I traveled a few hours north of Freetown on Sunday to St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Romankneh, a small village near the city of Makeni. St. Peter’s was holding a Women’s Thanksgiving Service and I was the guest preacher for this celebration. The theme for the service was based on a story from the Old Testament book of Nehemiah: “let us rise up and build.”
‘Tis the season for “thanksgiving services” in churches of the ELCSL. I had invitations to youth and men’s thanksgiving services in October, and have similar invitations every Sunday for the coming month. Thanksgiving services are traditional events in the life of Christian congregations throughout Sierra Leone. I’m not sure how or where the tradition started, but any expatriate who lives here for any length of time will at some point be given an offering envelope and invited to attend such a service.
There are various traditions and practices associated with thanksgiving services but the basic idea is to provide church members and friends with an opportunity to give — financially — in thanksgiving for all that God has done and is doing. Musical offerings are at the heart of such services, and in response to each performance, members of the congregation dance forward with a contribution to the offering plate in hand. The overall result, in my experience, is lively, joyful, chaos, and services that last 2, 3 or 4 hours. The service in Romankneh was a very fine one; it lasted about 2 and a half hours, and was followed by a community meal of rice and fish stew.
My sermon on Sunday at St. Peter’s – “let us rise up and build” – was translated into the Timneh language by a female pastor visiting from a Pentecostal congregation in the community. She threw in a few “amens” at appropriate points along the way, and I appreciated the feedback!
Consistent with the theme of the day, a new building is under construction across the way from St. Peter’s Lutheran Church. Pastor Christopher Yanker managed to convince the local government to construct a school for the primary classes now meeting in the community center under the church’s umbrella. Payment of salaries for the teachers remains a problem, but the construction of a physical building is a great sign of progress.
I was also impressed to see new artwork adorning the interior walls of St. Peter’s worship sanctuary. Worshipers can now see a picture of the last supper above the altar, and an image of the crucified Christ to the left. In talking about this artwork, Pastor Yanka commented that it is effective to be able to point to visible images when preaching and teaching. (Perhaps especially for those who are illiterate.) Sketches of other scenes from the bible are visible on the side walls of the church and I look forward to seeing the finished work next visit.