A Eucharist in Uganda

During Advent last year, St Peter’s had a series of Sunday sermons on the subject ‘What the Eucharist means to me’. The Education Committee wrote to Simon Challand, our mission partner in Uganda, asking him if hew would like to contribute some thoughts on the subject, We were delighted at his ready response. Here are some extracts from his letter.

Although it is not a central part of my Christian background, I have become increasingly aware of the place of the Eucharist in drawing us closer to the crucified and risen Christ, partly through my friendship with Franciscans. To my sadness, although not my surprise, the Eucharist does not have a major place in the worship of the Anglican Church here and I have only shared in two or three since my arrival. This is partly because there are many more churches than ordained clergy. In the archdeaconry of Rwensande, the place I described in my last Link Letter, I think the figure is six priests for thirty two congregations. Although I operate from the diocese headquarters I live ten kilometres from the Cathedral which, combined with my nomadic life style and various invitations to preach, means I have had no regular place of worship and so missed any regular but infrequent Communion.

However last Sunday I did share the Eucharist again at Rwensande, so I shall try and give you some impressions and you must make of it what you can. The service started an hour and a half late due to torrential monsoon rain. Slowly the church, mud floor and walls, tin roof and wooden benches, filled with a lot of women and children at the front, and a few men at the back. There was a lively choir accompanied by skilful musicians with local instruments. The service was held in Lukonjo, the language of the Bakonjo people and roughly follows the format of the ASB. Hymns and songs are sometimes local ones or from Hymns Ancient and Modern. The main feeling one has in the Eucharist is of simplicity. The simple building, the pulpit, altar and rail crudely made, the plain white cloths, the black of the priest’s vestments, the peasant farmers and the pouring rain. Partly from a fear of HIV the wafer is dipped in the wine before being given to each communicant.

There is very much a sense of a life together in this place, extended families living and working alongside one another, sharing closely in the daily routine, the pattern of the seasons, the cycle of birth, life and death. The common struggle. For me, in the partaking of Christ’s body and blood, there is a meeting with the humble and suffering servant who shares this life with us.

I thought you might be interested in a little background information to go with this. Kasese district is historically part of the Toro Kingdom and the Bokonjo have been the despised subjects of the Rutoro people. The church structure reflected this: the Rwenzori diocese was based in Fort Portal about 100kms north of here and the liturgy was in Rutoro. Political independence for the region was gained through a rebel war and following on from this in 1984 the Diocese of South Rwenzori was founded. However the language of the church remained Rutoro despite the fact that many Bakonjo in the mountains do not speak it at all.

In 1991 the Rwensande Archdeaconary Community Development Programme (see my Link Letter) funded by a Canadian Mission Organisation started writing a Lokonjo liturgy. They used the ASB, the Book of Common Prayer and the Luganda Liturgy (of the Buganda, the dominant tribe in Uganda). They completed versions of the Morning Service, services for Baptism, Holy Communion and Burial, the Catechism, Sunday Prayers and Occasional Prayers. Publication, supported by SPCK, is pending but in the meantime Rwensande is producing stencilled booklets of each part. At last the Bakonjo have a liturgy in their own tongue instead of that of their oppressor.

These booklets sell at 300ush each (about 20p) but this is still a lot for many people, subsistence farmers faced with demands for school fees, health bills, transport costs etc. I wonder whether as a gesture of our common life in Christ, St Peter’s might like to subsidise a few copies of the liturgy? 10 would allow 100 to be sold at half the usual price.

This request has been passed on to the Overseas Committee.

Simon Challand

St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 31st January 1998