The dancers dancing to a gospel tune this morning on TV wore expensive-looking tattered jeans and gyrated their supple bodies for the Lord, but perhaps mostly for us.
It looked like everyone had been groomed extensively for the TV appearance. The females wore long hair, and the males wore their tightest suits.
They were the kind of people you would expect to see on the catwalk in a five-star hotel in an evening of glitz.
The different scenes flashing on the screen showed expensive cars, palatial mansions with lawns and flower gardens and swimming pools, and acre-sized living rooms adorned with exquisite sofa sets.
Megachurches as marvels
The churches on TV were all modern architectural marvels that have removed the overt symbolism that used to characterize traditional churches.
These mega churches look like gentrified factories, indoor arenas and beach hotels.
Generally, there was an extraordinary display of ostentatious material things accompanying the soundtrack replete with of promises of heavenly splendour and glory after we all die.
When I was growing up, the church we attended was permanently under construction.
The villagers built the church, brick by brick, with their donations of one shilling, the muhothi, or offering, each Sunday.
Those where the days when politicians were famous for not donating huge sums of money to struggling churches.
The congregants built their church stoically for many years and there was no shame in attending an incomplete church with no sophisticated studio facilities.
I can’t remember when they started building the church but I grew up watching the building rise. When I left the village to go to college, the church was still not complete.
At one time, a white Catholic priest with what appeared to be bottomless pockets, felt pity on fellow Christians and in an unprecedented act, donated building materials to our church, which was a protestant church.
Our elders gladly accepted the help although they continued to grumble about how the Catholics condoned the partaking of alcohol and their never-ending rituals during mass.
A priest with an amphibious shoe
For a long time, there was no priest. Elders alternated giving sermons on Sunday.
When a priest was finally posted, he was as scraggy as the elders, and it was clear he had never had a facial massage since he was born.
His shoe looked like it was inspired by the design of an amphibian, but it was always shone to perfection.
The elders in our church were elders in the strictest sense of the word.
They all had receding hairlines and mops of white hair on their heads.
The surviving dental formula of one or two senior elders was guaranteed to scare their grandchildren from the cities.
Some parted their hair to create a row on the left side of their head, the same hair that used to hold pencils during the weekdays, for some were carpenters and teachers and clerks and other users of pencils and biro pens.
These elders sat in front of the church, facing us. When a song was called, they all stood up, removed their pens and turned into veritable choirmasters, swinging their pens like a choirmaster’s baton, conducting the rest of us in a song in which no one as much as swayed their shoulders.
There was simply no dancing.
Modest dressing as a virtue
It was the era of puritanism and modest dressing was considered a virtue.
The men wore mainly black suits and a tie. Women walked a few paces behind their husbands on their way to church, wearing their Sunday best dresses whose hem was at the ankle and the lowest cut at the top was above the neck bone.
No body parts could ever be seen threatening to spill out. The missionaries who had introduced the parents of these elders to the Gospel had clearly overlooked Jeremiah 31:13 which reads:
“Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.”
This is the verse that is often used to justify the iniquitous — grossly unfair and morally wrong — dancing in church.
And so the elders conflated restraint, reservation and mourning with piety unlike today’s congregants who confuse exuberance, gaiety and frolicking with worship.
Did the Lord, who was prayed to by these conservative people, ever hear their prayers? You bet, for our parents prayed for us always and although we didn’t turn out perfect, we turned out fine.
Their mode of worship is testimony that to access God’s ultimate favours — good, responsible children — it is not necessary for you to flaunt material possessions or your muscles, to attend a church that is a palace, or to be flirty with the Lord.
Dr Muiru Ngugi is a lecturer at the School of Journalism, University of Nairobi. Email: [email protected]