Our ride was in a twin-engine propeller-driven aircraft with a seating capacity of around 60, I would estimate–not a jet, so the trip took all of two hours, and we landed on schedule at 8:30am. Security being a few degrees more lax than in the U.S., Bishop Elias Chakupewa and his wife Lucy were able to greet us right on the tarmac as we deplaned. They escorted us to the “VIP Lounge,” where we sat and visited as our luggage was retrieved for us. Then, as we emerged into the parking lot, we were met by around 20 clergy and lay leaders of the diocese, who all broke out into song, i full harmony. It was an amazing welcome.
Tuesday, 5 November
On most counts, the perks of episcopal office line up in my favor when compared to my colleague Bishop Elias. In one area, however, he has me beat: He has a driver. So … the driver picked up at 1 for lunch at same place as yesterday. It was a routine to which we became well-accustomed over the next several days, beginning with the solemn washing of hands. A staff member presents herself, holding a large plastic bowl and a pitcher of warm water and a plastic bottle of laundry soap. We all lined up, washed and rinsed, then dried our hands on paper napkins before heading to the buffet line. After the meal, the same ritual pertains, and it makes perfect sense because the locals tend to eat everything with their hands. Evidently, public health professionals were quite effective in getting their message across sometime in the last few decades, to everyone’s credit, I would say. The fare laid out before us tended not to vary much: rice (both plain and in a spiced and colored variety that I would be hard put to describe), bananas (either cooked or fresh), boiled potatoes, a spinach-like vegetable identified as “Chinese greens,” and usually two kinds of meat: chicken and beef. To developed-world mouths, the meat is exceedingly tough, as the chickens are in every respect “free range” and organic, and the only cattle we saw were of a distinctive longhorn and rather scrawny variety. At times there was also fresh mango (mango trees are ubiquitous across the landscape, an artifact, we were told, of the presence of Arab slave traders several centuries ago) and fresh watermelon. Those who eat fruit (I do not) were quite delighted with the flavor of these locally-sourced foods. And everyone drinks bottled water, even the locals.
After lunch, we were taken on a tour of two diocesan ministries: a medical clinic and a secondary school. Both are urgently necessary institutions, both have the potential to do a great deal more than they’re doing, hindered only by lack of funds. That, of course, is a refrain that could be applied to most everything we saw and did while in the Diocese of Tabora.
We were delivered back to the hotel a little before 4pm. Brenda was retrieved shortly thereafter to sit in on the rehearsal of the cathedral’s Mothers Union choir, which she greatly enjoyed. The three of us had the evening to ourselves, and enjoyed a very slow-paced dinner from the hotel restaurant under a large tent/awning.
Wednesday, 6 November
At 3pm we got back in the aged Land Rovers and headed to St John’s in the Isevya neighborhood of Tabora. I preached (through an interpreter), confirmed half the 17 candidates, con-celebrated the Eucharist, offered greetings, and received over-the-top generosity in the midst of energetic and inspiring worship. All this in a physical environment that would be considered unthinkably crude at home. We were quite amazed, on a number of levels. It seems part of the genetic makeup of Tanzanians (and, I suspect, of Africans generally) not to be able to sing without dancing. So there is a lot of movement, a great deal of physicality in their worship. On many occasions while a choir was performing, a member of the congregation might feel inspired and come forward and wave a cloth in front of them while ululating; this was a sign of approbation. They sing spontaneously in four-part harmony, and while the Anglican Church of Tanzania does have a hymnal, many times they will sing multiple verses of a hymn from memory as soon as they hear the Bishop begin it. Interestingly, they have blended their indigenous musical tradition with certain aspects of western pop culture in ways I would not have anticipated. Every church, even the smallest and most remote, has an electronic keyboard that supplies a beat and chord pattern, to which the choir (in matching outfits and synchronized dancing) performs, with ample microphones, yielding a very “plugged in” sound. This musical idiom extends across Christian denominational lines–even to the Roman Catholics–but is probably inspired by the Pentecostals, who are quite numerous. After the liturgy in Isevya we were fed dinner, the church having been turned into a parish hall while we were outside shaking hands and posing for pictures.
Thursday, 7 November
The song in this video is sung in English and was written especially for the occasion. The voice in the “call” part of the call and response is that of the priest, who is also at the keyboard.
Friday, 8 November
from the Bishop (Baba Askofu), the Bishop’s wife (Mama Askofu), various other clerical dignitaries (rural deans and the like), visiting VIPs (like the Bishop of Springfield and his retinue), and a report to the Bishop from the parish wardens (a most salutary practice, in my opinion). More of the same over-the-top hospitality and vitality. We then headed back to Urambo for dinner at the rectory of St Martin’s Church there. We stayed in a small but nice (by local standards; might not rate one star in the developed world; see the picture of the bathroom) hotel in the city. It dawned on us as we were there that Bishop Elias had engaged extra security for our visit. Two gentlemen with AK-47s kept watch on the patio and in the lobby. It was explained to us that while relations between Christians and Muslims are quite good throughout most of the country, there is not an inordinate degree of trust, and a visiting American bishop might prove a tempting target for Muslims of an extremist bent. Christians and Muslims are present in roughly equal numbers in the country, and together account for about 95% of the population, the remainder practicing traditional tribal religions. Roman Catholics comprise a plurality of the Christians, followed by Anglicans, Moravians, Lutherans, and Pentecostals, and trace elements of Methodists, Baptists, and other groups.
