Thursday, October 8, 2015

Take Me To Church

So we’ve been in Bolgatanga just under a week now and already it’s starting to feel more familiar. This weekend we had some time to spend with our host families and as religion is such a big part of life here, I took this time to go to church with them.

Personally, I’m not religious; I believe there could be a God but I don’t believe in a particular religion so I think this makes me an agnostic?
But here in Ghana religion is massive and almost everyone believes in some kind of religion, whether that’s Christianity, Islam or various traditional religions. Christianity is the most popular, but this is further divided into different churches such as Pentecostal, Apostolic and Catholic. The religious beliefs also affect the way people live their lives; people often talk about God and try to live in a way he would approve of. This includes being kind and thoughtful to everyone they meet, and a massive family responsibility to share their money so every family member has enough to get by and afford a good education.

Both my host family and my Ghanaian Counterpart Volunteer Elizabeth are Catholic, so on Sunday I woke up bright and early at 5am to get ready for first mass at the local Catholic Cathedral. After dressing in African clothing borrowed from Elizabeth, the whole family headed off!

Elizabeth and I ready for work
The Bolgatanga Sacred Heart Cathedral is unlike any Cathedral in the UK, or even Europe. From the outside it looks like a very basic yet large building, although the large windows make it stand out from the other buildings nearby. Inside, the Cathedral features very basic wooden pews and a giant plastic Jesus in the corner, keeping his eye on everything going on inside. However, like any church, it is the centre of the community and a place for gathering and worship. 

Despite first mass starting at 6.30am on a Sunday morning, by the time we got there at about 6.10, the 2000-capacity venue was nearly full! There were even covered seats outside around the windows to accommodate for the extra numbers, with speakers so they could hear the sermon from inside. Never before have I seen so many people, dressed so brightly and smartly, so enthusiastic about going to church!!

In the UK, most services in church last around an hour, but here the service went on for a good 2½ hours. It had many of the usual Catholic traditions you would expect, including incense, Holy Communion and a Church choir. But it also included the whole congregation getting up and dancing around the Cathedral, lots of joyful singing - sometimes in the local language of Twi, handkerchief waving and cheering!

The church choir included African hand percussion, Djembe, a Drum Kit and lots of syncopated rhythms (off the regular beat and complicated). There were even points when most of the congregation was clapping in time with the syncopated rhythms! The service included a performance by an A Capella group who sang about how important it is to be an upright person. 

This produced such massive cheers from the congregation, the pastor had to come up and remind everyone to calm down and that we were still in church!

Many of the themes discussed in the sermon were things I agreed with, such as encouraging everyone to help others. Despite not agreeing with everything mentioned, I was amazed at how so many people were so passionate about their religion. The service promoted a feeling of community, and everyone was very kind and welcoming to me, shaking my hand and introducing themselves during the morning; despite being the only white person in the congregation I didn’t feel out of place. The whole experience was amazing, and made me glad I’d taken the time to go with my family.

Elizabeth and my Host Family in their fabulous Church clothes


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