Yesterday was Sunday. Normally, I am invited to speak at one of the churches where I will teach a church-planting course the following week. However, for one reason or another, that did not happen this time in Mbale, so we were left to ourselves to find a church for worship. We needed the rest anyway. So during breakfast Alfred called a friend who had moved to Mbale to ask for a recommendation for a church to visit.

His friend was on a business trip at that moment and was traveling to Nairobi in Kenya. But he did recommend his church and said he would call someone at the church to expect us. This person called Alfred and they made arrangements to meet up so we could find the church.

After much trial and error, phone-calling back and forth, and bumping along nearly washed-out dirt roads through the back sides of neighborhoods, we finally did arrive at a church. We were welcomed enthusiastically and were put in chairs right in the front row, while everyone else sat on benches, and all this during the pastor’s sermon. This seemed odd to me since we had been given a time to arrive and were fairly on time, but one can’t really predict a Ugandan church’s order of service, and they generally run much longer than American churches.

This proved to be the case because after the sermon, there was a season of choir, praise and worship, and giving, after which the bishop gave another sermon. Typically the leaders sit to the side at the front, and there was an austere looking older man along with an equally austere looking woman and a somewhat cheerful-looking older woman seated there. I took these people to be the bishop and two elders. I thought to myself that women elders in Uganda were unusual, but this reflected the changing attitude of the Ugandan church toward women which tends to be in flux these days.

Gail sits with Pastor Joy waiting for the baptistery to be free.

Gail sits with Pastor Joy waiting for the baptistery to be free.

We were asked to introduce ourselves, and so we explained who we were, what we were doing in Uganda and how we had come to their church this morning. After that the bishop was invited to speak the second sermon of the morning. She arose and came to the pulpit. It was the cheerful-looking woman who was the bishop! I continue to adjust my inner chauvinist in my work in Uganda. It was natural to assume the man was the bishop, but this is just good old conditioning. I had not met a female bishop before, so I was surprised. I was happy to see it, though chagrined to catch myself as just another hung-up American. I have been aware for many years of Paul’s revolutionary statement in Galatians 3:28 – “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”

The bishop, Pastor Joy, then announced the most amazing thing. She had been approached by Pastor Enoch from one of her churches about the possibility of holding a church-planting seminar in their building with a musungu from America. She had not been able to host it because of scheduling, but she was aware that this training was going on among the churches that she oversees this week. She was just now putting together that we were the very ones.

Pastor Joy asks me to "bless the water" before the baptisms commence,

Pastor Joy asks me to “bless the water” before the baptisms commence,

Imagine our surprise to attend a very random church for worship on Sunday, only to discover that, among all the churches we could have chosen in this large city of Mbale, we have arrived at the sister church under the same overseer as our host for tomorrow’s conference, Pastor Enoch, who is a good friend of mine. And that this overseer was expecting us in her area though she herself had never met us.

The humor of this “coincidence” was underlined further by Pastor Joy’s sermon. Alfred and I laughed continually through her message and looked at each other repeatedly in astonishment as she preached to me my own teaching during a part of the CP seminar and frequently even used the same words! We are apparently kindred spirits and share a similar theological perspective on the church. This also was further emphasized when she unexpectedly asked Gail, my wife, to come up to the podium and speak the blessing prayer over the people at the end of her sermon.

The new believers are baptized in the borrowed baptistery of a sister church.

The new believers are baptized in the borrowed baptistery of a sister church.

Afterward, they invited us to attend a baptism service, hosted by a neighboring church with a baptistery, where thirty new believers of varying ages were baptized. I have not witnessed a baptism before in Uganda because none of the churches can afford baptisteries, so transporting everyone to a water source large enough to baptize becomes arduous and expensive.

Our brief church visit for worship had turned into a day of celebration with the Body of Christ. Not only did I sense His smile behind all of this, but I think I even heard his laughter.