Dear Pastor Chad,
I'm writing today to let you know that I won't be in church for a while, probably about a year. Believe me when I say that it is not your fault or the fault of anyone at First Lutheran. Its just that I attended an ordination service for the Evangelical Lutheran Church In Namibia (ELCIN) here in Namibia, at the brand new church in the Onesi parish. This church just opened in April of this year so it was a great honor for them to host the ordination. It is a large, but simple church built of bricks with a metal corrugated roof. Its laid out in a traditional cross shape. I have a number of points to share with you but I'll get right to the main reason for my absence… The service lasted from 9AM until 4PM, yes SEVEN hours of church without a single break. In my humble opinion I've now earned more than a few weeks off.
The bulletin we got when we arrived had a schedule on it. The Ordination service started at 9:00AM right on time, it was to be done by 10:30 when the newly ordained would lead a full worship service. At 12:00 we were to receive the greetings. In reality, the worship service started at 12:30 and the greetings section started about 2:30. Things last as long as they last here in Africa. As you can guess, nobody would have any problem with the service going a little over an hour.
During the seven hours I was sitting on a plastic chair I had some time to reflect on what we might learn from the Namibians, and I'd like to take this opportunity to share them with you.
I'll start with Hospitality. You need to know that the church was overflowing with people from all over the country, and indeed the world. The bishop from neighboring Angola and representatives from the government, local tribal leaders, and the governor of this part of the country. There appears to be very strong cooperation between the church and state in this country. There were probably 2,000 people in attendance, and many of them had to be seated outside.
We arrived on our bus about 10 minutes before the service started, after driving three hours, including the last 28 kilometers on dirt roads. We were far from the the last ones there as we passed an amazing number of people walking to the service. Many of them walked many miles, others were packed into the back of pickup trucks like sardines. However, when we arrived we were ushered right over to an empty pew, reserved just for our group. Unfortunately we did not all fit in our allotted pew, so Ethan and I were shown to the back row of the section reserved for pastors. When the pastors processed in it was very clear that they needed our spots desperately, so we tried to move, but they wouldn't have anything to do with that! Eventually plastic chairs were brought in and we were moved so that we could sit closer to our group. Now here's an example of the kind of hospitality we should all aspire to, within a few minutes all of us were shuffled yet again, but this time we had pastors in our midst that served as translators for us for the entire service! Some had their own personal translator while others were in pairs. These pastors graciously shared their Oshiovambo hymnals with us, so that we could do our best to sing along on the SEVEN hymns on the hymn board. And those seven were just a start, there were many many more that were sung as impromptu additions to the service. Amazingly, almost all of the hymn tunes were very familiar, so we could just about sing along in english using the words we remembered.
A note about the ELCIN and their need for pastors. There is a great need for pastors here in Namibia, we were told that the ELCIN needs 40 pastors, which means that many congregations must make do with lay leadership only. Today there were 5 candidates for ordination, but lest you think that each year they ordain five new pastors, we learned that they only do an ordination service every four years. So for the candidates and the parishes this was a huge celebration.
We were treated as honored and distinguished guests the entire day. During the greetings section of the service (which lasted an hour and a half) our group was invited to come to the front and share a song. So, we sang our Yalo song -- in Oshiovambo -- and we were rock stars! Of course we were already something of an oddity since other than three Finnish missionaries, we were the only white people in attendance. After the service we were invited to dine with the presiding bishop to celebrate the occasion. We were definitely in Lutheran hands as the dinner accommodations included carrot raisin salad, macaroni, and potato salad. In a true namibian twist the meat section of the buffet featured grilled intestines along with several other options more appealing to the midwestern pallet.
Now let me turn to the Youth program. While Adrian does an exceptional job, someone here in Namibia has really got this figured out. In the crowd of people at this service were kids of all ages, and they stayed the entire time! Many of the young kids sat on the floor near the front the entire service. In addition, since the church was overflowing we saw 20-30 teen aged youth who stood outside the church putting their heads in the windows. Yep, they stood in the windows for the entire service. What an amazing thing. Many of the parishes brought their youth choirs who were allowed to sing one and only one song during the collection of the offering. They were awesome. After the service there was a sort of impromptu battle of the choirs as they stood outside trying to out-sing each other.
Now here is what we might learn about stewardship from these great people. Before the offering was taken an announcement was made. First of all they were a bit short the previous week, so all were admonished to give generously. She made the point that paper donations were definitely preferred over coins. When the offering started, the choirs kicked in. But now everyone was ushered to the front where a large basket was placed on a chair, people came forward and placed their donations in the basket one by one. Ethan told us that in other services he'd attended the offering might be taken up to three times, so you should plan ahead and divide your offering in thirds.
In terms of staffing I might say that having a master of ceremonies is an interesting idea. A very distinguished older lady, Meme, in the native language, was in charge of first, letting everyone know how the service would unfold, and what to do when. Again this is a nice way to help visitors feel at home and know whats coming up. She did tend to ramble on and on a bit, as even our translators rolled their eyes after a while. But her heart was clearly in the right place. So the lesson here is that if we go this direction, we should choose this position with care.
Finally, I need to apologize to you. In the ELCIN pastors are not called, they are sent, and in some cases the pastor is the first the congregation has ever had. Nevertheless, I don't feel that you received a proper welcome at First Lutheran. After the pastors were ordained the secretary general formally announced where they were sent. When the parish name was called the people of the parish stood and cheered, and clapped. The women Ulilated and waved zebra tails in the air. If that doesn't make a guy feel welcome I don't know what would.
Well, its about time to pack up the bus and head into Etosha national park. You know I was just kidding about skipping for a year right?
Take care, and see you soon.