Today, I am overflowing.
We were fortunate enough to worship amongst an ELCSA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa) congregation this morning. St. Christopher’s church is a one room church, it’s ceilings stained and broken, white washed walls, bars on all the windows. Caught in the midst of an expansion, the courtyard is littered with bricks and mounds of the rich, red earth that sticks to your shoes as you shuffle through it. Its pews are simple black plastic chairs, facing the front altar, which was richly decorated in candlesticks, in paintings of Christ, and adorned with an exquisite table cloth. We arrived before the rest of the congregation, awkwardly gathered together in two rows, being shepherded by our wonderful new family, the Leiseths. Before long, people started trickling in, filling the seats around us. There were timid hellos and even more timid waves, both from the congregants and the YAGM.
We were unsure and awkward.
Then began the singing. Oh, such singing! During most worship services back home, I find it hard to find and feel the Holy Spirit, a challenging and beautiful exercise. But here, the Holy Spirit flew in through windows, the cracks in the ceiling, the open doorways, ushered in by the melodic praise of St. Christopher’s congregation. We were swept away again and again into the river of varied voices, all raised in praise and absolute adoration. And the dancing and clapping – never before have I experienced worship as celebration. Everything was cause for an, “Amen!”, every pause was to allow for genuine laughter. Every shift in the liturgy was justification for another song. Such authentic, honest-to-goodness, openly expressed emotion – you had no choice but to either join in or be swept away by its pull. I could not keep still, even swaying during the prayers. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know any of the words (or frankly, the tunes), I sang. It didn’t matter that I didn’t look like I belonged, I was welcomed and encouraged. No longer awkward, or at least unaware of it, we were worshiping brothers and sisters welcomed into this vibrant house of God.
I was being called home.
We were asked to sing twice during the service. Both times were met with enthusiastic and polite applause. But two was apparently not enough, and for our encore performance, we sang, “We Are Marching”. Eyes started lighting up, hands started clapping along to our rhythms, bodies rose out of chairs as recognition dawned. In that moment, the Holy Spirit grabbed each and every one of us, wrapped us up in her arms, and threw us into the community. And in the moment when the congregation joined in with us, the Holy Spirit worked his way into each and every voice, weaving ours together until you could not distinguish YAGM from congregant. Then someone in the crowd confidently said, “Zulu!” and we were swept along in the Zulu translation (tip of the hat to past YAGM for teaching us the words). Their smiles grew even larger as our tongues clumsily stumbled over the unfamiliar words. “You are already South African!”, I was told after the service. What began as a simple act of showing our gratitude for being welcomed into worship became the formation of a community, the inclusion of every voice and mind and body. We marched together, both physically and spiritually, and I am forever changed because of it.
Three days into a full year and I am changed. Changed and rocked by the Holy Spirit, by Rev. Mathe, by Shibu, by all the gogos (grandmother in Zulu), and by the smiles and handshakes of so many new family members.
I am overflowing. I am at peace. And I am home.
Come, Holy Spirit!