An ordination in Kinshasa

I set my meditation timer and then spot a mosquito dancing against the screen that frames my view of the Congo River in our room at Procure Ste. Anne. I spend the first meditation minute chasing down and killing the mosquito.

Later, after breakfast, I go up toward my room on the third floor. But my husband has stayed down at the desk to sign us up for dinner and he has the key. As I wait in the open stairway, I hear a fugue of chants rising from a distant room. A choir of nuns? We are after all staying in a monastery guesthouse. But a woman’s voice becomes louder and I see the singer coming out of a room. She is the cleaner. A minute later a man comes up the stairs carrying a mop and bucket. He begins singing softly and his chant twines with hers, rising unearthly in the high corridors.

The sacred and the mundane are never far apart here.

I’m not sure what I’ll remember of the ordination service yesterday, when it’s all said and done. How hot I was five hours. Spotting so many faces in the crowd of 500? 1000? people whom I knew or thought I knew. The fact that I hadn’t remembered to try to estimate the size of the crowd, what kind of journalist am I. The glorious harmonies of two men’s choirs and “Mamas United.” The bangy, screeching, amplified instrumentals of another. Amplification and French mixed with Lingala and my hearing impairment making it difficult for me to understand anything, even with a translator behind me (what kind of journalist am I, thinking I can report on this, knowing this about my limitations.)

Taking my own discomforts and preferences out of the picture, I remember the attention of the crowd, the church leaders, the speakers, the prayers being directed at two women being ordained. Plus two men. The four sat dressed in black, head to toe to fingertip, facing the crowd from a corner and backed by their spouses, who later stood behind them like shadows on the platform as they were instructed, prayed over, and, finally, ordained. The women were the stars of this occasion, a century-old church naming women as pastors for the first time. “Révérende” with an e.

During the moment itself, they were surrounded by other ordained people who were present, many men. But the American women who are traveling with me are also ordained, and they were invited onto the platform. Sandy went up and joined the prayers over the kneeling candidates. She was asked to offer a spoken prayer for one of the candidates. Singing went on. After a while the crowd on the platform parted and the ordinands emerged, wearing clerical robes over their black suits. The newly ordained pastors remained somber throughout, sweating and, I thought, stifling some yawns. It was a very long service.

I tried to take some pictures but my friend Charlie rescued me early on. Charlie is the journalist I arranged to work with while I am here. It was a wise move. Charlie is a real journalist. She took my camera and traipsed around during the service in her pink dress and 4-inch heels, capturing the moment. That’s Charlie in the picture, standing next to Amanda in the second picture. Amanda could have gone up on the platform but decided not to. Although the two were just waiting for their cameras to be handed back by the bolder photographers they’d given them to, who had crowded in behind the pastors, I thought it captured something.

I can’t share the pictures Charlie took because they must be downloaded to a computer I don’t have with me. I’m trying to travel as light as possible and that means iPad. I’ll try to use it more so I can post, but the quality isn’t always the best.

Toward the end, Charlie and I went outside in the hot sun and talked to people. What were their impressions? What did this mean? “Joy” was the word everyone used, women and men, young and old. “Great joy.” “Immense joy.” “Profound joy.”

One 55-year-old pastor said he had been working for the ordination of women since he entered the ministry at age 25. Why had it taken so long? “This is a very conservative church,” he said.

Women were more blunt. A female member of parliament said, “Men want to hold onto power in politics and in the church.”

What we missed was the part of the service where the ordinands were given gifts by their families and supporters: Refrigerators, microwaves, TVs, and perhaps ironically symbolic gifts of brooms and duspans.

Politics, emotion, discomfort, endurance. Spirit was there, too. My iPad took the strangest picture I have ever seen. It would have been my only good shot of the day, of the candidates kneeling. But it is a picture of blinding light. Probably just multiple flashes going off at once. But I wonder.

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