Church was near the very top of my bucket list for Ghana, so when Megan’s boss invited her to a Christian mass I jumped at the chance to tag along. Good thing Ghanaians never turn away a guest because I was inviting myself anyway. Azia, Marino, Megan and I left for mass early Sunday morning, taking a tro-tro to 37 Junction to meet Megan’s boss and his wife. Then we took another tro tro to the church. We arrived at the church before 9:00 a.m., when mass was scheduled to begin. In usual Ghanaian fashion, it seemed a lifetime until parishioners starting showing up around 9:30.
The church was modest with concrete walls and floor with three sections of plastic chairs, one for females and two for males. There was nothing more than a podium and white board in the front next to the band’s set up.
The beginning of mass consisted of loud drums, lots of dancing, tambourines and hymns that I could not pick up the words to until they were displayed on a projector. The homily was spoken/yelled in three dialects: English, Twi, and a third that sounded slightly French but might have been another native tongue.
In over an hour, the preachers told the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000. From what I could pick up, the head preacher would make his statements in English for a few sentences and then the other two preachers would translate this with their own enthusiasm followed by clapping, cheering and other shouts of worship from the congregation. [For anyone reading from good ole St. Mary’s parish: and I thought Fr. Costello’s 15 minute homilies were…fun.]
After the homily, the preacher asked the four of us to stand up and then introduced us. The congregation was so excited to have us and anyone within reach grabbed our hands to wish us welcome. After a few more announcements, everyone stood again to sing more hymns and dance in worship. These parts of the mass were my favorite and lots of fun.
At the conclusion of mass, each row started filing out and I just followed along in the line. The procession was designed so each person shook hands with every other person in the building. I think we were saying “Welcome,” but I interpreted it as something similar to a Catholic Church’s “Peace be with you.” It was something really special and created an amazing atmosphere.
While most of this practice was different from Catholic Church customs in the United States, the presence of the same God felt beautifully similar. God’s presence in Ghana spreads far outside of the walls of the church. Often it seems that American society has adopted a separation of religion from every other aspect of life. In Ghana it’s very much the opposite.
Personally, I think the United States’ attempts to separate religion from state have gone overboard, but more importantly it keeps God, or whichever higher power you choose to pray to, confined within private walls. It’s refreshing that religion plays a huge, open role in Ghanaian life. There are valid arguments that some fundamental beliefs of Christianity (specifically the church’s stance on homosexuality) hinder the development of Ghana’s social practices according to standards of Western society. But I think it’s important to appreciate the Ghanaian culture for what it is and it was beautiful to worship with Ghanaians who believe so strongly in something bigger than themselves.