8th assembly/50th anniversary

Together on Holy Ground
Inspiration Inside the Big Tent
Assembly worship takes on a life of its own, by Jerry Van Marter

For the entire 50 years of its existence, worship has been at the heart of WCC assemblies. Harare was no different.

Over four years went into preparations for worship at the eighth assembly -- half a dozen major services plus daily worship throughout the event. "It's a huge task because there are so many factors," said Dorothy McRae-McMahon, an Australian Uniting Church minister who headed the assembly worship committee. Devising services that respect the many different denominational and cultural traditions represented at the assembly, recruiting and coordinating a variety of liturgists and musicians and making sure worship materials are translated into four languages are just a few of the complex tasks that must be accomplished for worship to be meaningful to the maximum possible number of assembly participants.

"You do all the preparation, and you hand it over in faith," McRae-McMahon said. "The worship takes on its own life, and you cannot always imagine what it will be like."

She need not have worried about Harare.

Worshippers swayed to the beat of African drums, xylophones fashioned of wood and giant hollowed-out gourds. They revelled in the exuberant harmonies of a 100-voice international choir. Many visitors from other continents experienced worship far more lively and emotional than in most places "back home".

And assembly preachers rose to the occasion. "How wonderful and significant to hear the words of Jesus here, in Mother Africa, where they take on a unique rhythm and flavour," said opening worship preacher Eunice Santana, a Puerto Rican member of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the USA and an outgoing president of the WCC.

Santana evoked the struggles of Africa and recalled its role in the earliest Christian history. "Mother Africa, so easily forgotten and ignored by the powerful..., so exploited and stepped on by others, but so beloved by God," she said. "Mother Africa, where Jesus received asylum and protection as an infant 2000 years ago."

Worship was also a time to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the WCC. In a dramatic service on 13 December, the billowing blue worship tent on the centre of the University of Zimbabwe campus was filled to overflowing for a service of recommitment to the organization as it began its second half-century. Participants from each region stood in turn and offered a prayer of thanksgiving, followed by the singing of a hymn native to that region. The culmination of the service was the random exchanging of crosses by leaders of many of the WCC's more than 300 member churches, followed by the distribution of hand-made Zimbabwean wire crosses to all the worshippers.

The assembly's closing worship service included the installation of the officers and WCC central committee members who will oversee the organization's work until the ninth assembly in 2005. In his sermon, former WCC general secretary Emilio Castro reminded worshippers that "we have seen and lived once more the mystery of God's presence, and as a shaky ship we go on sailing, in the words of Paul, ‘setting our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith'".

Many of the orders of service used at the Harare assembly are available on-line. To learn more about worship during the eighth assembly, click here.

Opening worship

Photo by Chris Black/WCC
Click on the photo to order (ref. 7040-13)

Offering of a gift at opening worship

Photo by Chris Black/WCC
Click on the photo to order (ref. 7046-15a)

The Christian Marching Church, one of the local churches where participants worshipped on the first Sunday of the assembly

Photo by Chris Black/WCC
Click on the photo to order (ref. 7100-19a)

The vigil service

Photo by Chris Black/WCC
Click on the photo to order (ref. 7107-29a)

The vigil service

Photo by Chris Black/WCC
Click on the photo to order (ref. 7105-13)

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