Church in Namibia

WorldTeach volunteer Casey Gallagher left for Kavango, Namibia in December 2011. Since her arrival Casey has attended a number of masses at the local church. Her Sunday trips have provided her with a handful of interesting stories to tell. Read on to learn about Casey’s experiences in Namibia.

Since I’ve been in Bunya and living on the mission grounds, I have been going to church on most weekends. It is a very passive way to try to be a part of the community I am in. Growing up going to Catholic school, it is also comforting to go to something I am familiar with. Even if I have no idea what is being said, I have a general idea of what is going on. While Church (it is rarely “mass” since the priests are generally off at other churches “in the bush”) has its normal abnormalities, there are some occasions that have been rather interesting.

A couple weeks ago, in the middle of March, the mission celebrated the 50th anniversary of one of its priest’s priesthood. I believe he is a European priest, but I’m not quite sure where he is from. It was also evidently his 80th birthday. My neighbor and I had been in town the night before, so were a little late getting back, but figuring mass generally started late anyways, and people sometimes would get there even after I would get to church at home, I figured it was ok to still go about 45 minutes to an hour late. The whole church was full and people were sitting outside on the steps, so I joined them there, not really knowing what was going on. Even though I got there an hour late, I think there was still an hour or two hours left of the mass, so it was worth going. I finally got into the church during the collection part (Here instead of carrying the basket up and down the aisle or passing it, two people stand at the front and you bring money up). I was glad I went in because I got to see the people singing and dancing in the front, and as I walked back, in the back of the church in the corner I noticed live chickens! Later, a procession of gifts for the priest began. It started with wrapped gifts and cards, then others brought boxes of soda, several brought up white pumpkins, and then there were also the chickens. Several people brought up live chickens. After mass, there were some performances for the priests by different groups at the church. This went on for a while, and I some of the dances the kids were doing were rather interesting…After mass, there was evidently a dinner, but I wasn’t sure if I was one of the people that was invited inside or not, so I ended up going back. Later I found out everyone living at the mission was invited…oops!

My next interesting mass excursion was a couple Fridays ago, when I decided to go see what they do at the Stations of the Cross during lent. I don’t think I have gone through the Stations of the Cross since elementary school, but thought it might be an interesting and was something to do. As it turned out, mass for the learners that live at the mission was to follow immediately after the stations (which I thought were quite a workout as we had to kneel during one part of each station), so I ended up staying for the mass as well. It was in English this time which was nice- I actually knew what was going on! As I sat there, all I could think of was those First Friday masses we had at St. Bernard’s and felt like I was on the other side of one, no longer a student. It felt even morelike high school first Friday mass like when at the end of mass the priest had to make several announcements- one being that the learners they were not allowed to turn on the new tvs they had gotten for them, only the hostel mother or father could and all videos must be approved to avoid anything inappropriate.

Last week was of course Palm Sunday. It was also the morning after Namibia had its “fall back”, which I am still figuring out where the fall back actually applies. I decided to go at 9 at the old time in case church, like school, was still following the old time and not the new time, and I was evidently correct in guessing so. When I got there, the priest was standing in front of the church with the palms, and I was there early enough to see them blessed. They seemed to be really fresh palms here- I assume they picked them somewhere locally. Well, after the palms were passed out, the priest and some women in all purple and some others began walking away from the church in a line, the girl next to me said lets join, and it seemed everyone was getting in this line which was forming a big circle singing outside of the church. It was an interesting spectacle. Then the line started going into the church. When some were in the church, some outside started singing another song, so there were two different songs going on at once. Palm Sunday is known for its long reading of the Passion, but in the US it is split up as a play, so there are different speakers and audience participation. I was wondering how it would work here as  no one has books just for mass, but brings a bible and finds the passages used in mass inside. As it turned out, the priest had to read the entire thing.

On Holy Thursday I also decided to go to the service. The priests were not there, so it was the people who normally run the service when the priests are at other churches. There was no feet washing! After the service ended, people kept singing songs, and I’m pretty sure they did a whole rosary and I had no idea why we were still sitting there or what we were waiting for. After about an hour of this, a man finally said to go home. He translated for me and said we had been waiting for a priest to turn something around, but they were still too far away, so we could just go home.

A final church story: Last Saturday, my neighbor and I went to the Easter vigil. It started outside which was very dark and a bit chilly. During the part of the mass where people are to be baptized, at least 17 babies were brought up with their parents and one godfather. This was not even all of the babies in the church! And yet, there was barely any crying!

The baptisms seemed to take absolutely forever. Whenever I thought it was done, they seemed to add another step. The homily was long as well, and the priest said it in English and had a translator. He was yelling at the people from Bunya for not being serious enough about their religion and calling out some of the people with children to be baptized on how they would raise their child. It was a very interesting experience.

If you're interested in learning more about WorldTeach's program in Namibia, you can access more information through our home page by clicking on the 'Namibia' tab located on the left side bar, or by emailing us at info@worldteach.org. Like Casey, you will find various differences between your pastimes and the weekly life in Namibia. You might come back full of stories like Casey’s!

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