September 12, 2004
The day dawned bright and clear, as do most days in Malawi during this time of the year. Today is the day I will be Inducted (Installed) as Associate Pastor of the St. James CCAP Congregation and a member of Blantyre City Presbytery. (The Stated Clerk of Pittsburgh Presbytery, John Matta, will probably tell me it is illegal to belong to two Presbyteries at once!)
The worship is to begin at approximately (all times in Malawi are approximate) 9:00 a.m. St. James is about a 15 minute drive from our home and on the way we stop at Grace Bandawe Conference Center to pick up two Scottish ladies (Judy and Carolyn) visiting Blantyre Synod with the Church of Scotland. They are working in the Education Department of the Synod for about a month.
We arrive at St. James at 8:45 a.m. And to my surprise the church is already alive with people. I walk into the Vestry and there are already 10 Pastors getting robed…this is my first hint that this is going to be an important occasion…up until this point I had no idea…no one had really said anything about the Induction.
The Elders and Pastors gathered in the Vestry for assignments, and instead of one sermon, there will be two…English and Chichewa. The Induction itself is scheduled to happen about half way through the Celebration of Worship…followed by the Commissioning of the missionaries who will be traveling to Pittsburgh.
As we are making assignments, Beth is brought into the Vestry and she is dressed in Mvano (Women’s Guild) attire…black skirt, white blouse and a white head scarf. They had not taken any measurements, and just by eyeing her up make her an outfit that fit perfectly. We both looked very official…me in my blue robe with my Pittsburgh Presbytery stole on and Beth in her Mvano clothing.
Beth and I are ushered out first; as we come out the congregation stands and begins to cheer…very humbling. We are ushered to special seats in front of the church…Heather and Brooke are seated in the front pew to our left.
The entire Celebration of Worship is festive. Several hymns, at least five or six different choirs…all excellent…two sermons…several periods of intense prayer…then finally the Induction itself. I am asked to rise and come forward. By this time there are at least 25 Pastors in attendance (remember the Synod only has 137 active Pastors) and it is standing room only in the church…just absolutely packed. The Moderator of the Blantyre City Presbytery, the Rev. Luckson Chingadza, pastor of the St. Michael’s and All Angels CCAP congregation conducts the Induction. He asks the congregation two questions about whether they will accept and support me…fortunately they reply in the affirmative. Then I am asked to respond to four questions…very similar to PC(USA) ordination questions, to which I enthusiastically affirm. At this point I am asked to kneel (fortunately a pillow is placed on the concrete floor) and an Induction Prayer is offered. When I rise the Moderator gives me a very spirited challenge…and then the Pastors came down from the chancel and welcomed me. They invited me to sit up front with them and the Mvano ladies took Beth to sit with the Mvano (of which there must be at least 250). It was a very touching and personally significant spiritual event in me life, but wait…we are far from over.
The missionaries going to Pittsburgh are then commissioned. The Moderator of the Synod, the Rev. Macdonald Katawadi has the honor of commissioning the missionaries. He does an excellent job of charging them to serve Christ in all that they do…and not to lose the focus of what the trip is about…to be mutually encouraged. That part of the service ended with the missionaries performing a rousing song and dance.
Then the time of offering began, and, much to our surprise, the offerings of money and gifts were for the new Associate Pastor and his family. Beth and I shook the hand of every person in the congregation…at least 2000+ as they brought forward wrapped gifts and cash…it was the most humbling event I have ever been a part of…it left me speechless (and as most of you know, that is hard to do) and overflowing emotionally. The people sang and danced as they brought gifts forward…joy filled the Church.
Worship ended about 1:15 p.m., over four hours after it started, and the entire Merry family shook everyone’s hands as they exited the church. There were several exits from the church and I would have snuck out another exit at this point, but most people waited in line to shake our hands.
There is a luncheon prepared at the Manse for the 100+ dignitaries that are in attendance. A fine meal is prepared by members of the Mvano. We eat and laugh and share and visit for the better part of an hour. At this point I am exhausted, and we walk back to the Church to fill our truck with the gifts that we have been offered.
We arrive back at the house…and it is like Christmas, we have a pile of gifts to unwrap which include: cutlery, dishes, pots, cups, cloth, carvings, a beautiful Malawi-shaped clock, and a lot of cash. Literally a bagful. It took Heather, Brooke and me the better part of our hour to separate and count the money. The cash amounted to 225,000 Kwacha (about $200.00) mostly in 5, 10 and 20K notes. (Worth about 5, 10 and 20 cents respectively). An unbelievable offering from people who have difficulty making ends meet from day to day. We will give the entire offering back to the church in subtle ways during the year.
In all of my years as a Presbyterian Pastor I have never been Inducted/Installed like this. It was an absolutely unbelievable day.