Monday, May 12, 2008

Church hopping in the City of Saints

Grahamstown is known as the "City of Scholars and Saints" for the enormously high number of churches and schools for such a small city. One of the first weeks I was here, Geoff Antrobus, our Rotary 'Dad' as I like to call him, took us on a school tour of Grahamstown. We started out at the private boarding schools, which are some of the best in the country and are on par with the best schools in the world, and are complete with massive lawns, amazing architecture (resembling the architecture at any private university in the United States) and so on. We then worked our way 'down' - going to the lesser funded schools, the upper end public schools, and then to the schools in the township, complete with barbed wire fencing, broken windows, and classrooms with upwards of 60 kids. The contrast is PHENOMENAL, and I, of course, went home and promptly started crying. It was so overwhelming to see that striking of an inequality in such a tangible way all at once.

The churches are no different. I have heard that in the United States, 10am on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America. It is much the same here. While I have been here, I have tried to visit as many of the churches as I can to truly get a feel for the way that people are living and worshipping. I've been to all sorts - cathedrals, small little churches with only a small praise band, and so on. But yesterday was very special, because I was invited by a friend to visit a church in the township. We showed up at 9am (we were told it started at 9), and other than a 12 year old boy playing an electric piano, were the only ones there. Pretty soon, a couple of other people walked in, promptly picked up microphones that were all hooked up to one amplifier, and started singing at the top of their lungs. I was in shock that 3 people could first of all be that loud, and second of all, make it sound like an entire choir was signing. It was UNBELIEVABLY beautiful. I, again, immediately started crying, and they sung and sung and sung, clapped and danced. Over the next 2 hours, people started showing up and joining in the singing and praising, and after about 3 hours (yes three hours), the whole place was packed. My favorite was when about 2 hours in, a lady and her daughter came RUNNING to the front with bags spilling over with green and white plastic flowers, red organza and white table clothes, and proceeded to decorate the front of the room. We danced and danced, and the people in the front kept the music going throughout the sermons (yes, there were multiple sermons). By 12:30, we started to realize that it was JUST getting really going (they were moving into the second offering), and decided that we had to leave or we would miss lunch at our dorms, so we snuck out the back. It was such a wonderful experience and I am so glad that I went.

The picture is of the children singing to the women in the congregation in honor of Mother's Day.

No comments: