8,000 From 45 Countries at African Churches Opening Workshop

( [email protected] ) Nov 26, 2003 10:08 AM EST

Choir after choir, soloists and bands praised God with their voices, cymbals, drums and horns under sunny skies Sunday morning (Nov. 23) in opening worship for the All Africa Conference of Churches 8th Assembly here.

An estimated 8,000 worshipers from no fewer than 45 countries lined Yaounde's broad May 20 Boulevard and spilled out the ends for the explosion of Gospel music, prayer and preaching, which launched the Nov. 23-27 continent-wide assembly the highlight of African ecumenical life. The AACC last met in Assembly in 1997 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The avenue was a splash of yellow-gold dresses, shirts and headwraps, garments worn by several thousand of those present and sewn out of the distinctive fabric of the Assembly. The fabric has the Assembly medallion, 'Come, let us rebuild,' on a background of yellow-gold bricks.

Children wearing white and waving green branches welcomed the arriving worshipers with song and dance. The weather 'less humid than in recent days' featured occasional clouds and breezes that seemed to waft strongly just as participants grew quiet for prayers and silent reflection.

"It's a glorious day to praise God," proclaimed the Rev. Dr. Kwesi Dickson of Ghana, the AACC's President.

In attendance were many dignitaries - including top ecumenical leadership from Africa, the incoming and outgoing general secretaries of the World Council of Churches, the Chair of the African Union (Joachim Chissano, President of Mozambique), and the Prime Minister of Cameroon (Peter Mafany Musonge).

Welcoming President Chissano, Dickson said churches and the African Union share a common priority for the well being of the continent, along with an impetus toward unity. "The AACC is everywhere the church is even though its headquarters is in Nairobi," he said.

Security was tight for arriving worshipers, with metal detectors at entry points and soldiers stationed at strategic positions along the boulevard and atop surrounding buildings and hills. Media cameramen and women jostled to take shots of dignitaries as they arrived, then moved back and forth as choirs, speakers and bands took their turns from different stations.

Preaching on the Assembly theme - taken from the Bible book of Nehemiah 2:11-18, was Msgr. Dr. Pierre Manini Bodho, President of the Christian Church of Congo (Democratic Republic of Congo).

Speaking of the impetus to realizing a greater African unity, he reminded those assembled that Christians' unity "is lodged elsewhere" (in Christ). "From West to East and from North to South, the churches need to bring our contribution so that the unity of Africa becomes real," he said. "The church is not territorial or even purely African. It ties together the people of very race, language and society."

Msgr. Bodho, preaching in French, thanked the All Africa Conference of Churches for all its help over the past 40 years especially in resolving armed conflicts. "The AACC is the church of all Africa," he said, urging churches and governments to work together for the good of all the people and churches and civil society to work together to hold governments accountable.

He drew applause when he noted that Africa has enriched the whole world through its resources and manpower but the West still seems determined to take back from Africa through globalization.

The WCC's incoming General Secretary, the Rev. Dr. Sam Kobia, prayed for peace in the world; the leader of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, the Rev. Dr. Setri Nyomi, prayed for peace in families and an end to violence in families and houses. He sent a supplication to God that the economy may become "life giving rather than life threatening" and that the church be an example of peace in the continent.