By Dale Perks
On Sunday I attended a Presbyterian Church service, for the second time, along with some students and a co-learner from Makupo village. Some of the differences that I observed in comparison to some of the masses that I’ve participated in Canada included the energy that was felt during this celebration, as well as the amazing harmonies that were heard by the many choirs and villagers of all ages who attended the service. I watched the movements of everyone, as individuals swayed, danced, and clapped to the colourful rhythms and upbeat tempos, which made me want to get up from my seat and dance. The people involved with Praxis Malawi know that I love to dance. However, I refrained from dancing and resorted to a mild tapping of my feet, and swaying my body, as I listened to the songs and sang, as best as I could in Chichewa some of the songs. As a practicing Catholic, I am used to celebrating mass, which generally lasts an hour long, and to my surprised I couldn’t believe how quickly the time passed, even though the service lasted two hours and was entirely spoken in Chichewa.
Another thing that really struck me was the number of choirs that were present during this service. The choir that was nearest to us was a children’s choir, comprised of mostly children who were blind and a few with albinism, which were accompanied by two musicians, including the choir master who played a key board, and a blind man who played the bass. Many of their songs were performed with a similar structure, with either a soloist, or two singers leading the song, which was then echoed by the rest of the choir and congregation. What really impressed me was how everyone knew the songs by heart and sang with such fervour. There was a sense of active and joyous participation, which is sometimes lacking in the masses that I’ve attended back home. When you weren’t expecting it, the minister would announce the name of yet another choir, which would stand up from a different section of the church, and begin to sing in four part harmony, with everyone else joining in. A total of five choirs were present, including several secondary school choirs, and a choir made up of nuns, who appeared to be of various ages, dressed in white with their hair covered in pure white scarves. They too danced and sang with great enthusiasm, which was truly contagious. I was astonished when I found out that there are sometimes as many as 15 choirs that sing in one service in this particular church. The only time I’ve ever witnessed this amount of choirs singing during one service in Canada was during a very special celebration. Back home, there are many churches that don’t even have a single choir to sing during their masses and often the services or masses are much less energetic, with parishioners typically more passive and less expressive in relation to movement.
The most noticeable difference was related to how the woman and men sit in separate sections of the church. As well, during the collection, individuals of specific villages are called upon to give their donations. The music continues until everyone has dropped off their money in a bucket, and then the announcement is made asking for further donations.
All of the moneys are separated and immediately counted, and the amounts that are given by each village are announced publically to the entire congregation, including the amount that was given by me and the students. This was somewhat intimidating, especially since we had no idea that this was going to take place.
Other than the latter experience, it was really special to hear all of the voices, sung in harmony, and to watch everyone engage with such positive energy and with joyful movement. If only some of this enthusiasm could be transferred to some of our masses back home!