It’s Palm Sunday and, of course, a special Sunday service to celebrate Jesus riding that donkey into Jerusalem.
These days I am filling a gap in the diocesan roster over at Luangwa parish. It has three congregations, and today my duties took me to the main congregation, St. Luke’s Luangwa. Like most cities in the world, certainly all of them in Africa, Kitwe is suffering from urban drift and its inevitable consequences, urban sprawl. Luangwa is one of those 'sprawl' parishes.
In some parts of the sprawl out of the city there are new buildings, reasonably large houses on fair sizes plots, built or being built by people with a job and a little bit of money. Luangwa is still not quite there, but it is a thriving, growing community, although one would not rush to suggest that there was a lot of spare money about the place.
Like the wider community, St. Luke’s is growing, thriving and not particularly wealthy. There is a small old church, very scruffy and run down. The roof trusses have been eaten by termites, and today I was given to wondering exactly how long it will be until they collapse. Not that they are actually supporting much. The 'roof', like most church rooves in Zambia is G.I sheet, or rather was. It is more rust and holes than actual roof. So much so that the church is usually awash during the rainy season. It does not do to sit down on any of the softer seats either, as they are beyond slightly damp.
To be fair the parish is trying to build a new church. They have managed to get to roof level, and part of my job will be to encourage them to get the roof on and the building usable. Happily, the rains are fading out now, and wellington boots were not required for this morning’s procession. Hopefully by next year...
One of our students and myself travelled together to the service. Along the route we saw several congregations of various flavours out waving palm branches with all the necessary singing and dancing. We arrived to be greeted by a large pile of palm branches ready for us to do the same.
We gathered together and processed around the church to huge excitement, lots of noise, singing, dancing and those curious African ululations. The noise increased as too much congregation crammed into too little building, in what seemed to be an exceptionally lively game of sardines.
Like most Zambian parishes we have a praise band and a choir. Like most Zambian parishes the congregations is astoundingly young. 60 odd out of 180 people attending today were young children. Most of the rest seemed to be hardly out of their teens. Needless to say, the energy levels are high. There was singing and dancing throughout the service with the various singers taking it in turns to lead.
<iframe src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/261974279" width="448" height="252" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen></iframe>
<p><a href="https://vimeo.com/261974279">Palm Sunday Zambia</a> from <a href="https://vimeo.com/discovermission">Discover Mission</a> on <a href="https://vimeo.com">Vimeo</a>.</p>
We got to the communion and I passed the cup and paten to the readers as I took a brief break, before blessing those 60 odd children and the adults who are not confirmed.
The children tend to come up in family units. An older brother, about 10 years old, with a much younger sister carefully tucked under his arm so that she could not escape. Girls about 8 or 9 carrying the baby of the family tied up in a cotton 'chitenge' cloth.
As one of the characters in Barbara Kingslover’s _The Poisonwood Bible_ comments, “the gap between being carried on someone’s back and carrying someone on your back is not wide”. All through what seemed to be an endless procession of children, the choir and praise band keep up the singing, dancing and drumming. The noise, intense as it was close up and personal in a small space, did not seem to bother any of the small children, although the idea of a direct encounter with something as strange as a white man did bother one enough to cause her to flee in tears.
When the crowd queuing for a blessing cleared, the energy levels hit maximum. The whole church exploded into a singing and dancing mass of excitement, waving palm branches, and drumming. As the student with me commented “the people have celebrated today”.
Even when life is thin and hard we need to celebrate. Today the people of Luangwa did just that.