Monday, December 1, 2008

Church visits -African flavor

We were invited to a wedding here that opened another window on local culture. Held in a Methodist church in downtown Freetown, it looked like most American weddings – until the pastor pronounced the couple man and wife. Then the music picked up; a chorus sang, and people got up and danced in the aisles in a long line toward the newlyweds who stood at the front of the church. Each person got a big hug from the bride and the groom, then danced or walked back to their seats. I joined in the routine. Men wore suits or sport shirts, but women wore full length, brightly colored dresses of local designs, many with large head scarves. The godmother of the bride purchased the expensive dresses of the bride and her entourage in the U.S. Weddings here, as in many countries, are expensive. Never mind that this is the poorest country in Africa, and perhaps the world.

Church in an historic village for freed slaves.
St. Andrews Anglican church in the village of Gloucester near the capitol of Freetown held its annual celebration of the founding of the church (1820). Gloucester is one of five villages behind the tall mountain/hills of Freetown; a place for slaves recaptured at sea and freed here. According to local explanations, the villages offered some protection from the raids of other Africans living in this area and of those returning from Jamaica, the U.K. or Nova Scotia.
Their church, according to program notes at the service, was founded as a modest wooden building in 1820, nearly destroyed by a fierce storm in 1975, but quickly rebuilt with contributions. Today it has a pipe organ and large stained glass window, a balcony, and small adjoining rooms for the pastor and another for the choir changing room.
At the three-hour service we attended, a chorus in red gowns, and joined by the congregation, sang their way through many hymns. The sermon was on being “Awake,” so no parishioner dared slip into slumber, though some of the very patient children did just that. There were three offerings, with separate collections for men and women each time: donations were announced by gender (the men only slightly out gave the women).
We hope to revisit this village and get to know the other four settler settlements.

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