Uganda (2) : The Church
As I said, “We spent a few days in the town of Ibanda, accommodated in church-leaders’ homes. We then spent two days in a game park, being wide-eyed tourists. Then some of the team went north to the large town of Lira.”
The object of visiting Ibanda was to investigate a possible link between our church and the cathedral church there, which our PCC has since voted to pursue.
Although we spent two Sundays in Uganda, and were there specifically as a party visiting a diocese, I actually didn’t attend what you might call much in the way of a normal Sunday church service. We attended meetings in the diocesan offices, and a kind of Cathedral day conference launching diocesan men’s ministry. But on the first Sunday I was one of three team members who attended worship in a church-affiliated school nearby (where we were required to preach!), while on the second, again we attended school worship in Lira. Both these schools were boarding schools, as seems to be the norm for secondary education, at least outside major cities. (Our bus driver’s middle child, aged 7, is already at boarding school. This is apparently because of road safety issues, and also to encourage concentration on learning!)
This having been said, my general observations on religious life in Uganda are as follows:
Approximately 32% of the population adheres to the Church of Uganda, which is part of the Anglican Communion. This makes it the second largest religious grouping in the country. About 40% are Catholics, and 13% Muslim.
We saw a largish number of churches, and also mosques (and Islamic schools), which were very squarely-built, a bit like a children’s fort. There were a few people in obviously Muslim dress, but no more I felt than one might see in Nottingham. We didn’t notice any signs of religious conflict, which isn’t to say that there isn’t any.
St Paul’s Cathedral in the town of Ibanda is the centre of the new (two years old) diocese of North West Ankole. It may be that this is due to the large size of the church, which was of traditional shape as far as I was concerned, except that like many other churches, there was a porch with three arches at the main entrance. The diocesan offices, opened officially by President Museveni (whose picture is all over the country, in shops etc) were where we were based and fed for our days in Ibanda. We met the Bishop, the Diocesan Secretary, and several other members of staff, all of whom impressed with their warmth, sincerity, integrity and commitment. The diocese is working hard on social welfare (supporting schools and clinics and a child welfare centre) as well as promoting organisations that operate simultaneously for evangelism, and for social support and cohesion, such as Mothers’ and Fathers’ Union (but also a Christian Women’s Fellowship, for which you didn’t have to be a mother!) and youthwork.
The Cathedral has services every Sunday in both English and the local language. The services we attended in schools were in English, and I don’t think this was for our convenience. Oddly, we never attended a service of communion.
There is a great emphasis on worship. The African church, adult and children, sing “What a Friend We Have In Jesus” and innumerable old old hymns, with great joy. I was shown the Uganda Youth Praise book, and it was full of my old favourites. On the other hand, they also sing in their own language, and the dancing of the girls at Kibubura Girls’ Secondary School had to be seen to be believed. The drumming of the teenage musicians at Keframa School, Lira, ditto. Pupils at both schools were encouraged to help in leading the services.
The offering is significant – and it’s not only money. Tall sticks of sugar cane, vegetables generally, boxes of teabags can be given – and then auctioned off as part of the service.
One of the leading Reverends in the diocese is female. The ministry of women seems to be flourishing, and we visited two schools (one of which was mixed) with female headteachers..
Domestic violence is an issue which the church is aware of, and takes seriously.
The day conference, at which a local Fathers’ Union was launched, was a big event in the cathedral, and welcomed three guest speakers, all local politicians. They spoke in the local language, so I didn’t pick up all that was said, but I understood that they were expected to avoid canvassing (but didn’t all conform to this.) There was a general sense of co operation and mutual support between church and state, which did make me slightly uneasy. Religion gets everywhere in Uganda. Shops and businesses call themselves by names like “Jesus Reigns Hair Salon”, “Good God Investments”, and my personal favourite, “The Best Is Yet To Come Decorators.”
Sexual ethics (as taught in Christian schools!) are traditional, ie no sex before marriage. It was plain that this was something not all boys wanted to be told! Before we went, we were already aware that the Church of Uganda and its archbishop takes a very firm/hard line on the issue of same sex relationships that is tormenting the Anglican Communion. The Archbishop is leading his bishops to boycott next year’s Lambeth Conference. No one in Uganda discussed or brought up the subject to us.
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