Saturday, 9 November
Sunday, 10 November
Monday, 11 November
Tuesday, 12 November
Wednesday, 13 November
Thursday, 14 November
- Tabora is a major city–about the size of any of the three largest urban areas in the Diocese of Springfield. But it has a rural feel because of what Americans would call substandard roads and low density of construction.
- Generally speaking, the resources for maintenance seem to be in short supply. Many times I have been certain that a building is derelict, only to learn that it’s a school or a government office or a military compound. Virtually every structure is a case study in what we would call “deferred maintenance.” (The one exception was the bank that we visited twice to change money–clean and sleek, air-conditioned executive offices.).
- No cultivated lawns, although there are very isolated small patches of what appears to be grass. The dominant color in the natural landscape is brown. Of course, we were there at the tail end of the dry season, and I suspect it greens up a bit when the rains come. In addition, there is an abundance of unfinished construction, contributing to the general “developing world look and feel.”
- In the villages outside the city, there is neither public electricity nor running water and sanitation. Some wealthier residents have solar panels to power their home. Even so, cell phones are ubiquitous. All this applies even in villages like Goweko, which probably has close to 1000 residents.
- Swahili is easier for English speakers to learn than English is for Swahili speakers. It is a hybrid between Arabic and the dominant native of the island of Zanzibar about 500 years ago. Swahili’s most famous export to the rest of the world is probably the word safari, which denotes any sort of trip or journey, whether it’s to track wild elephants or buy a gallon of milk at the neighborhood grocery.
- The Anglican Church of Tanzania has its own liturgy, and while I did not pick up much of the language, I was able to discern the basic structure of the rite for Confirmation and the Eucharist. It was a very familiar pattern.
- Parts of Tanzania were evangelized by Catholic Anglicans and some by Evangelical Anglicans. The various dioceses today reflect that diversity. Tabora’s background is Evangelical.
- The strategy for church planting and ministry development is simple: Once a target community is identified, send in a trained evangelist/catechist, on a full-time basis with a very modest stipend. Once a worshiping community is established, it meets in temporary quarters, like a school. When numbers reach a certain point, the Bishop sends in a priest. Land is acquired and construction begins on a church. With the lack of zoning laws and burdensome construction codes, this is much less expensive and complicated than it would be in the U.S. Priests are drawn from the ranks of evangelists/catechists. The more capable and successful among the priests are then sent to seminary to complete their theological education. We would do well to ponder, I think, this model of doing discernment for ordination in the context of solid “field” experience. We tend to ordain lots of people “on spec.” Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t. In the Tanzanian system, there’s a track record to go on.
- I was concerned, at times, by what appeared to be a “confirmation mill” mentality that was characteristic of the Episcopal Church in the 1950s and 60s. Look where that got us. I would hate to see our Tanzanian friends emulate us in those respects. But what gives me hope that they will not is the seriousness with which they approach catechesis. The confirmands are actually examined by the Bishop, publicly as part of the service. On one occasion, he clearly wasn’t getting the caliber of response he was looking for, and I was afraid he wasn’t going to continue. Exercising pastoral good sense, he elected to proceed, but apparently with conditions. Before we left the site, I noticed the parish catechist huddled with a couple of confirmands, all with open Bibles. And in every service, all the confirmands recited the Apostles’ Creed, from memory and without stumbling. I have hope.
- Development issues abound. The most urgent is probably the digging of deep wells that won’t run dry after the rains cease, and then the wherewithal to maintain them so they remain functional. Many deep wells go out of service because there aren’t the resources to maintain them.
- The prevailing post-liturgical hand-shaking routine is quite endearing: the clergy line up outside the church in a fashion that would be familiar to western churchgoers, and the people file by and shake their hands. But they, when they reach the end of the receiving line, they just join themselves to the end of it, and begin to shake the hands of the others that follow them. So everyone pretty much shakes the hand of everyone else who was there.
- Ago distribution is reversed from our experience in America. Whereas here we see mostly adults of grandparent age and beyond when we step into a church, with a smattering up younger adults and children, there we saw an abundance of children and young adults, with a smatter of grandparent-age adults.
- Advocates of mothers being able to breastfeed their babies in public places without social opprobrium, in which company I number myself, will be encouraged by what they see in Tanzania.
There really are no words to explain how all three of us arrived in Tabora with a mental conception of a companion relationship with a diocese, but left knowing that we have real companions, real partners in the ministry of the gospel, people whom we now love, and in whose work we are invested. I feel like I returned having received more than I gave. I am excited to see what God has in store for this relationship.