I don’t expect this blog to hold together very well, because it is just reflections. Here goes.
Assembly of God
When I visited Belize I went to the Central Assembly of God with Sam and Becky Barber and their children. Worship begins somewhere around 10:00 am with singing which lasts about 45 minutes. There is a large praise band of maybe 7 or 8 instrumentalists and singers; the music is loud and there is lots of clapping. Scripture and prayer are important. There is always a time for attenders to approach the altar for special prayer. The sermon is longer than I like and the service is over about 12:00 most days although that’s not important. The meeting is mildly pentecostal in the sense that there is a good bit of hand waving and “amen-ing.” I have not been there when there was speaking in tongues but I have heard the pastor speak strongly of it. In the times I have been there, attendance has been in the 150-200 range. Central Assembly has a Sunday School, youth group, and other activities. There are lots of families and children.
Since I’ve come to Belize I have been attending St. Andrews Presbyterian. This is the church where Sadie Vernon was the organist back when she first invited Quakers to be involved in the school here. It has been the informal home of the Quakers since that time and I get to see Mike and Kay Cain every Sunday. Worship begins somewhere around 10:00 am and lasts somewhere around an hour. Mike Cain runs the sound board and projection system and we sing to praise hymns projected on the screen. There is no other accompaniment to the songs. The order of worship is typical mainstream protestant. Ernest is the Belizean pastor whose Creole is so heavy that I almost cannot understand him. I do a lot of meditation when he is preaching. Mike is from the States on assignment in Belize to help with leadership training in all the Presbyterian churches in Belize (7, I think). When Mike preaches I can understand the words. The sermon is longer than I like and we have been “preaching our way through 1st Peter.” Theology plays a large role in the sermon, practical application not so much. There is no Sunday School. There is a midweek prayer meeting which I have not attended. I have been to worship when there were as few as 20 in attendance. Children sometimes come from a local orphanage. When that happens there are 20-30 more in attendance. Last week the children were there and the total attendance was around 60, the largest it has been since August.
Latter Day Saints
On the plane ride back from Christmas, I sat next to Mr Joel Munoz. We got into a rather extended conversation and I had chance to tell him about the school. He had some good questions and I took his phone number. Of course I lost the phone number, but he had said that he was a Mormon and I had asked where he worshiped so today I rode my bicycle down on Orange Street and went to the Mormon Church. I noticed as I walked in that there were busy classrooms, Sunday School was happening. There were several young white male missionaries present who were extremely friendly and we had some good conversation. Joel Munoz showed up and sat with me. Worship started at 10:00 and was over by 11:00. There was a pianist and a single song leader; we sang songs from a hymnal. The physical sacrament of communion was served; the bread was bread and the wine was water. There was reading from the Bible and from the Book of Mormon. The sermon was short and to the point. The meeting was quite formal. Proper attire for men was obviously dark pants, white shirt and tie. There were 120 or so present including children and youth.
Starting “around” 10:00 drives this North American crazy. I know, I know, that’s my problem, not theirs.
Each church was glad to have me come; I have been able to worship.
Each church feels like it has the right answers. At Central Assembly I have heard that in order to be truly Christian, I must speak in tongues. At St. Andrews Presbyterian I have heard that the elders are the ones who have been called, have taken the training, and are the ones to instruct and lead the rest of us. This morning I heard that Joseph Smith was right, God was raising up, through him, a church of latter day Saints. In each instance I smiled inwardly and said to myself, “Whoa, Quaker here, not so fast.”
I’ve been told that the hand waving, loud music, loud preaching, sort of meeting is what we will need to have here if we want people to come. So I’m glad I went to the Mormon church this morning, because it was the antithesis of that and the place was packed to the gills with people of all ages.
It seems to me that every sermon I have heard here has a really good ending about half way through and the rest of the time would have been well spent in open worship.
I’ve become aware that the concept best expressed in the phrase “Jesus Christ is come to teach his people himself” is really quite radical. To believe that God himself can come to each of us and teach us while we wait quietly together, and maybe even grant a message for the assembled body, is really quite unique and powerful. I wonder how many Belizeans would be attracted to such a place.