LUBUMBASHI, Democratic Republic of Congo --The annual conference session of the South Congo Conference of The United Methodist Church began July 15 in Lubumbashi. I'm on my way to attend the annual conference sessions of the Tanganyika Conference in Kalemie and the North Katanga Conference in Malemba as the Director of Connectional Ministries of both of those conferences. In South Congo I have no responsibilities, but many friends.
So, on a sunlit Sunday morning I put on a suit and walked over to the Jerusalem United Methodist Church to attend the opening worship of the South Congo Conference session. The Jerusalem Church was built in 1928 and has held up well. It stands as the flagship of the United Methodist Church in the Katanga Province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It holds over 2,000 and was packed out yesterday, maybe 3,000.
I'm glad I put on a suit. My intent was to sit somewhere in the back and just observe and enjoy. However, I was caught by the chief of protocol and ushered up to the visiting VIP section. I sat with the PhDs, feeling a bit underqualified with my measly Doctor of Ministry in Practical Theology. Bishop Katembo went off script and picked me out for an introduction during the greeting time. He reminded the conference of my preaching back in 1995 and 1996. I'm thrilled that he remembers those sermons, because I haven't been able to preach a decent sermon since. Bishop Katembo is the one who said to me back in 1995, "You understand our issues." Even though my work has been with Bishop Ntambo in North Katanga, Bishop Katembo is the one who convinced me that I had a role to play here. He also told the conference that [our children] Taylor and Stuart were key in building the relationship in Zambia with the American Embassy that smoothed the way for general conference delegates to get visas to the U.S. It's nice to be known for what your children have done for the good of the planet. (I am aware of the many hours of work that Jeff Hoover put into getting visa applications filed. So, Jeff if you are reading this, "Wish you were here to enjoy this.")
Of course, the music was grand! There were four large choirs and several wonderful soloists. Music styles ranged from traditional African, to high church anthems, to old familiar hymns, to original fusion compositions, one that included a Claptonesque guitar bridge. The music here is participatory with sing-alongs and dance-alongs. Every offering is an opportunity to get up and dance.