Time check 7:59 am, Sunday morning. Watoto Central
Haven’t been to a Sunday morning church service in quite some time.
I’m early, listening to the singers do their vocal drills, people seated looking at the Bible on their phones and switching to social media intermittently. There’s a low hum of energy. Worship Harvest refers to their Sunday service as a sort of take the car in for a tune-up.
Come in, get your wheels checked, oil changed and go back out on the road.
I’ll give my report after service. I’m only dreading the bit where they tell us to tell our neighbour that we love them and to bless them.
I better start thinking of a vague compliment now.
Timestamp – 12: 15 AM, Monday morning
*Way overdue but um at least I made it within a 24-hour window. That arbitrary measure should curry some favour, right?*
So I’ve organized this in 4 sections:
- Praise and worship
- Tithe and offering time
- The sermon
- My verdict
Praise and Worship
At 8:00 on the dot, the lights in the house went down and the stage lit up to reveal 6 singers with their backs to the auditorium. To the sides of the stage were a drummer and bass player and a keyboard player, saxophone player and an acoustic guitarist. Next to these was a choir clad in gowns made in the style of African print.
They all looked good.
The musicians were playing the opening bars of a song that seemed familiar to the congregation. The sound was better than you’d hear at most concerts and the words were projected on a screen overhead on top of beautiful nature.
You really can’t help but join in. Even on the slower songs, the lighting on stage dims and mood lighting, for lack of a better term, is used to keep the spirit of praise and worship.
People are emoting in a way that seems hugely personal. Singing to a lover. In a sincere manner you can’t even mock. The ushers are superb in directing people where to sit and in no time the place is full.
Then the moment I dreaded came. A pastor addressed the crowd as music played in the background. He asked us to take the hands of the people next to us and to pray for each other in groups of 3.
Look. I know that this is a cell and community-based church but, we’re strangers. All other things in the service are organized in such a way as to ensure private yet communal worship. Now we’re expected to give our heartaches and issues to the person that happened to sit next to us. And then sit next to them for another hour and a half.
Thankfully I sit next to people whose biggest prayer requests are peace in the nation and patience at work. In case you’re wondering, I asked for the Lord to “increase my faith”. We were all 3 of us, super Christians. The ones the church folk back in my day called spiri, short for spiritual. We are not like these others praying for things and for personal issues. Nah. We wanted the fruit of the spirit. Respect!
Tithe, offering time
Watoto really is run so well and so seamlessly that you could blink and miss the manoeuvres. Ushers are strategically placed all around the auditorium with two bags each. One for tithes and the other for the rolling crane campaign-which basically means “give us your UGX 500 coins”- that is a contribution towards the building of a new worship center in central Kampala.
A video is played of two couples testifying about how one of the couples had failed to have a child while the other had conceived two despite getting married about the same time. The fruitful couple told us how they encouraged the other couple to sow a seed of faith and give to the church. And so they did.
And voila…The couple then gets a child. Later they try again and decide to give even more and lo and behold, more children.
People seem moved and some raise their hands as if to receive the anointing of the prepackaged piece. I’m on my phone taking notes when my neighbour glances over at me disapprovingly as if to say ” That’s not how you will increase your faith”
But I’m uncomfortable with this whole premise. They’re basically saying that giving money to the church somehow led to the couple having babies. Even more insidious, they’re implying that giving money to the church is the biggest act of faith and if we, the congregation did that, we’d see results in our lives.
This is the first part of the service that makes me cringe and almost get angry at the use of people’s desire and hopes as a means of getting them to pay up and give over and above even their tithe. Throughout people mention that they took a leap of faith and gave, and gave even more. All of this followed by the service leader instructing the ushers to go fetch the Lord’s money.
I give some spare change.
(Readings 1 Kings 17: 7-24: 2 Corinthians 9:10 , Proverbs 3:5-6 and Hebrews 11: 6)
Surprise surprise. This is on giving, under a sermon series called”God of Miracles “. This is the second one in the series focusing on provision.The first was on protection. It’s actually a pretty strong sermon with sound advice given to people about being good stewards and making budgets and allotting for the tithes and offerings they bring.
Two stories from the book of Kings in which God used widows to provide for his prophets Elijah (The one who went up to heaven in a gust of wind) and Elisha (The one who was laughed at by some boys and two she bears came out of nowhere and killed them!) in their time of need. The stories are used to signify that God is the source of everything and wants to be acknowledged as much. So much so that he even used widows, people who had lost their providers, to provide for his men.
God is supernatural and goes beyond reason, beyond budgets and rationality. Look not to the security of your current source of provision whether it be a parent, a job, a business etc, they are all fickle and can be destroyed. Especially if you don’t recognize the true source.
The sermon closes with a prayer and a call to salvation that a few people respond to. A few souls just escaped the fires of hell.
Overall, I left feeling uplifted. The music and worship especially allowed for great emoting and it was timed and handled well. The prepackaged videos were well done as well setting emotional tones that prepared the congregation to listen to the word and to give.
However, I found the emotional manipulation with the content of those videos distasteful, but one could say it’s because I do not believe. To which, I’d say, um yeah. I do not take seriously the implication that giving to the church can lead to God giving a baby. I think it makes people sacrifice a lot to the church out of desperation instead of exercising prudence. Why budget and save and get insurance and apply rigour in your thinking when you can just pray and give to the Lord and he will cheat for you supernaturally? Why? There goes my “little faith” again.
The sermon expertly showed that nothing is sure. We cannot rely on the things around us to be permanent sources of provision. But then underwhelms by saying trust in God but by giving to us(Watoto). Once again, a lot can be said of tithe and offering, but I find promises such ad the one laid out by the church leaders to be misleading. Should nothing happen, they can always say “God works in mysterious ways ” or “Increase your faith”.
I’d have loved if the teaching had allowed for questions from the congregation. But time is of the essence especially when they will repeat everything above for the 10 am, 12 pm, 2 pm shows as well.
People are aching and they come to church to feel loved, to feel a purpose and connect with others. Several people found that today. I cannot begrudge that even though I think they’re believing things that don’t quite add up. Things that keep us dependent on the church and not free to have our own relationship with the divine. From a pragmatic view, as long as this makes people good citizens, which it seems to be doing, good job Watoto.
I definitely enjoyed reconnecting with my church roots and may visit Worship Harvest or Mavuno next weekend. If only to get an insight into what people get out of going there.
Happy independence day.