Monday, February 07, 2011

A church service in Saigon

Two weeks ago, Sarita and I had the privilege of attending a church service in Saigon--in one of the (we were told) fewer than two dozen licensed churches in the city.

On Saturday evening we were told if we wanted to attend a service the next morning, we would need to choose between a 5am, 6am, or 7am starting time. (Different churches began at different time.)


That shocked us.

Why so early?

I'm not completely sure of the answer, but I think it had to do with normal temperatures in Vietnam being much warmer than here--and it being cooler early in the day as compared to later. (While we were there, I think it got all the way up to maybe 71F during the day--about the warmest we experienced anywhere except in Singapore; so that didn't register as strongly with us as it might had it been warmer.)

Another reason also, for early services: that many people have to work on Sunday. It's a "regular" day just like any other.

We decided to avoid the extremes and go at 6.

We arrived at about 5:45. People were already gathering to worship. I shot this picture at 5:51:

Some observations:
  • Only the pastor is permitted behind the pulpit. And he must wear a suit.

    Other members of the congregation--for example, the choir--are permitted to help lead in worship, but they must stand down and away from the pulpit.

    I asked someone why this is so. Why the major distinction between clergy and lay people? It seems so "un-Protestant."

    Answer (more or less): In a country where religious laws are subject to various interpretations, the need for this kind of distinction becomes rather obvious. The pastor is the official spokesperson for the church and everything he says is recorded and checked with care by all involved. So you don't want some crackpot to say something that can be misconstrued causing undue attention to the work of the church.

    And so the church, for its own safety, has established these kinds of rules to protect itself.
  • Younger members of the congregation provided the musical accompaniment. Looking at them, you'd think they were high school or possibly college students. Many were married and, "even," in their 30s.

  • Musical styles were rather similar to what we know in the United States. They have the same kind of projection of lyrics on large screens at the front of the sanctuary.

    But many members of the congregation, especially older ones, brought their own song books so they could follow along with words and music. (Notice the number in the upper right-hand corner of the overhead, above.)

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