There was an air of deference about my colleagues as they accompanied the small round man into the college. In Zaire it is easy to tell which man in a group is most "important", the others seem to cluster round and accompany him like tugs round a liner. "Ah, Bishop, you haven't met Professeur Tim have you..." We were introduced. Several of the 63 denominations which compose the Church of Christ in Zaire have Bishops, one or two are our ex-students so another Bishop in the College was no surprise, though he seemed friendlier and less aloof than most. The real surprise came when Prof. Ngoy explained that Monseigneur Kitobo is a Baptist, Bishop of the Episcopal Baptist Churches. That was something of a shock to a non-conformist English Baptist, especially for one who, as a child attending an Anglican School had learned the differences between us and them long before discovering our common Christianity.
The chairs were scattered around the church. The worshipers were not seated, but standing gathered round a couple who face a difficult time. Many have placed a hand on one of them, others simply stand clustered around. Most are praying aloud, several in the strangely comforting non-sense babble of "tongues". Though they did not pray over people every week, on another occasion Barbara and I would be at the centre of such a circle, before our return to Zaire after furlough.
A typical Victorian city church, organ pipes centre front, empty gallery around and above. At the lectern stands the minister, black gown, white preaching bands over a blue cassock. When the choir complete the introit the measured rhythm of the service will move on and here too the work of the Zaire Protestant College will be prayed for.
Brown pews straight as soldiers on parade, plain windows let in some autumn sun, the only flight of fancy in the building usually the "gothic" curve of their arches, though today it is the abundant display of produce from garden and field - here in the West Country where the idea began, Harvest Festival is done properly! The ruddy solid faces of the congregation listen intent to the very Welsh voice of the preacher as the promise of God's continuing provision and care rolls from the pulpit.
The "Chit-Chat Kittens" finish the jingle: "On the Chit-Chat show TONIGHT!" and as the music dies away, the host lounging alertly under the lights introduces his guests. He is dressed in my jacket but it's warm enough and I'm glad to take it off! Elvis, Rick Hobson and, as there is a general election on, Ms Kirsty-Brown our MP will discuss L-O-V-E. They are hilariously predictable, Elvis sings about love, singing up to some of the ladies in the audience, who scream appreciatively or squirm with embarrassment. When love is mentioned Rick only thinks of sex. The MP only loves herself. Finally the host calls for "someone from the audience", we are all glad when the Producer chooses Sandra - she regularly plays the ingenue in these productions. She carries her Bible into the lights and speaks simply about God's love shown in Jesus. The host sums up briefly, the "Chit-Chat Kittens" sing, and another Contemporary Church ends as we mill about and chat.
Upstairs in the sanctuary the Korean congregation begin their service. When I preach for them my name becomes Rev Timbul Keley, but as I was Prof Time in Zaire what is the difference! Already they outnumber the English speaking church, if "Contemporary Church", Church planting efforts and the rest aren't effective, soon there will be more Asian than European Christians in Auckland.
© Tim Bulkeley, 1996-2002
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