Worship at All Africa Conference of Churches – Maputo, Mozambique

Worship at All Africa Council of Churches – Maputo, Mozambique – December 2008

The worship life of the 9th General Assembly of the All Africa Conference of Churches in Maputo, Mozambique was drafted with a sense of connectedness, of commonality, and with the hope and desire that, during this gathering, we, the body of Christ in Africa would dig deeper into our history of faith, into the actual movements of God in our midst and in expansion and shaping of our lives together.  Thus, the main theme that run through our hearts and bodies as we prepared the worship services of the assembly, was the theme of weaving.  As a very diverse body of Christ made up of so many cultures, languages, landscapes, costumes, denominations and countries, our challenge was to find liturgical ways to weave us all in, under, around and through  the love of God in Christ in the unity of the Spirit. Our hope and prayers were that, by imperfectly creating these threads through songs, prayers, symbols, and actions, God would grace in us the power of the Holy Spirit to unite us, to help us forgive and ask for forgiveness, to glorify God and honor one another. Through these diverse liturgical threads, the flow of the Holy Spirit would then confirm in us a strong sense of togetherness, of commonality, of life shared together. With that, we wanted to recall this one aspect of the Bantu theology with this strong sense of belonging, a vital force in the African continent.

The weaving of our common threads, of our commonality and belonging could be seen in all of the elements of the worship. All the symbols used in the worship services came from Africa and were created by single artists, communities and street craftspeople.  The sacraments were expressed in various ways: there were big baptismal founts sitting on woven wood strings remembering our common beginnings as Christians; the variety of chalices made of different materials such as glass, wood and clay woven with beads were representing the diversity of people, gifts, creativity and communions around the Eucharistic tables.  Along with the sacraments, daily African elements such as baskets, plates and trays of various sizes and colors, cloths, capulanas and batiks were spread throughout the worshiping spaces.  Water was always present to represent our baptism. Fire were present in the first worship service in order to represent the light of Christ going ahead of us, illuminating the way. Bread and flowers were there representing the bountiful land of Africa and the gifts of God to us all. We hoped that with all of these elements in the worship services, people would have their senses enhanced and have their hearts open to God and to the challenges that were to be issued during the conference.  Also, we wanted to bring to our worship services the work and the daily lives of people throughout Africa and create a sense of connection with the entire continent. Besides the material symbols, there were a whole set of liturgical gestures and movements that also intended to show the richness of Africa and the challenges posed to us all. Regarding music, a choir of many voices from various local Christian churches in Maputo helped us sing songs from several countries of Africa and enliven our hearts and move our bodies in the worship of our God.  Prayers, calls to worship, litanies, confessions of sin and affirmations of faith came from various times and places in the history of the Christian churches.

Daily Worship – Liturgical Highlights:

Sunday: “Conference Opening Worship Service.” The opening service was an African feast! Before the service started, outside of the worship space, percussionists were playing a call to worship with their drums and rhythms. Inside of the space, several local church choirs were singing to the Lord preparing the hearts, minds and bodies of worshipers to the service that was about to start.  Several liturgists from various parts of Africa participated in the in African Languages and Portuguese, English and French.  The service started with a call to worship responded by the percussionists, now inside of the gymnasium. When the choir started to sing, children and teenagers made their way into the procession dancing and bringing water, fruits and flowers, showing the richness of the African continent.  A torch was opening the way representing the light of Christ. A man carrying his daughter holding an open Bible in his shoulders intended to show a) the interconnections between generations, that we stand on our forebears and ancestors shoulders, and b) how our fathers and mothers continue to teach the Bible to their children creating a future for God’s family. The central liturgical element in the worship space was the Eucharistic table at the center with the Bible, cups, plates and colorful baskets with bread. Baptismal founts with water were placed in various places for people to remind their baptisms. Scripture readings: Ezekiel 37:1-10; Romans 8:31-39.

Monday: “Celebrating our Diversity.” In this worship service we had a group of seminarian students performing the Biblical texts of Babel and Pentecost, evidencing our movement from separation to togetherness. At the end, a calabash from the Marri Marri people in Kenya was used to symbolize a constant need for forgiveness.  With such a diverse constituency and the difficult issues to be discussed during the assembly, the AACC meeting needed to issue a call to forgiveness from its very beginning. Scripture readings: Genesis 11:1-9; Acts 2;1-12.

