Sunday morning Sandy and I dragged ourselves out of bed at 7:00 am, determined to get out into the community and go to church. About 80% of Malawians are Christian, and they say that there are more Presbyterians in Malawi than in the US. Luckily, the historic Church of St. Michaels and All Angels (CCAP) is about a fifteen minute walk from our apartment. CCAP is the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian, formerly the Established Church of Scotland. This church, completed in 1891 is on the original mission site of Blantyre, named for David Livingstone’s birthplace in Scotland.
We hurried to be in our seats by 8:15, observing the US custom of being on time… which really means 15 minutes early. The sanctuary, which probably holds 500 people, was almost empty so we had our pick of seats. People gradually filled in until there was standing room only in the back of the church. It turned out that we were overly concerned with punctuality, as people were still arriving thirty minutes into the service.
It also turns out that one is required to bring your own hymnal to church – needless to say, we did not. So, as the first hymn started, Sandy and I stood, looked at each other, and shrugged our shoulders. Sandy stood silently, but I had heard somewhere that if you say “watermelon” in place of lyrics, it makes it sound like you know the words. So I gave it a try. Unfortunately, it just sounded like I was saying watermelon. Or singing it. Out loud. So… after that, I stuck to mouthing watermelon instead. Later in the service, a very kind lady sitting behind us took pity and lent us her hymnal.
The truth is that they didn’t need the congregation to sing at all – the choir was so amazing. Their voices carried that quintessential African, joy, richness and beautiful layers of harmony.
So, we’ll know for next time that we should (1) not be so worried about being on time and (2) either bring our own hymnal or sing a different fruit.