I experienced my first Mariannhill service this past Sunday. I was recruited by Phinda the preceding Sunday to give the message, or exhortation. Conveniently enough, I have been slowly losing my voice over the past few days. I had two strikes against me before I starting talking, 1) No voice (I could barely muster a whisper, let alone a groggy bass-line tone.), and 2) I don’t speak Zulu (Mariannhill alternates English services with Zulu every other week). But, I wasn’t concerned with whether or not the gist of the talk would stick. It was enough to just be there to share fellowship with the brothers and sisters.
Mariannhill is a cozy meeting. There were only 10 members in attendance this past Sunday. They meet in their community center in the Mariannhill township (an informal squatter settlement). To get there, we had to park the car at the top of the hill where the gravel road ended, and walk down the steep mud embankment. Chickens and mangy dogs are regulars to the path. Walking to the hall, we received a couple shout-outs from a few drunken locals.
South African brothers and sisters have an impeccable ability to sing/worship together (this is most likely due to cultural preservation via oral tradition. They also do a whole lot of dancing because of this). The presiding brother doesn’t announce what hymn the congregation will sing for an opening, the exhortation, or closing. One person will start a ‘call’ verse to a song, and everyone else chimes in with a beautiful harmonious response. And they sing, and sing, and sing. Although you can’t, for the most part, understand what they are singing, you simply melt in reverent awe. As you listen, you wonder whether this is a sample of the angelic chorus God heard when He breathed everything into creation (Job 38:4-7).
Another unique feature of the Mariannhill meeting was their pastoral prayer. At the beginning of the service, we all stood together in a circle holding hands. Kwanda, the presiding brother, stared a prayer for others in Zulu. But then, everyone else started praying aloud. One by one, each person was added another layer to the prayer, as when an orchestral conductor adds the brass, then strings, then vocals to a musical masterpiece.
Standing in silence, I felt like I was sampling a lapse of schizophrenia—voices echoing throughout the small concrete room. It was simply beautiful. “This is what God must experience,” I thought. He is flooded with the cascade of a million voices, thoughts, and whispers from believers all over the world in any given moment. Yet, he cares so much about each one of us, he even knows the individual number of hairs on each of our heads (Luke 12:7). What an amazing creator, God, and father we have.