Sunday, August 13, 2006

The 8th good thing about Lagos: Worshipping with the Saints

There are both Muslims and Christians in Nigeria -- this area of the country is higher percentage Christian. The Nigerians I've asked said the two groups get along here. I know of other parts of the country where there is trouble between the groups, and the workers here I talked to, obviously Christian, attribute any problems to the Muslims. One said, "the Christians don't want any fighting, but the Muslims have so much anger." But the Christians here seem to be very active in their faith. The book store in the mall nearby has a very large Christian book section -- larger than any other part of the store -- so I know at least those Nigerians who have money to buy books are very interested in Christian literature. A couple of British people at work were talking about how lengthy the services are in the Anglican churches here -- one said that just the communion part of the service can take an hour and a half, as there can be like 1500 worshippers wanting to take communion. So many of the church services can be very lengthy. There seem to be many pentacostal and evangelical type Christian churches as well. Our church is quite well established and today was my first experience with my church in Nigeria. For those that may not know me well, I'm a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, commonly known as "Mormons" or "Latter-Day Saints." Since the late 70's there has been a large and growing membership of the church in Nigeria. Today was the Lagos Nigeria stake conference. This is a meeting that is held twice a year, where members in a larger area (the stake) gather together. Our local meetinghouse is on Victoria Island, where we live and work. The Stake Center is on the mainland, not far from the airport. By company policy, travel there requires a security escort and travel in the bulletproof Land Rover. So we had to make some special arrangements to get to the meeting, but, really, the area and travel seemed just as safe as anything on the island.
When we got to the building, the people were going in the pedestrian gate, but the gate for cars was closed. At first after the driver honked, the man at the gate shook his head, indicating they weren't allowing cars inside, but after the security man in our trailing escort car got out with his AK-47, they decided they would open the gate for us. We made quite an entrance -- it was a bit embarrassing. Although we invited them, our driver and security escort people decided they wouldn't stay with us for the service. The stake center is part of a complex of buildings that include a church distribution center, another building with meeting rooms and another with some offices for the mission. The mission president's home and the building where several couple missionaries stay is across the street. It's quite a nice complex. The meetinghouse itself doesn't have air conditioning, but the room is lined with windows which were open and there were many ceiling fans going giving quite a nice breeze. In the current rainy season, it doesn't get as hot here, so the room was warm, but not oppressive. We visited with some other expatriate couples and missionary couples before the meeting.
The conference started at 10 AM, but just before 9:30, the choir filed in and they had a half hour of music prepared for a choir program before the service. The choir was VERY impressive. The women were dressed in matching mauve and navy taffeta shifts, even with matching necklaces and the men had dark suits and matching ties. (They even kept their jackets on the whole time in the unairconditioned building -- Brent brought his jacket, but it didn't stay on long!) They all had nice matching folders of music. And the singing was great -- full throated and in great tune and harmony! There was about 30 singers in the choir and they were very well-prepared. I was brazen and took a picture of them before the meeting started, because I was so impressed with them. They probably sang at least 20 anthems and hymns before the meeting started, at least 4 during the meeting, and when we had to leave about a half hour after the meeting ended, they were still in there singing postlude hymns, and really enjoying their singing! Afterwards, when they paused briefly in between pieces, I went up and thanked the choir director for all their work and told her how much I enjoyed it. I've prepared choirs for stake conferences in the States, and we usually prepare 2 or 3 pieces -- they must have had at least 40 pieces prepared! And the congregational singing during the meeting was also great. Brent had already commented to me on the singing in our local congregation (ward). Nigerians love to sing and they sing out loud and strong. I'm a strong singer and in the states I can always hear myself louder than those around me, but here there was no chance of that. It was really quite exciting!
The meeting itself was much like our stake conferences in the states -- talks by a couple of new converts, the stake patriarch and stake presidency spoke and the new mission president. I was very impressed with the stake president and his obvious leadership ability. I'm guessing maybe 600-700 people were in the meeting. One difference between services here and in the States: when a speaker begins his talk and greets the members with "Good morning, brothers and sisters," the members speak aloud a "good morning" in reply. The Primary (the children's organization) had a something organized to care for the young children (18 months-7 years) during the meeting, so they were in a separate building. Brent said he missed watching the little children during the meeting. Also, the members, especially the women, were really dressed out to the nines. Those in Western dress were almost wearing formal type attire and the Nigerian dressed women were so elegant -- many of them with these elaborate head wraps. I asked an American woman if they always dressed like this for church and she said that maybe some were dressed a little more formally for the conference, but, for the most part, she usually felt quite casual in appearance compared to the Nigerians. I loved looking at their outfits. So, all in all, going to Stake Conference in Lagos Nigeria was an interesting cultural experience, an exciting musical experience and a rewarding spiritual experience!

Here's some pictures after the meeting in the courtyard. Below is a shot of some missionaries handing out pamphlets and books.

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