Tuesday: “Celebrating the Women in Africa. Tamar, Gender based Violence.” Voices of women were heard and the memories of our mothers and grandmothers remembered. During the worship, stories of violence against women in Africa were told in conjunction with the Biblical story of Judges 19:14-29. During this time, there was a representation of a woman’s body cut in pieces throughout the stage represented the various kinds of violence perpetrated against women. As the Biblical story and the stories of women in Africa unfolded, the body of that woman in format of a doll was put back together by a woman sawing her body,  representing the daily work of the African women who are continuously sustaining our families, weaving our churches, threading our countries, and mending our continent. Along with this woman, her daughter was seating by her side on the floor. All of this scene intended also to show the strength of the African woman who, even in the midst of the most difficult and painful times, she still cares for their families. At the end of each difficult story we all responded together: “Think about it! Consider it! Speak out!” Scripture readings: Judges 19:14-29;

Wednesday: “Ecology.” During this worship service we remembered the glory of God everywhere in the world and the bountiful resources of Africa. We prayed for forgiveness for not caring for the poor and the earth the way we Christians, stewards of God’s creation, should do. We interceded for the world, for the rivers and lands of Africa, and asked for God’s strength to help us sustain the world, help the small farmers, to work for more justice and less greed, for connections between our lives and the life of the earth. At the end, the whole community was fed and we shared blessed bread with one another. The bread came from local communities and placed on Ethiopian baskets.  Scripture readings: Psalm 72:1-5; 11-14; 18-19; Genesis 3:14-19; Isaiah 11: 1-9; Luke 12:22-34.

Thursday: “Health and Wholeness: HIV and AIDS.” In this worship, we had a man with HIV telling his story and challenging us to pay attention to our ways of including people in our worshiping communities.  We prayed for people with AIDS and HIV throughout Africa and committed ourselves to be God’s enduring and welcoming love to all.  Every participant received a red ribbon to remember that day and at the end of the worship, a group of people went up to the stage and embraced the cross with several red ribbons. Also, a red ribbon embraced the cross on the symbol of AACC on the main screen. Scripture readings: I Corinthians 12:12.

Friday: “Celebrating Communion, Eucharistic Service and Blessing of the New AACC Leaders.”  As we closed the week, the building/threading of the Kingdom of God in our lives, we celebrated the Eucharist.  We also had the presentation of the General Committee Members and the passing of the torch from the previous Committee to the new one. Among these celebrations, we felt that what holds us together as one body of Christ in Africa is our communion in and through the table of Jesus Christ.  Strongly rooted in the table, we remembered our past, we re-membered our present and will re-envision our future. We finished by saying a litany of togetherness written by  Archbishop Oscar Romero from Latin America: “ This is what we are about… we are prophets of a future not our own.” Scripture Readings: Joshua 1: 3–9; John 15:1-10.

Participants: we were blessed with the participation of liturgists, musicians, choristers, artists, speakers and youth from various parts of Africa and the world, from many different denominations and cultural backgrounds. All of them, men and women, shared the gospel of Christ through the many languages of Africa, offering unending gifts to all who participate in this remarkable time.

Music: members of the churches of Christ in Maputo offered their time and talents to lead us into singing. Singing was a highlight of our conference. Every time the choir started to sing, the whole conference would join in singing, dancing and rejoicing in God’s presence. Also, other choirs from other countries such as Kenya, helped us worship God. Most of the songs sang during the conference came from many communities and countries of Africa and some from around the world.

The conference song, “Africa Sekeleka,” sang in Xangana, was a powerful song composed by an Anglican pastor in Maputo. That song, along with the theme of the conference “Africa, step froth in faith,” offered us a challenge to the days and years ahead and we went back to our communities singing:

Africa, sekeleka

After having sang, prayed, shouted, cried and touched by God, we left the conference woven with each other in the threads of God’s love and carried by the ropes of the winds of God sending us forth in faith.  After the final worship, we left Maputo with the conviction that God is indeed with us, with our leaders, with the church of Christ and with our beautiful land called Africa. Now, it is on us to continue the weaving of our faith, of our communities and our continent as we echo this unending demand: “Africa, step forth in faith!”

Cláudio Carvalhaes
Assistant Professor of Worship and Preaching
Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary

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