Like Holy Week back home in Canada, Holy Week in Uganda is a busy time. We started at Greater Bushenyi Parish on Palm Sunday. The area’s Archdeacon is stationed at this parish and wanted to get us involved as much as possible. There certainly was a lot to do and experience this week. I appreciated all the opportunities that I had this week and I have learned a lot in the very short time I have been in the parish.
Things were very quiet at All Saints Bushenyi early on Palm Sunday. Although the service technically starts at 8am, it didn’t actually start until past 8:30. Time is a fluid thing here and many of the senior clergy find it difficult to convince people to “keep time” as they say. The quiet did not last long though. In a few minutes a large group of students arrived at the front door of the church with palm fronds in hand. I couldn’t resist taking the picture, which they all posed for. They cheered and waved their palms after the ‘snap’ was taken. Everyone is so enthusiastic about digital cameras here. Our camera has been a wonderful tool for crossing the language barrier. The music in the service was like all the other churches we’ve been to here—upbeat and lively, but the palms added a little extra umph. I wish we could take their enthusiasm and combine it with a procession through the community. That would be a sight to see.
I spent Monday afternoon and Tuesday afternoon with the vicar of the parish, Rev. Moses doing pastoral visits and handing out envelopes for Easter offerings. It was a unique experience. I’m used to prearranging a few pastoral visits in a day and taking a significant amount of time with each family I visit. In the course of these two afternoons, however, we managed to have unplanned visits with several families, sometimes for just a few minutes and at other times for half an hour or an hour. It was quite natural as we walked down the streets to greet people from the parish and talk about the parish news. Down the back roads people happily gathered their family together and invited us into their houses to chat for a few minutes. Some visits were longer and involved sodas. We even visited people in their shops. All the owners would take a break for a few minutes to talk and we’d pray for them right there inside the store.
Although many of the upper class Ugandans have complained to us about people here not keeping time, I think we have lost something back home in Canada when we focus on efficiency and packing our schedules full. There seems to be little space for these types of quick visits (pastoral or otherwise). When visits are unplanned they are more likely to be seen as intrusions rather than an opportunity to spend time with guests. I also wonder if we Canadians (not just clergy) need to spend more time just “checking in” with the people around us to see what is going on in our neighbours’ lives. Even if we don’t have time for long visits, a short visit at least maintains contact with those around us. It helps us build community because when we know what is going on in our neighbours’ lives we can rejoice with them in the good times and help them in the bad ones.
On Wednesday I attended a service at the Cathedral where all the priests in the diocese renewed their ordination vows. Unfortunately, it was all in Runyankole so I followed very little of it. From what I could understand it was an important time for the clergy of the diocese to rededicate themselves to the church and their work. I can only hope it was an encouragement to them all.
Thursday the churches here celebrated the last supper of Christ. The day began with a visit to another primary school, Pearl Academy, with the Archdeacon. The schools always make me smile - the children were very enthusiastic and worship was upbeat. We were treated to an excellent Easter play performed by the P3 class. I was amazed at how well they memorized their lines. I then preached on the last supper, which was another exercise in rapid sermon preparation. I am starting to get used to the impromptu public speaking here, but I still miss the sermon preparation time and commentaries I have back home.
After visiting the school, there was a church service at All Saints Church. Like Maundy Thursday services back home the service was not well attended, and we only filled the chancel (front part) of the church. It seemed like a normal Eucharist service with a preaching focus on the last supper. Despite the fact that the service followed a pattern that we are getting used to, this service was unsettling for me. The rhythm of Holy Week that had been ingrained in me from spending years in the church in Canada was disrupted. The upbeat music that is normal here felt out of place when we were talking about Christ preparing to die. The focus on Christ’s humility that we normally have at home was also absent, as there was no re-enacting of the washing of the disciples’ feet. There was also no sombre stripping of the altar nor the leaving in silence at the end of the service. I found it very hard to hold onto the gravity of Christ’s sacrifice, without the sombre tone of the liturgy back home. It reminded me how the Church both in Canada and in Uganda has forgotten the importance of observing times of lament. Such times are important training for Christians, so that we can still worship with our wounds. Well meaning Christians often try to cover our problems with praise when we really need someone to walk with us in our pain and also let God walk with us in our suffering.
Without the lament of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday (The Archdeacon told us to go home and rest on Friday and Saturday), the Easter Sunday service also felt strange. Unlike at home, singing and shouting alleluias has been common throughout Lent here. At home ‘fasting’ from using alleluias is a way to prepare for Easter. It helps us focus our attention on the cross and builds expectation for Easter Sunday when we break the ‘fast’. Since we used alleluias all through Lent they didn’t have same special meaning for me on Easter Sunday. I wasn’t able to savour them like I normally can after having gone without them for 40 days. Other things that are traditional at home also felt strangely absent. I longed to sing Jesus Christ is Risen Today, but no one knew the tune. I also had to teach the congregation that the response to “Christ is Risen” is “He is risen indeed. Alleluia!” It amazed me, yet again, how much culture influences our sense of worship. I have felt at home in Ugandan churches for some time now, but these past few days I was reminded that I am not in my home culture.
The Archdeacon gave me opportunity to preach for the English speaking service on Easter Sunday, which was a blessing. Michelle commented afterwards that it was a very “Canadian sermon” in that it was very reflective, exegetical (followed the text closely), and deeply theological instead of focusing on concrete moral issues. However it was also very Ugandan in that it was far more passionate and proclamatory than what I usually preach at home. I hope it is a balance that I can keep when I return home.
Our Holy Week ended with a dinner event at the Mother’s Union. It was all very good food. They served us matooke, karo, rice, beef and chicken soup, cabbage salad, ghee, watermelon and pineapple. I’m really going to miss the ghee, which has the consistency of a heavy cream and tastes like liquid cheese. However, it was a bit weird not having a Canadian Easter dinner. It was a reminder that we will be leaving in less than a week. We will miss our friends here, but we are also looking forward to seeing you all soon.