6/13/12 | 551 views
Vibrant Worship, Generous Spirit Mark Bronx Ghanaian Community
Many pastors can only wish that they had the same problem Father James Annor-Ohene has.
“At times we have to kick them out so we can lock the doors,” Father Annor said to a round of knowing laughter from the other Ghanaians gathered at Christ the King Church in the Highbridge section of the Bronx on a recent Tuesday evening. The exuberant, well-attended Masses and the socializing that follows keep the church doors open far into the evening.
But Father Annor is not the pastor of Christ the King. He is a parochial vicar at St. Ann’s parish in Yonkers, who serves as chaplain to the burgeoning community of some 400 Ghanaian immigrants and first-generation Ghanaian-Americans who attend Mass at Christ the King.
Another group of about 600 Ghanaians attend Mass at St. Margaret Mary’s parish a few blocks away with Father Martin Asiedu-Peprah, parochial vicar of Sacred Heart parish in Queens, serving as their chaplain. The most recent U.S. Census estimates that the Bronx is home to some 20,000 Ghanaian immigrants.
The Masses are offered at both Bronx churches each Sunday at 5 p.m., but the congregations essentially form one interlocking community. Each has its own choir, but the choirs sometimes come together for joint Masses to form a 100-plus-voice ensemble that would be the envy of many parishes. Each congregation has its own men’s society, Christian mothers association, St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus Society, Charismatic Renewal prayer group, numerous children’s and youth groups, choirs and bands and young adult groups. A joint Good Samaritan Society represents and coordinates the charitable activities of both communities, serving the poor back in Ghana and in Bronx.
The pastoral needs and concerns of the growing Ghanaian community have been the topic of discussion at meetings with representatives of the archdiocese, Father Annor said.
Community is central to the Ghanaian way of life. And when you are talking to Ghanaians it soon becomes evident that it runs even deeper than that. Family might be a more appropriate word to describe the depth of feeling they share towards one another and their Church.
“We see the Church as a big family where everyone feels they belong to that family,” Father Annor said. “We share one another’s life.”
Ghanaian worship is different. While the structure of the Roman Catholic liturgy is observed, Ghana’s effervescent culture is expressed within that structure. A joyous celebration of faith in song and dance is the result. Those Ghanaian flourishes are particularly evident in the Gloria and during the offertory.
“Because of our cultural background we worship God in the way that we understand best,” explained Cecilia Sekyiamah, who attends Mass at Christ the King and serves as that community’s president.
“When we get to the Gloria the difference is very clear,” Father Annor interjected. “Here you see every congregant singing and dancing and clapping.”
No basket is passed during the offertory. Instead the congregants, dancing and singing, bring their gifts, which might also include toiletries, sundries and gifts such as food stamps for the poor, to the altar.
“In Ghana we believe that when somebody does something for you and you appreciate it you go to him with happiness,” explained Frank Sekyiamah, Cecilia’s husband. “So when we go to the altar we go dancing and singing to let God know his children are happy and we appreciate all that he has done for us during that week.”
That generosity of spirit was particularly apparent during Lent and the recently completed Easter season when the Ghanaian community instituted a special Lenten collection to help the poor and homeless in their midst in the surrounding neighborhood. They raised some $2,000 and looked for a soup kitchen to donate to. Not content to merely write a check, they went to the Caldwell Soup Kitchen themselves and, working with the regular soup kitchen volunteers, prepared a special Ghanaian meal, which they served to their guests May 26.
“Our chaplain, Father Martin, came up with the idea,” said William Sackey, who attends Mass at St. Margaret Mary. “They (the soup kitchen) gave us a number of 250 people and we prepared a meal for 400. They liked it so much they kept coming back. We went there to serve and we really had a good time.” The Ghanaians even provided their own entertainment for the feast, bringing along a youth gospel-singing group.
Youth involvement in the life of the Church is very important to the Ghanaian community. They look around their adopted homeland and see the disintegration of the traditional American family and what that has wrought and are determined it will not happen to them.
“We are aware of the situation here and that’s why from three or four years up we have Sunday school teaching (children) Christian principles,” said Martin Asiamah, who attends Mass at St. Margaret Mary’s. Last year the two churches, in conjunction with the Archdiocesan Office of Black Ministry, sponsored five Ghanaian students to attend World Youth Day in Spain. Asiamah said including young people in all aspects of parish life is vital to ensuring they will remain active in the church into adulthood.
“When you go to Paris, France, you see beautiful cathedrals, big cathedrals, and when it’s time for Sunday worship, it’s so sad, you don’t see any young folks. It’s only old people and very few of them,” Sackey said. “So this is a concern that we as a community have. That is why we have all these programs and activities for our youth. Because once you get them actively involved and their enthusiasm is there, you don’t have to push them to come to church. We are lucky, those who go away to college, when they come home on holidays they don’t stay away. They come back.”
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