God's Word for today

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Trial Service time again

This past Sunday (6 April 2008) was the second of the two Trial Services required to be completed by me to be able to appear as a ministry candidate before the District Synod in May this year. My excitement (and apprehension) is mounting, since it is only Synod screening and the final decision by the Connexional Executive that remains between where I am now and becoming a probationer minister in The Methodist Church of Southern Africa.

But it seems that our Circuit Superintendent, Itumeleng Tlhakanye, is getting even more excited than I am - he has two candidates in our Circuit who made it through the February screening, and since both of us are making satisfactory progress with our studies and trial services, he is looking forward to conducting our "collaring service" later on this year.

Whether I'll be able to get a clerical collar around the lump in my throat on the day, remains to be seen...

But back to my second Trial Service, which took place at the Zola Methodist Church in Soweto. This service is the one that takes place outside of one's home Circuit, and in Central District this service always takes place in a cross-cultural setting. However, the concept of "cross-cultural" is starting to become less defined in my case - especially since I am a white pastoral assistant to a black minister serving a coloured congregation. I am thankful for having been given the opportunity of conducting services in three different contexts, and am rapidly coming to the conclusion that we can draw SO much from the rich diversity that is within our church - if only we will allow ourselves to.

Although certain readers of this blog have expressed varied opinions concerning the style that a particular preacher should adopt when conducting services in cross-cultural contexts, I decided to stick with my "when in Rome, do as the Romans do" approach. This meant my "Model T" suit (any colour you want, as long as it is black), white shirt, black tie. My son buffed my shoes up to an appropriately gleaming shine. I sat with Itumeleng to go over the order of service, and enlisted his assistance in choosing appropriate hymns from the Sesotho and Xhosa hymnbooks. And I brushed up on my pronunciation of the liturgy in these two languages.

It turned out to be the correct approach, since I was immediately able to make a connection with the congregation - never have I seen so many people look at me so attentively! It makes a change from when my son attends one of my services. His record is about 6 minutes into the sermon before he curls up into a ball and falls fast asleep - talk about encouragement!

The message was about the experiences of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, with my text taken from Luke 24: 34 - "It is true! The Lord has risen...". I spoke about how these two men journeyed from a heart-breaking experience, through a heart-searching experience as they shared with the stranger along the way, to a heart-warming experience as they realised that the stranger who they had been talking to was the risen Christ.

But the thing I enjoy most about worshiping with black congregations - these guys can sing! The church was packed to the gills, and while I cannot possibly describe the sound through mere words, it was though it was literally "O, for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer's praise". It's true - compared to that, us whiteys really DON'T know how to worship!

I was quite shocked at the end of the service when I had a look at my watch. Talk about a case of "time flies while you're having fun" - what seemed like about 20 minutes was in fact two hours. But the congregation were not concerned about the time - they were there to worship God, and I found this most encouraging.

And then - the moment of truth - time for the evaluation.

Lesson number 1: A sermon that would normally take 15-20 minutes in my own context can easily stretch to three times this length when being interpreted into another language. So for my next cross-cultural service, which takes place this coming Sunday at Freedom Park, I need to prepare as though for a Toastmasters speech - 5-7 minutes, which will take me to 15-20 with interpretation.

Thankfully that was my only major error on the day, and the panel was particularly pleased that I made an attempt to follow the Sesotho and Xhosa liturgies. However, the one thing that I MUST do is to learn how to speak one of these languages, and Phase One is probably the best opportunity that I will ever have to be able to do so, given that the first year of probation is in a cross-cultural context.

The mark for my first service, which was conducted entirely in English, was in fact a "B" (73%) and not the "A" that I reported previously. There was a misprint on the form used, and I would have actually had to score over 80 to get an "A". So I was quite apprehensive about the second one, given the different form of worship, the use of vernacular liturgy, etc. but I am grateful to have done sufficiently well to be given another "B" (72%).

So now my next stop along the journey is Synod. I can hardly wait!

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