Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Churchwide - EELC

about 1/3 of the assembly
Churchwide Assembly, you say?  Synode Général?  Didn’t I just write about one of those?  Yes, indeed, I did, but this is a second.  The Cameroonian Evangelical Lutheran Church just completed its Churchwide Assembly which it holds every two years.  It was held in Bertoua, a large town about a three-hour drive from Garoua Boulai on the paved road.  (I measure things from GB, but one could also say a five-hour drive from Yaoundé where Anne Langdji and others came from; or a six-hour drive from N’gaoundéré where Elie Sanda and Brian Palmer and others came from, or a four-hour drive from Meiganga where Elisabeth Johnson and others came from.)
The Cameroonian Lutheran Church is larger than the one in the Central African Republic.  They have ten regions and many more churches (and pastors).  Fortunately, the church in Bertoua is large and could accommodate the delegates, pastors, partners, and invited guests.  (I was one of the last.)  National Bishop Ruben Ngozo and his assistant were, of course, present, but the tradition here is that the delegates elect a committee of president, a vice-president, and two recorders who run the assembly.  They have a table upfront (just before the altar).  There were also various organizing committees to provide food, lodging, health care (if needed), etc.  Herculean tasks which they carried out well.  (As you see the picture of the front of the church, I wonder if you asking yourself, as I did, about when Jesus was painted and who picked the image…)

The day before the assembly the national church council met to take advantage of having all members present in the same place.  The schedule of the assembly then included: meditations, committee work, reports to the delegates (reading minutes from the last time, reports from the National Bishop, Treasurer, etc.), greetings from the partners, training sessions (like the one I was asked to teach on planning, monitoring, and evaluation – everything anyone needs to know in one hour!), recommendations from the committees which were discussed and voted on, and elections. Oh, and ordinations during the closing service on Sunday.

The day is set up much as it was in Bouar, CAR.  Breakfast, meditation (with different pastors taking the lead/preaching), work, break (with fruit and other foods such as a drinkable porridge), work, lunch, work, dinner…  Yep!  Work with food liberally interspersed.  For the break, as in CAR, Women for Christ brought the snack into the church – usually on trays on their heads to present it as offering.  Then it was disturbed.  This picture shows a woman with oranges (cut in quarters that are still attached to make them easier to eat).  Notice the material of her dress; this is the cloth prepared for Women for Christ. 

Work of the assembly was in French (it was mostly in Sango in CAR) and the sound system was ten times better than the one in Bouar.  Still, I found it hard to always pay attention.  I know the Cameroonian church, but not as well as the Central African one.  I didn’t always understand the background or implications of what was discussed.  It may also have had something to do with the fact that the weather was hot and humid and the church was full of hot bodies that made it close – despite the fact that the windows were open and they had a number of functional ceiling fans.  (Of course, it was hot in Bouar, too, but…  You can see in some of the pictures that in both cities glare from the sun through the windows makes picture taking difficult!)
Here’s a picture of Anne Langdji giving remarks from the ELCA.  (In front of her was one of the members of the assembly steering committee).  The next day when I was presenting, I discovered that I was sweating even more than I had been when seated!  I hadn’t expected that since there was no spotlight and I had hoped that there would be more of a cross breeze up front.  But, no!  About half way through my presentation, I had to keep wiping the sweat as it dripped into my ear and eye.  (Not a pretty picture.)  Fortunately, Anne took advantage of a tradition here.  She came up with a tissue (often a cloth, but this time a Kleenex) and wiped my face leaving me the tissue.  It is a sign that the speaker is appreciated and respected.  The audience cheered!  It was also greatly appreciated by the speaker in this case! (This picture is from Sunday, not when I was sweating profusely!)

The current Secretary General, Hamidou Douldje, was reelected for a second term.  He helps run the national church administration but I don’t know exactly what he does as the Central African church doesn’t have this position.  But, congratulations to him!  (The election process, which is similar to the one I explained in the earlier blog entry, ran until midnight Saturday.  Anne and two other partners stayed, but the rest of us went back to the hotel about 6 p.m.  I was pleased they could represent us all!  By the way, this was the first time I have stayed in a hotel in Cameroon or CAR!  Usually I stay in a guest house or with someone.  The Hotel Christiana is a nice place with many amenities.)

As the final, closing worship service began, it was impressive to see all the pastors dressed in robes with red stoles possessing in and then sitting near the front on both sides of the church.  There were more than 1,425 people present inside and outside around the church.  They had four stations for communion – one of which was outside.)  During the liturgy, Regional Bishops from four regions were introduced.  These regions had had regional assemblies and elected new bishops, so the out-going and in-coming bishops came up front.  First, they all stood in a line.  Then, Bishop Ngozo asked the out-going bishop to stand behind the newly-elected one.  Symbolically, the former bishop will be supporting the new one. 

Six vicars (pastors who had completed their studies and have now completed their internship) were ordained pastors.  There are two others who are still completing their internships in Yaoundé and will be ordained later.  Here is a picture of the new pastors.  Each read the commitment he (yes, unfortunately from my perspective, none was a woman) was making and signed.  Each had about five pastors/regional bishop help him put on the robe and stole. 

The church was even more hot and humid than it had been for the past days during the assembly – a lot more people, after all!  This closing service lasted close to four and a half hours.  But, what a joyous occasion.  Although lunch was provided after the service, those with whom I travelled and I decided to skip that and get on the road.  They dropped me off in Garoua Boulai about 5:40 p.m. which meant they traveled most of the additional hour to arrive in Meiganga in the daylight. 

I got back in time on Sunday, May 10 to call Mom to wish her a happy Mothers’ Day.  It is not celebrated much in Cameroon, but is in CAR – and the US of course.  I send warm wishes to all mothers and those who fulfill nurturing roles.

It was interesting to attend two Churchwide Assemblies in three weeks, but I am very glad they only happen every two years!

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