Tuesday, June 29, 2010
The Mangochi Church is located near the southern tip of Lake Malawi, in a predominately Muslim region of Malawi. The church was first established in the 1950’s and the present building begun in 1984. During the years it has grown in size, in outreach to the community and in vital ministries, but the building has never been completed – until now. This year, all the renovations to the church were finished and plans made for a rededication of the building. That rededication happened on Sunday. It was a great event, complete with the Vice President of the country as the guest of honor.
The invitation was extended to me to attend to represent PC(USA) and particularly their partner church, Northmont, in Pittsburgh. I went with the Deputy General Secretary and one of the former ministers of the congregation, Rev. S. Chitsulo. But the big guest was the Vice President, Mrs. Joyce Banda and her husband. That was evident from all the preparations made for her visit. There were police posted all along the road, to clear the way for her motorcade. The greatest concentration of them was at the church itself. The area had been inspected and secured early in the morning. By the time we made the 3 hour journey from Blantyre everything and everyone was in place. We were greeted by columns of women all dressed in the material of the day, a print designed just for the occasion and sold in advance, so everyone could have an outfit made – men and women. The men were standing in small clusters chatting and waiting. As we pulled in, a chorus of welcome was begun and everyone sang with gusto to greet the Deputy General Secretary. This was rehearsal for the guest of honor. We dutifully took our places in the receiving line to await her arrival.
Right on schedule, at 9:30, sirens alerted us of her approach. Everyone snapped to attention, ready to welcome her. The women began the welcome chorus and everyone joined in. Large SUV’s filled with police and bodyguards and other officals pulled through the receiving line and moved on to park. Fifth in line was the VP’s vehicle. It stopped at the head of the line and Vice President Joyce Banda emerged, beautifully attired in the fabric of the day. One of her aides had gotten the material the week before and had the dress made for the occasion. This was a lovely touch of support for the congregation. She greeted each of the folks in the receiving line and moved quickly to the front of the church for the ribbon cutting and the unveiling of the commemorative plaque. The minister of the congregation began the ritual for the opening of the church. He led the congregation in a hymn as everyone followed the entourage around the outside of the church, singing the hymn. Once at the front of the church again, the Synod Moderator knocked on the door three times, each time asking entry. Then the village chief, a Muslim, who was in the sanctuary, opened the door, marking the official opening of the church building. This ritual is done at every church dedication or rededication in Malawi. Then the dignitaries, Muslims and Christians, and the congregation filed into the church and took their places.
Worship began, following the usual order of worship, except for end of the service. After the offering, the Guest of Honor was presented with a gift and then there were speeches from selected dignitaries. Gratefully, I had not been selected and could just be present to celebrate with my colleagues. The last one to speak was the guest of honor, her Excellency, the Vice President.
Mrs. Banda is a member of the CCAP church and of the women’s guild of her congregation, so she was quite comfortable first leading the mvano (women’s guild) in a chorus. The women cheered at this gesture of oneness with them. Her speech was relative brief but well received by everyone. She is a wonderful communicator. She presented a monetary gift to the church for their continued work and a packaged gift to the minister and his wife. After the benediction, the clergy led the procession outside to form a receiving line again for the Vice President. She and the other honored guests what to the manse and everyone headed to pre-designated spots around the church building to enjoy a traditional Malawian meal. After food and Malawian fellowship, the Vice President left for other business but the rest of the gathered guests were slow to leave,. No one seemed to want the day to end: it had been special.