affirm what the speaker was saying. The vast majority seemed to have a personality more like Pierre Trudeau than any of the Prime Ministers (or Presidents for our friends from the U.S.A) that we’ve seen lately.

Preaching here in Uganda is often not much different than what we saw at the event with the First Lady. Many of the preachers here are energetic and charismatic. They are constantly trying to interact with the audience. Small phrases like ‘praise the Lord’, ‘god is good’, ‘alleluia’, ‘amen’ receive quick responses from the audience of ‘praise him’, ‘all the time’, ‘amen’ and ‘amen’ respectively. Using rhetorical questions is also a common way to get your audience to respond.

The content of sermons here is a bit different than I am used to. The lectionary readings for the day are seldom the topic of the sermon. It is not uncommon for the preacher to pick up another text or subject and preach on it instead. The preaching is often not exegetical (i.e. closely following the original meaning of text), but more allegorical. That said the Bishop is an excellent exegetical preacher, so it might just be a matter of style. The sermons we’ve heard so far tend to focus on moral issues, particularly sexuality, corruption and family life. The need to proclaim the gospel and live a Christian life without fear are also common subjects. Other sermons or talks during the service have taken the form of testimonials, which share God’s impact on the speaker’s life. In either case the speaker is not afraid to mince words or leave out details that we would generally leave out because they might offend.

On February 15th I was asked to preach at All Saints Ishaka. In general I think it went well, but it certainly was a different experience. While I was preparing I was really having a hard time coming up with illustrations and examples. Generally I try to find illustrations which illustrate the text and are meaningful to the listener. Since we’ve only been here for a month I wasn’t sure what would be meaningful to the listener! I was thankful that most of the audience the previous Sunday was university students from Kampala International University’s (KIU) Western Campus. Having visited the students at KIU before I had a bit of an idea what might be meaningful to them… However… the first thing I noticed when I walked in the door Sunday morning was that my audience changed drastically! Instead of a congregation mostly made up of university students from KIU and adults there was a mass of primary school students fresh back from winter vacation. I suddenly trying to figure out what to say that was meaningful to a bunch of primary students in Uganda and realizing I have no idea what is important to them. I began to wonder if they had a ‘children’s time’, as is common in many churches back home and if I had to say something for that time too. Fortunately, I just had to deal with the sermon.

Adapting my preaching style to Ugandan ears will take a bit of work. For those who have heard me preach I often have a more a quiet reflective style than I think Ugandans are used to. Inserting amen’s and alleluias into my sermon is really not me at all. However, they are quickly teaching me to project my voice better, which will be welcome news for those who like to sit at the back of churches that I’ve interned at. I also admire the passion with which they proclaim the gospel and I hope that some of that will rub off on me during my time here.

Note: Since we have no pictures of me preaching we decided to add pictures of the people at All Saints Ishaka where I was preaching instead.


Justin said...

Wow Jeff, sounds like quite the challenge. So you're getting to amplify a little too eh? I really like your thoughts on the offertory as well.


Jeff said...

The rural churches often do not have any kind of amplification system so you really need to project your voice and use the pulpit. Even when they do have a sound system, electricity here is a bit sketchy. Although there may be a hydro line to a building there may not be any power on that day. This was the case when I preached at Ishaka.