Saturday, September 18, 2010

Sudanese Evangelical Covenant Church

The denomination has a new church today, and we went to the block party in Manchester. The program was partly in English, partly in Dinka. The Sudanese are at the front edge of the problem every immigrant church has faced in America: the older people never quite master English, and they want worship in their own language. And, after lives of suffering, who wouldn't want to give it to them? But the children are already more fluent in English than Dinka, and in 10-20 years, they won't stay if the worship is in a language they don't use. So for now, it is two weeks Dinka, two weeks English.

They had Sudanese songs and dances. My stereotype was that these would be pretty energetic, but I missed an important point. Things started so half-heartedly, even boringly, that I wondered whether they only half-knew them now, having been in the refugee camps and then isolated in small groups here. But it built slowly, and was uh, vigorous soon enough. I then remembered that refugee camps everywhere have people working hard to preserve important elements of culture. There is not much else to do, and people don't want to lose who they are.

They joined The Covenant because our denomination was very active in missionary work in the camps. They feel comfortable with us. They got a kick out of the stories of the Swedish immigrants who wanted worship and songs and food that were familiar - especially that they wanted dried fish instead of the fresh fish that Americans ate. It was also humorous to watch the teeneage girls already hanging back from the intensely ethnic side of things - it's not cool, y'know? Perfect. But it is a harbinger of things to come. The cute 6-10 y/o girls who did the traditional dances are going to be hard to drag out there in ten years. It will be that stuff that old people do. They'll keep a few who have a strong sense of tradition and duty, but getting their daughters to put on the costumes and march around is going to be a struggle.

They don't know that yet. Watching them start down the path that other immigrant churches have trod is the closest we can see to what our grandparents had. The language, food, and appearance are completely different. But the dynamics are the same - some of the men sitting silently, not joining in, talking to only a few of their friends; other men treating the dances like a game or competition, with much teasing of each other and camaraderie; older women who are clearly accorded some deference for reasons unclear to outsiders, younger women aggressively organising groups into their proper places; youngest children bewildered and shy.

I think we'll be visiting this church once a month. And if we make a mistake and go on one of the weeks that it's in Dinka once in awhile, so much the better.


Anna said...

We have a lot of Sudanese in southern Maine too. Wonder what it is about this area that attracts them. I mean, the climate is not exactly similar and the economy is not great.

HAHA whenever anyone moves to Maine, my first thought is WHY ON EARTH!!!

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Yes, there's a church in Portland, I believe, but I don't know its affiliation. I've met some of them, but don't know any.

When we were resettling Laotion refugees 30 years ago, they just couldn't get the concept of closing the door the whole first winter. But after they'd been here awhile they visited relatives in Houston and complained that it was too hot - they liked NH better.