Church Naija style
on Heather Saunders (Nigeria), 23/Nov/2010 12:17, 34 days ago
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When I arrived in Nigeria, I was told the apocryphal story of a previous volunteer who had agreed to go to church with an acquaintance, and after an exhausting four hour service in a hot church, had said something which indicated she had enjoyed herself. She was then woken at 6am to attend church for the next four successive Sundays until she plucked up the courage to say she didn't want to go...With this in story in mind, and knowing full well that services here are not usually less than four hours long, I have always approached invitations to attend church with trepidation.The steeple of the national Christian centre,Abuja.Those services I've been brave enough (or too weak to refuse) to attend have ranged in size and length, and craziness of the preaching, but have been endlessly surprising.My first service was at the Assemblies of God church in Kaduna, a giant building able to hold up to a thousand people. Richard had been accosted by one of the many church pastors whilst at the barbers, and despite his insistence to the man that we were Buddhist, managed to commit to attending one Sunday at 8am! We arrived at 8.20, and were promptly split up, I to attend a ladies bible class, and he a mens. I was handed a white handkerchief, which I assumed was on account of the heat, and used it to mop my brow. I was then handed another, and politely asked to use it to cover my hair... mightily embarrassed I complied. Once the service proper began, we were seated at the front of the church, with all the other new worshippers, where were able to enjoy the service. I didn't recognise any of the songs, but the dancing and enthusiasm in the service was infectious, and the women's outfits of shiny large head wraps, sparkly tops and wrappers made for an incredible view, especially the two large groups which had on matching outfits in honour of the women's day at the church.. We left after 3 and a half hours, with at least three collections, lots of songs and dancing, but before the sermon, which may have been another hour! We crept out of a side door, with the excuse we had to visit some friends but I'm sure our exit didn't go unnoticed!Some of the amazing outfits worn by Nigerian ladies to church.My second visit to church in Nigeria was a complete juxtaposition to the first. My colleague Monday had asked me to attend a service for the children's day at his church, in Ungwan Romi, a surburb towards the less well off end of town where I work. This church was much smaller, with only space for up to 100 people, it was sparsely decorated, with plastic chairs and a low altar, much less fancy and golden than the Assemblies of God. The children's day performances were wonderful, there were plays, dances, songs and children reading passages from the bible from memory. Some of the readings were very cute, small children around five had learnt just sentences, whereas older ones had whole passages off pat. I realised how so many Nigerians are confident at public speaking, those who couldn't remember their lines were laughed off stage, I'm sure an experience like that at the age of eight would've hardened me up a bit! I'd arrived at 9, and by the time the performances were over it was 12, when the pastor proceeded to give his usual one hour long sermon. Just as he was warming to his theme 'giving your daughter a phone will turn her into a harlot', around 45 minutes into his sermon, I made my excuses to Monday and crept out the back. Unfortunately my escape was much more obvious this time as Monday's brother revved his motorcycle to take me back to the bus stop and quite a few people were distracted (unsurprisingly) from the sermon.My next attendance at church came through my neighbour, Oscar, he is an aspiring pastor, and had set up a Friday night fellowship, which he had asked Richard and I to attend every time he saw us, and we did our best to come up with a variety of excuses not to. He finally lured us there with the promise of a preacher from the British High Commission. Our curiosity got the better of us, and we found ourselves spending our Friday evening in a sparse function room, with a band, and about ten other people singing, dancing and praying very loudly. The preacher herself went on for around 2 hours, she was a fan of old testament fire and brimstone, and managed to move from one point to another, and back without ever really making any sense to me. After arriving at 6, we got home at 9, from where we proceeded to the pub to try and salvage our evening. Unfortunately for Oscar I don't think the fellowship meetings ever became sustainable because the hire of the hall was quite expensive. So they have now moved to his home, from where every Friday I'm serenaded by loud exclamations and prayers and shouts for forgiveness, thankfully he hasn't invited me for a while.Innocent& Dorcas at the alter.The most recent church services I've attended have been decidedly better than the first three. Last weekend I attended the wedding of my friend Innocent in Katari, a small village between Kaduna and Abuja. The advertised start time was 10am, so the service started around 10.45, it was in a Catholic church and lasted a mere two hours! It was a breath of fresh air compared to the other services, with people reading from the bible, and a sermon that related to peoples everyday lives, and talked about love and marriage. For more details about the service, my friend Beth has written a brilliant blog which sums up the service and the party aftwerwards. It was at the reception that I had my first taste of palm wine in Nigeria, which was disappointing to say the least.The final church service came about through an Irish family connection, it seems no matter how far I travel in the world there's no escaping them. The bishop of Clogher, (Irish family connection: he's the local bishop for my Grandad's cousin in northern Ireland, who also knows my great uncle in Waterford), was visiting Kaduna to support the Jacaranda project run by the Anglican church, on the farm next door to Hope for the Village Child. So on Sunday I found myself at St Paul's Anglican church, Kakuri, where the bishop gave his longest sermon ever, a mere 30 minutes! The only problem I found is that after listening to too many terrible sermons in Nigeria, I've developed a tactic of planning holidays and general day dreaming during church services, so when quizzed by the bishop of Kaduna's wife after the service, I couldn't remember what he'd said! That aside, the service itself was an amazing mix of traditional Nigerian and British hymns, with a thanksgiving section where families bless marriages, new babies, and one group even brought three live goats to the alter. There was a section where visitors were asked to stand so that they could be welcomed, and I was bombarded by hand shakes, smiles, and welcomes from all directions, some people were amazed that I'd arrived with the bishop, but wasn't his daughter, and actually lived in Kaduna.Overall I've found church in Nigeria colourful, different and full of beautiful outfits music and dancing, I'm not sure how I'll feel being back in our cold church for Christmas next year, with a few people trying to sing louder than the cassette playing the backing music... but sometimes when I'm stuck in a four hour service here, that's all I wish for.