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Monday, June 25, 2012

Seven is a Holy Number


Written by Dr. Gregory Peterson

Seven is the number of days we have been in Namibia. Seven is also the number of hours we were in church today! We were privileged to attend the ordination service for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia (ELCIN), a three-part affair in which five pastoral candidates were ordained into the ministry of Word and Sacrament. There is a shortage of pastors in the 800,000-member ELCIN and ordinations take place only every four years. So, there was much cause for celebration and rejoicing! One parish in the Diocese was about to receive its first pastor.

Having attended numerous Lutheran worship services in Namibia and South Africa on two previous trips, I was prepared for a lengthy liturgy. But, this went over-the-top! The site chosen for the event was the Onesi Parish, a rural congregation that recently consecrated a new church building, approximately 130 kilometers northwest of the ELCIN Guest House in Oniipa where we are staying. Pastor Philippus Henok agreed to guide our van and asked us to be ready at 6:00 a.m. The drive took two and a half hours, our expert driver Joey dodging dogs and donkeys, while deftly navigating the last 28 kilometers on bumpy gravel (not helpful for full bladders!). Upon arrival we were warmly greeted and promptly given seats in the VIP and pastors’ section in what was an already overflowing sanctuary, the crowd estimated to have been about 1,800. Promptly at 9:00 a.m. a long procession led by Presiding Bishop Shekutamba Nambala, including hundreds of pastors, deacons and church leaders opened the ordination ceremony. Two hours later with the newly ordained pastors presiding and preaching, the Sunday service proper began. We listened intently to an exuberant and fiery sermon on the calling of Matthew. All of us were seated with pastors who individually translated word for word the entire proceeding from Oshiovambo so that we might more fully participate. Talk about hospitality! The event concluded with greetings and acknowledgments from several other church leaders and government representatives, continuing for about two more hours, the Bishop pronouncing the Benediction just before 4:00 p.m. I took a bathroom break at the beginning of the final section, only realizing after I got out of the sanctuary that I had been in there for five hours. Time flies when you’re having fun! It was also great to connect with pastors and church members I have met on previous trips. The Namibians are friendly and gracious hosts!

This worship experience, like many others I have attended in Namibia and South Africa, fills me with wonder and makes me think. I think about what it means to be welcoming and how to practice hospitality. I think about what is truly authentic when it comes to a community’s worship life, assembly song and prayer. It shows me what it means to be patient. Even the smallest children are present throughout, often smiling, some even standing outside the open windows. And nobody is looking at a watch or even making the slightest attempt to move things along. This is Holy time – Sabbath -- and it is observed with commitment, dignity and joy each week. I am also thinking about how important the parish pastor is in these remote agricultural communities in the far north of a country with limited access and a tough climate. A pastor is a spiritual leader, civic leader, counselor, and teacher and is well connected to the wider world. A real and much-needed resource.

After a traditional Namibian church dinner of roasted meat, potato salad, carrot and raisin salad, rice, cooked carrots and cabbage, we made the long trek back to the cozy ELCIN Guest House, accompanied by a stunning African sunset. It was time to settle in for an evening repast including a soccer game on TV (England vs. Italy) feeling seven times blest! Seven is a holy number. -- GP

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