It is Sunday morning at Mwanika Church just outside of Meru town, Kenya. The English Service starts at 9:30 am with music from the keyboard player who is wearing a red jacket and singing with a rich bass voice in the side section at the front of the church. He plays by ear and once he has the beat the music fills the room. At the beginning of the service the sanctuary is about half full but as the music sounds a call to worship the church is soon filled with several hundred people. One hundred or more of these worshipers are students from Fred`s Academy, a nearby primary boarding school. The boys and girls are in their green-checked shirts and grey slacks. Girls wearing slacks to church is a recent change. Some of the young people have dark green sweaters and others wear similar vests. They file in and sit together occupying much of the front section. The founder of the primary school sits quietly in the pew behind them. There are open widows on each side of the sanctuary. The gentle wind blows through the space between and sweeps across the congregation as the service begins.
Soon the entire room is alive with music and movement. It is impossible to stand still and I am swaying and clapping with the assembled congregation. It is a powerful energy filled with the emotion of strong faith and joyful praise. The people express humility as they sing the chorus "Tossing crowns, raising hands, bowing hearts." The words of the songs and scripture verses are projected above our heads on the wall in front of the altar. The system is operated by three high school boys sitting behind a computer and getting the right screen up just a little late.
The English service is also an opportunity for the students from Fred`s Academy to participate not only in reading the scripture and taking up the offering, but also providing some wonderful music and performances. Their songs are carefully choreographed as they step and spin and clap and raise their hands in praise. They dance together led by one of their teachers. By the time the primary school students sing the second verse they are full of the spirit and their young faces are glowing with love and faith. Next, the church choir sings and again as the keyboard player gets the rhythm everyone is moving and clapping, shifting bodies from one foot to the other. I also feel the energy of the loud and glorious music and dive into the moving waves of the congregation, young and old, flowing from side to side. This is both an individual activity and a shared community worship experience.
Some of the church members are wearing red, the color for Pentecost, "the birthday of the church" and a celebration of the gift of the Holy Spirit. The preacher talks about empowerment and "worship as a lifestyle." This means appreciating and expressing gratitude for the beauty of the world, praying for those in need, and sharing faith and grace with others. Because the English Service had communion, they have gone long and are late in finishing. The pastor`s words are heard outside the church by the crowd, which is waiting for the 11 am Kimeru Service conducted in the local language.
This church is a dynamic community of faith bringing neighbors together and welcoming strangers. I was surprised when I realized as we were leaving the service that I was the only muzungu, white person, in the entire congregation on this Sunday. I had not even thought about it. Many times over the past 10 years I have attended Mwanika Church. I am no longer a visitor. We are all brothers and sisters in friendship and faith.