If you have not had your Pentecost or Aldersgate experience, come to worship at Malange Central United Methodist Church. Today, September the 20th, Icel, Amanda, and I, gathered here for the third Sunday in a row. We just cannot get enough of the overflowing fervor of the congregation. Let me share some highlights of the way they worship, and perhaps you will get a taste of how the Spirit works among them.
The exquisite mixture of traditional-American (or European) liturgical elements, together with autochthonous religious expressions, works as a conduit for the manifestation of the Holy Spirit (see video below). The service begins with a processional entrance of the two main choirs, namely, the youth choir, dressed in robes, and the “mamais” or ladies, sporting colorful Angolan dresses. As they come in, they dance swinging side to side. A third choir, that of the men, is already sitting on the two front rows to the left when the service begins.
The first block following the processional includes the call to worship, opening prayer, congregational hymn, Apostle’s creed, doxology and a heart-felt confession prayer. The assurance of forgiveness comes in the way of special music by the youth choir, a responsive reading from the hymnbook, and another special by the ladies choir. Then they turn to one another for greetings, the presentation of visitors and new converts, announcements, and thanksgivings. All this is done with formality and etiquette. In fact, they are generally formal and dress very properly—many men coming in suit and tie and the women, again, in colorful dresses.
My family and I vibrate with every single note of their music. That is why we have so much anticipation for the following block. They call it “momento de louvores.” The three choirs sing, and anybody is invited to come spontaneously to the front and sing solos. You can hear either a traditional western hymn, or an African tune, sung in Portuguese or any of the three original languages of the nation. While the music goes on, there is a basket placed in front of the altar. People who are touched by any particular hymn come to the front and drop an offering in the basket. Sometimes entire rows go to the basket. On our fist Sunday the people from our pew did this. We followed them thinking that this was the time for the general offering and gave all we had. Little did we know that, next, they pass more baskets by the pews. Lucky for us, we found more money and had something to give. Now we know better. We break our offering into a few bills for the different collections. This part will go on until all have had a chance to sing. As for me, I wish it never ended. I am still trying to figure out why their music is so engaging. The fact is that it carries contagious strength, resilience and hope. At the end of this part the baskets are carried to the altar and presented with prayer.
The block for the Proclamation includes the Scripture reading and the message, with another special by the choir sandwiched in between the two. O, yes, they sing for every occasion, but it is never too much. In compensation, the message is not long. It is spirited and Bible-based, but they don’t waste time in long series of jokes. And as to the response to the message and conclusion, you might as well guess what they do: they sing a final hymn, give the benediction, and leave the sanctuary in a recessional led by the choirs with more music and dancing. This continues outside in front of the church as people greet one another. In total the service could last close to three hours, but they go by really quick.
From our previous visit in 2006, we identify this worship structure as common through the United Methodist churches in Angola. One thing is clear to us: the Spirit moves here in a mighty way, and the name of Christ is lifted up in each service. If you hear God’s voice through music, you would have a renewed Aldersgate experience at the East Angola Conference.