Mozambique Congregation Knows Church is More Than Building
Worshippers at Catembe United Methodist Church know that a church is more than a building: they’ve never had one.
That will change in the next year or so. For years, the congregation has worshipped beneath a big cashew tree. With three United Methodist bishops participating, on Sunday, Nov. 5 construction began when the congregation laid the first pressure-formed building blocks into the ground.
Missouri Bishop Robert Schnase had the honor of lowering the first blocks into a trench dug by hand in the sandy soil. The Missouri Conference has had a special relationship with Mozambique since 1986. Since 1998, congregations across Missouri have partnered with congregations in Mozambique .
The Catembe congregation worships in a poor neighborhood most easily accessed by ferry and a bumpy ride over winding dirt roads less than 10 miles from downtown Maputo .
A large banner from the Lafayette Park United Methodist Church in St. Louis , proclaiming the spot under the tree as “Igreja Metodista Unida Catembe,” ( Catembe United Methodist Church ) hung from limbs of the tree.
Many of Catembe’s worshippers live in wood and straw huts. They pump water from community wells. Most homes in this neighborhood have no electricity. Goats tied to trees and bushes graze on tall grass throughout the neighborhood.
About two dozen women cooked a celebratory feast of goat, chicken, prawns, rice, bean stew, vegetables, cassava, and sadza, a bread-like staple, on fires built in long trenches.
The congregation enthusiastically worships, standing to sing and pray. Children sit on straw mats in front of the altar table. The choir sits on wooden benches on this cool, breezy Sunday.
Leaders of other churches in the neighborhood joined in the celebration. Two women representing a Presbyterian congregation and three from a nearby Anglican congregation, flash broad smiles as they shake hands with their visitors. Malanga United Methodist Church in Maputo , mother church of this congregation, is also represented.
“We are moving from worshipping under this cashew tree to laying the first stone today,” said the church’s pastor, the Rev. Paulo Saubino during the opening of the worship service. “I was happy when they told me ‘let us go to the house of the Lord.’”
Looking at the bishops and other visitors sitting in blue and green resin lawn chairs under the tarp, Saubino said “next time when you come, we will have a church building. You will have a difficult time getting a place to sit.” He explained that every congregation in Mozambique has two budgets: one for finances and one for saving souls.
Worshippers walked from beneath the tree to a nearby field for the laying of the first construction blocks. After Bishop Schnase lowered the first blocks into the trench, District Superintendent Arlindo Romão invited bishops Max Whitfield and Alfred Gwynn to shovel cement onto them. Then other visitors and leaders of the congregation shoveled cement onto the blocks.
These blocks will serve as a cornerstone of sorts. A bible wrapped in plastic was placed between the square of blocks. Romão said the square will be beneath the church’s floor as the building is built.
“This floor will be built on the book of God,” he said through a translator.
United Methodist Bishops Worship With Mozambique Congregations
Split into small groups, nearly 80 United Methodist bishops from around the globe worshipped with 16 Mozambique congregations on Sunday, Nov. 5.
Some of the bishops, joined by spouses and other visitors, loaded into buses and vans at Avenida Hotel in Maputo as early as 7:30 a.m. to get to worship on time.
At most Council of Bishops’ meetings, many bishops arrive early or stay late to preach at local congregations. At this meeting, the bishops did not preach the sermon, but took part in worship, offering greetings and prayers.
At every stop, the bishops and visitors were greeted with smiles, singing and gifts. Many received hand-crafted straw hats. Some were given traditional carved walking sticks. Spouses and other visitors were given hats and straw handbags. Women were presented with the traditional capulana, the sarong-like skirt that Mozambique women wear. Women from the congregations wrapped and tied the capulanas around the waists of their visitors.
Bishops spent several days preparing for their worship experience. They learned a traditional African hymn, Nzamuranza (I Worship Christ), in Xitswa, a native southern Mozambique language, to sing at each worship service.
Bishop after bishop noted the enthusiasm of their host congregations. United Methodist congregations in Mozambique have two budgets, one financial, and one for winning souls to Christ. They also take their weekly offerings seriously. Unlike offerings in most Western churches, United Methodists in Mozambique line up to make their offerings in front of fellow worshippers. Children, the choir, and other groups come forward separately. And they take several offerings each Sunday. After they finish, the result of the offering is announced.
Technology Links Catembe Congregation With Missouri Partner Church
If Sunday was a milestone day at Catembe United Methodist Church in Mozambique , it was a milestone day at Lafayette Park United Methodist Church in St. Louis , too.
The two congregations are partners in the Missouri-Mozambique Initiative.
It was 2 a.m. in St. Louis when the parishioners at Catembe United Methodist Church gathered to break ground for their church building. The eight-hour time difference allowed Carol Kreamer, a member of Lafayette Park who serves as the U.S.-based director of the initiative, time to send photos of the service to St. Louis from Mozambique .
Kreamer, a commissioned missionary from the General Board of Global Ministries, first tried to email the photos taken by Stephen Drachler, a consultant for United Methodist Communications, from the Council of Bishops’ headquarters hotel. When technical glitches foiled that attempt, she and Ezekiel Marcos Nhantumbo, an Africa University graduate who is the Mozambique-based representative for the initiative, went to his office to email the photos a different way: via much slower phone modem
Back in St. Louis , it was “Presence Sunday” at Lafayette Park , where prayers, presence, gifts and service around the world were being celebrated. As time grew short, Chris Finley sat in a pew, receiving four, slowly downloaded photos on his laptop.
After he received them, he hooked his laptop to the projector and showed them to the congregation.
At 10 a.m., the same time that Catembe United Methodist Church had worshipped in Mozambique eight hours earlier, Lafayette Park saw its presence in ministry a half-a-world away.