February 9, 2012

Leaving Uganda

My sabbatical experience is planned to divide neatly into three separate experience bases – Africa, Europe, and Chicago. Leaving Uganda, I have now completed the first half of the first leg and if each experience is as rich as this one has been this time will become the most exciting trip of my life.

It was a rare privilege to be welcomed to Uganda as an Anglican clergy member. This was no easy proposition. For one thing, the Archbishop of Uganda, the Most Rev. Henry Orombi, has broken communion with the Episcopal Church. But it was important to my host, Archdeacon Jonathan Kisawuzi, that this be recognized as an official visit so he made sure I had a meeting with the bishop, the Rt. Rev. Wilberforce Kityo Luwalira.

I also was invited to attend and address the diocesan clergy retreat and conference held at King’s College, Budo. This university was built by the Kabaka of Buganda, the king of south and central Uganda, after he became an Anglican in the late 19th century. Jonathan also interviewed me on Narimbere 93.9 the diocesan radio station that he founded through the sale of rights to use the broadcast tower the church erected on the high hill where there Cathedral sits overlooking Kampala.

The Anglican Church in Uganda remains very formal, still using the 19th century Hymns Ancient and Modern for its music, a straight forward 1662 style liturgy for Morning Prayer and Eucharist and sermons that run to 45 minutes or more. The choir diligently rehearses the assigned anthems in four-part harmony, giving a beautiful sound to familiar tunes though sung in the local Luganda language.

This was not what I had expected. I was prepared for much livelier worship after my time in Nigeria 25 years ago. There the church had finally cracked open and invited back in drumming, dancing, lively choruses, and what was then their “new” prayer book. The church community in Uganda seems very spirited outside of Sunday morning, but formal worship still clings to a colonial framework. It is certainly not for lack of love or warmth. It is just that tradition is hard to change.

Another great part of being visiting clergy was the many invitations into people’s homes. I had meals or refreshments in over 20 different Ugandans households. In just about every one, I was handed a family photo album that recounted the weddings, baptisms, and parties that the household had experienced. These were beautiful pictures that were clear evidence of a feasting culture. 

One of the biggest celebrations in any book was the Introduction, or betrothal, ceremony. This is when the groom’s family visits the bride’s family and in a ceremonial exchange evoking the old dowry system arranges for the marriage. The wedding then follows several months later.

Since I was in the land of the Kabaka of Buganda, most of the photos showed the women decked out in what has developed to be Buganda formal dress. The beautiful fabrics and complementary huge bow make for gorgeous combinations. Many of the older women wore this style of dress to every church event I attended.

What strikes any visitor to Uganda is the vast sea of young people. With a population of 32 million, half of Ugandans are under 16 years old. Primary and secondary education has a long tradition in this country, but with inflation and privatization, education is very expensive. (One of my churches’ key programs is providing scholarships at all levels. It is amazing the difference a mere $25 can make in a family’s ability to meet school fees.). This means schools are overcrowded and understaffed. When I visited the Anglican Primary School on Sse Island I spoke with a student body of 590 that is being taught by 12 teachers.

My last night my host family took me to the Ndere Troupe, an incredible performance ensemble organized to train AIDS orphans in Ugandan tradition. Each performance gives a cultural tour of tribal groups from the North, South, East, West, and Central areas of the nation. My hosts knew of my great interest in traditional dance and drumming and this venue provided the perfect climax to my time in Uganda.

A final meal at the lay leaders home let me say goodbye to many new friends. We hated parting so much that many decided to accompany me to the airport, arranging for borrowed cars and taxi cabs. As I finally checked through security and said goodbye, over 25 new friends were there to bid me farewell.

To have been given an honored glimpse into the church life and personal lives of the people of St. Stephen’s, Nakiwogo, is an experience I will cherish for all my days. Mukama yebazzibwe – (Praise God). 

Read more about Peter's time in Uganda: