12 February 2015

Fiangonana.

Church is a big part of my life here in Madagascar. As a YAGM volunteer, I work in partnership with the Malagasy Lutheran Church, Fiangonana Loterana Malagasy (FLM). The church was originally founded by Norwegian missionaries, but today it is guided by Malagasy pastors. Religion in general has a really strong presence on the island. There is a mosque down the street from my house, there are Mormon missionaries who live in the next town, many taxis and buses have Bible verses as decals on the windshield, one day we even had Jehovah’s Witnesses knock on our gate. Within Christianity, there is a range of denominations including Catholic, Baptist, and Presbyterian just to name a few. My town is even home to Shine, a televangelism-style congregation. Churches offer a lot of social, education, and service opportunities. For example, my main site congregation offers Catechism, Sunday School, a homeless meal ministry, Skotos (Boy and Girl Scouts), Men and Women’s Clubs, two choirs, and an association that offers low cost French, English, and Technology courses to the public.

Within the FLM, the liturgy is very similar to what I am familiar with as a member of the ELCA. There is confession and forgiveness, hymns, the Apostle’s creed, the Lord’s prayer, Old and New Testament as well as Gospel readings, a sermon, offering, and communion twice a month. Everyone has their own protestant hymnnal that they bring to each service. A few main differences include longer announcements than I am used to after the sermon (because there is no printed bulletin, the easiest way to share news is with a microphone and a big TV screen for projections.), an occasional mid-service auction as a fundraiser, and the Mpiandry, or shepherds, members of an ecumenical revival group specific to Madagascar who offer their gifts in exorcising the church of demons and praying over each parishioner individually. (Both of my host parents are trained as Mpiandry and I am currently reading a book on the revival movement so more on this later.) Also, church services are a bit longer than my home congregation in the US. The shortest service I ever attended was two hours, and the longest so far was five hours.

While every church is unique, I have had the opportunity to get to know two congregations on a much more personal level. My main church is where I teach English and help with TCC, the lunch program for local children. It is a fairly large congregation with two services on Sunday. I go to the 6:30am service and I would estimate approximately 200-300 parishioners each week. 

The sanctuary of my main placement site. There are lots more pews behind and in the upstairs gallery.
The other church I attend is located a few kilometers farther south and is a growing rural congregation. The parishioners are in the process of building their brick church by hand. Right now, half of the walls are in place and we worship under a wood shelter with a tarp roof. It’s a small congregation with 30-40 parishioners each week but I love all of the kids and the feeling of a close community. The pastor is shared with another congregation and comes once a month to preach and preside over communion. The other weeks are led by lay ministers. I teach English for this community twice a week.

My friends and I singing "Joy to the World" at Christmastime at my second church. Photo credit: Gina

The brick walls starting to form! This photo is a few months old, even more progress has been made since!

It has been a struggle to worship regularly in a language other than English, but I feel more and more comfortable each week with the rhythm of the service and I can follow along with the phonetics and melody of the Malagasy hymns, even if I don’t always know what I’m singing. Most importantly, church is a time to gather together to worship in community, and I am so thankful to my church communities for welcoming me with open arms. 

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