After a long time not attending church, I finally got to go to church last Sunday courtesy of a friend who after so many attempts finally got his way. I woke up reluctantly at 8 a.m in the morning with my enthusiastic friend eagerly waiting for me. He took me to what he described as the most active and lively church in Kigali, somewhere in Kicukiro.
After a twenty minute ride, we finally reached our destination. The church was still undergoing construction and most of its roof was covered with a tent.
We walked in and immediately, I was caught by surprise by the mood inside the church.
It was intense and moving and my friend immediately joined the choir and continued rhyming with the song that was being played. The sound was deafening as the speakers were extra loud. The congregation was mainly made up of youth of between 22 and 35 years.
This is the situation in most churches in Rwanda. The Catholic, Presbyterian, Anglican, Seventh Day Adventist and African Inland churches, among others, have traditionally not entertained vigorous singing and dancing in their liturgies.
But things are changing, especially in Africa, and liturgical dancing is gaining popularity. King David, the biblical psalmist renown for his ‘praise and worship’, danced for the Lord until he tore off his clothes..
Century-old hymnbooks, such as Golden Bells, are rarely used as most churches have come up with catchy tunes that go in tandem with dancing and clapping of hands.
“The music and dancing makes the liturgy more lively. Churches should emphasise catchy tunes, not boring songs that make the faithful fall asleep in church,” says Claude Ngoga, 23, a choir member with the Rehoboth choir.
“There are more people attending church services nowadays because the services are lively and everyone participates and feels more involved in the church activities than before.”
Fr. Jean Hakizimana, the parish priest of Gikondo Catholic Church says the church encourages only ‘sacred dancing’ and liturgical dancers are advised not to dance provocatively.
That they are allowed to dance at all is unusual, as the Catholic Church in the West frowns upon it.
According to an essay published by the official organ of the then Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship, Notitiae in 1982, all dancing including ballet, children’s gesture as dancing and the clown liturgy was not permitted to be “introduced into liturgical celebrations of any kind whatsoever”.
However, a certain form of dance could be introduced within the context of papal liturgies at regional synods of bishops or canonisation ceremonies.
But, these were usually associated with elements of African or Asian culture and were considered as special exceptions in virtue of the Pope’s universal mission. In the Latin Church, liturgical dance has never been made an integral part of the official worship.
In Rwanda and many African countries, local churches have accepted the dance especially on the occasion of feasts like Easter, the nativity of the Lord and other Church celebrations.
However, some church members feel the young generation is taking the dance too far and instead of it being praise and worship time which should be sacred, the dance sometimes distracts the members of the congregation.
Michel Agaba, a lawyer in Kigali and a staunch christian, says the liturgical dances should be controlled so that they serve the purpose that they were created for - praise and worship. “Sometimes, our dancers go overboard with their provocative dancing styles which distracts the faithful from following the liturgy. Hence the need to control the dances.”
However, in most churches around Rwanda, there is always a priest or a deacon who ensures that the mass servers and dancers act as per the liturgy, hence preventing deviation. Fr. Hakizimana says that sometimes if the young faithful are not instructed on how to dance or what is expected of them during the liturgical dances, they might go overboard in their dancing styles.
On the other side, there are people who believe that this dancing for the lord should not be controlled and that the faithful should be let to release their feelings to the lord.
Pastor Emmanuel Ngabonziza of the Church of Christ, believes that people have the right to be emotional when praising God.
“I am of the idea that these people who have emotions should not be controlled at all,” he says while citing the biblical King David as an example.
“King David showed us an example of how to praise the Lord and I don’t see the reason why we should not copy his style of worshipping.”
This kind of worshipping with or without control is proving a worthwhile activity especially for the youth because the daily choir practices help in obstructing these young people from distractive activities.
“This is a way of making our young people active,” Ngabonziza observes.
“They do not have to waste time idling in the estates or watching TV but can come to church and mingle with their agemates as they pray and also serve Christ in various ministries.”
The debate is bound to go on but judging by what I saw last Sunday, I am planning to change my Sunday schedules and attend all church services.
They (services) are no longer structured and boring as they used to be but they have changed to be lively and entertaining for people especially the youth.
“There is abundant joy where God is. We therefore believe that our gathering as God’s people is to be an exciting event that is vibrant and joyful,” Ngabonziza says. “ Music is a form of worshipping God and therefore should not be ignored” he concludes.