August 29, 2004
The Ordination Service
Sunday, August 29, 2004, dawned bright and clear, which is very typical for this time of year in Malawi. The day was warm but not hot …the humidity is still very low here.
It is the day Blantyre Synod will ordain six pastors: one woman and five men. This group graduated from Zomba Theological College in October of 2003 and each has spent the last year under the supervision of a pastor, learning the “nuts and bolts”of day to day ministry.
The Celebration of Worship was scheduled to begin at 9 am at the Limbe CCAP, one of the five largest congregations in Blantyre Synod. The Merry family arrived at 8:45 (no sense in being too early) and I am swiftly escorted into the Manse while my family is taken into the Sanctuary and seated in the front right behind the Women’s Guild. In the Manse are about 50 pastors and some members of Mvano, the Women’s Guild. After some quick words of instruction, the Pastors adjourned to the Fellowship hall where we worked out who was going to do what and then we were told to put our robes on. By this time the number of pastors had grown to 75 (there are only 150 pastors in the whole Blantyre Synod, and that includes retired pastors). I have the only robe that is not black –mine is blue. You can pick me out of the crowd quite easily because of that and the fact that I am the only muzungu (white person) Abusa (pastor).
The Celebration of Worship began promptly at 9:27 (not bad, really). My family told me that three choirs sang while they were waiting for the start of the service. (Although they stopped in the middle of a song as the Pastors began to process in to the sanctuary.) The service lasted until 12:52 pm (my poor girls were about to go nuts…especially Brooke –but they hung in there). At about 10:30, I got up to preach the English Sermon (Yes, there was a sermon in Chichewa following mine –two for the price of one!)
There are about 2000 people packed into the Limbe Church. Many people were seated on chairs in the isles or standing in the back or outside, so they could hear the service over the public address system. I preached from the text, Jeremiah 1:4-10, in a sermon entitled, “Three Tough Questions.”It was a very appropriate sermon for an Ordination and I spoke very personally to the six ordinands. I was impressed with how attentive and involved the congregation was in the sermon, and for days now, I have had people stopping me in the halls and in the streets talking to me about the content of the sermon. (Quite amazing!)
Following the two sermons, the actual Ordination took place. It was surprising how similar it was to an Ordination in the USA. Questions were asked of the ordinands, a challenge was offered and then all of the pastors present laid hands on the ordinands as they were set apart for the Ministry of Word and Sacrament. The new ministers were then escorted up one at a time to sign the official registry book of Blantyre Synod which contains the names of every Pastor who has ever served Blantyre Synod. The new pastors were then presented with a new preaching robe, a Chichewa Bible and a Nyimbo Za Mulungu (hymnbook). Then, in a very tender act, they are assigned to their new Presbyteries and the pastors of each Presbytery came down and escorted them to the Chancel to join the pastors sitting in the front. This signified that they were now officially ABUSAS! During this process the choirs were singing, people were clapping and shouts of joy were heard from every corner of the Sanctuary. It was a very festive occasion. This is the only Ordination that will take place this year and the sad part is that these six new pastors will not increase the number of pastors in Blantyre Synod since six pastors died in the last year. There is a crying need for more clergy in Blantyre Synod.
Following worship, absolutely everyone was invited back into the fellowship hall where the Limbe CCAP Congregation fed all 2000+ people in less than 45 minutes. It was an amazing thing to behold. We ate chicken, beef stew, rice, nsima (a staple of the Malawian diet –it is a thick corn mixture resembling grits), coleslaw and peas. There is plenty of Coke, Sobo and Fanta (orange, grape, cherry plum, pineapple and ginger flavored soft drinks) for everyone and bananas for dessert. After eating, my family leaves…letting me fend for myself for a ride home. There are several more speeches, some more introductions and more singing. I finally arrive home at about 2:30 pm, delighted with a day well spent with Blantyre Synod and pleased that this part of the Kingdom of God has six new Ministers of Word and Sacrament …Praise be to God!