Uganda Archbishop: Please Address Issue of Tardiness at major Church Ceremonies

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Ntagali. Photo: Facebook

[Open Letter]

His Grace,The Most Rev. Stanley Ntagali
Archbishop of the Church of the Province of Uganda,
15 March, 2017
P.O. Box 14123 , Kampala

Your Grace,

Subject: Showing appropriate respect during worship

I send you greetings in the name of our risen Lord and Saviour.,I had wanted this letter to reach you earlier, but I have been out of the country.

I wish to begin by taking this opportunity to express my personal appreciation to you for the important leadership you provided for the 40th anniversary commemoration of the martyrdom of Archbishop Janani Luwum. I extend particular gratitude to the Dean of the Province (who is also Caretaker Bishop of Kitgum Diocese), the Bishop of Namirembe Diocese and the Assistant Bishop of Kampala Diocese, for the key roles they played in the preparations for the commemoration, beginning with the launch in
Namirembe on 5 February and culminating in the main celebration at Wii Gweng, Mucwini, on 16 February.

The Provincial Secretary deserves very special appreciation from all of us, for his robust leadership and devotion in all aspects of this project; it is a blessing and joy to work with him. We are all very grateful for the leadership and engagement of the Church at all levels.

In spite of some daunting challenges, we truly praise God that He worked His wondrous ways, rendering the commemoration a successful milestone of worship, remembrance and thanksgiving.

I write to you this open letter, in my personal capacity, concerning the matter of showing appropriate respect during worship. I do so with a rather heavy heart, but in prayerful expectation that this discussion will lead to a good outcome, that may bring glory to God.

I have taken note of Your Grace's statements, in the media, on this subject, specifically in reference to the episode that occurred during worship at Wii Gweng on 16 February. For the sake of clarity, I might mention here some of the specific elements of that episode which caused dismay among the assembled pilgrims and much subsequent public discussion, particularly because they unfolded during ongoing act of worship.

The vehicles of some dignitaries were driven straight into the prayer arena; this in the midst of worship. This was entirely unnecessary; there were no compelling reasons of security or protocol to warrant this.

- - As some of the dignitaries arrived, Your Grace and the Dean descended from the prayer platform in order to conduct receiving ceremony for them. This would be an appropriate and welcome gesture at any time before or after worship. But doing so in the
midst of worship, while the sermon was in progress, did send a troubling message.

- - The Memorial Preacher (Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali from UK) was himself taken aback by the sudden ceremony being conducted in front of him. He was compelled to ask aloud "Should I continue or stop?"

- - There was an additional reason why I was quite shocked by this turn of events. I had witnessed similar happenings in the recent past, and not only in Mucwini. For this reason, in the planning discussions for the 40th anniversary, I had repeatedly raised this matter. We were assured that this time, once worship was in progress, there would be no interruptions or distractions.

This situation is all the more disquieting because what happened on 16 February was not a unique or isolated incident. As noted above, similar conduct had been manifested, with some regularity, in the recent past. Your Grace will recall what happened on the occasion of your enthronement in December 2012, at Namirembe. The Guest of Honour arrived when the ceremony was in progress; he was ushered to the alter, made his speech, presented the keys for the gift car and departed.

Your Grace will also recall the episode on the occasion of the consecration of the Bishop of West Lango Diocese in October 2014, in Aduku. The Guest of Honour arrived at an advanced stage in the ceremony. Worship was interrupted for welcoming ceremony, the speech, the handing-over of the keys for the gift car, and he departed. All subsequent efforts to resume worship, including attempts to serve holy communion, were in vain.

What had been a mammoth gathering of the faithful and a wonderfully joyous worship ended abruptly in virtual disarray. Your Grace will also recall what took place in Mucwini in 2015 and 2016.

All acts of worship, of all faith traditions, deserve the utmost respect from all of us. I am afraid that what we are witnessing here is a certain pattern of disrespectful conduct during worship. This has gone too far. There is need for a corrective.

Without passing any judgement, the situation in the Catholic Church, by contrast, is quite striking. I have attended several Catholic masses where many high-level dignitaries, including the Head of State, were also present. I do not recall any example of late arrivals, early departures or any disruptions of mass on the part of the dignitaries on those occasions. I believe that the Catholic Church, to its credit, has made its position clear, concerning what is acceptable and unacceptable conduct during worship.

This is also the situation for Islamic worship in the country. I have cited the specific examples above simply to illustrate the problem. But our focus should not be so much on past episodes or, worse, on any particular personalities, much less their orientations or affiliations. Those issues do not belong to this discussion; this is about the sanctity of worship. Rather, our preoccupation should be to attain a good outcome that would apply across the board, to all concerned, in all situations. It is my hope that the concern raised in this letter will be examined with serenity and objectivity, on the merits.

My humble proposal is quite simple. All are welcome to join in worship, without any distinctions whatsoever. Dignitaries and celebrities, because they tend to attract rather more attention, should be particularly encouraged to arrive in time.

However, it is understandable that, in spite of best efforts, it is not always possible to achieve this. So, what should happen to leaders and dignitaries who, for reasons beyond their control, may arrive in the midst of worship?

They should be received by appropriate security and protocol personnel, and discreetly and gracefully escorted to their seats, without unnecessary disruptions or receiving ceremonies. All matters of ceremony and protocol can then be performed after worship is completed. And, in case of an outdoor setting for worship, dignitaries should be clearly advised not to enter with their vehicles into the prayer arena.

I find the example set in Namirembe in 2015 and 2017 quite helpful and instructive. In both years, the national commemoration for St. Janani Luwum were launched in Namirembe. Both events, graced by high-level attendance, went off wonderfully well.

Significantly, there were no happenings of concern. Another notable example in this category was the way proceedings were conducted during the consecration of the Bishop of Northern Uganda in December, 2010, at Mican, in Gulu.mLet us borrow a leaf from the Namirembe example.

This letter is a plea for action by Your Grace and the leadership of the Church of Uganda. It is necessary to set out clearly the position of the Church on this matter, in order to avoid further misunderstandings, correct any mixed signals, and guide the conduct of
all concerned in times of worship.

I believe that, when made fully aware, all our leaders and dignitaries would wish to show appropriate respect in situations of worship. Once a clear position is enunciated by the Church, I am confident that all concerned will want to do the right thing and abide
by that policy. The ball is in the Church's court.

As always, we look to the Church for leadership and example.

May the Almighty continue to bless Your Grace and your leadership and stewardship of the Church.

Please accept, Your Grace, my continued expression of highest esteem, respect and fellowship.

Olara Otunnu.
Buddo, 15 March, 2017.

Copied to:
All Bishops of the Church of Uganda,
Dean of Province,
Provincial Secretary,
Provincial Head of Laity

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