On Pentecostalism…

Some of my more memorable passages in Binyavanga Wainana’s witty, somewhat self deprecating if irreverent memoir, One Day I Will Write About This Place relate to his early contact with Pentecostalism whilst growing up in Kenya. In one of those he describes his mother’s desire one Sunday morning to attend a church and how they end up in one that is unmistakable Pentecostal:

The heat and light are blinding and people are jumping up and down and singing what sounds to me like voices from an accordion. It smells of sweat and goats.
We sit. All hot and in Sunday sweaters and collars and vaseline under the hot iron roof, and people spit and start and this is because we are frying, not because God is here.

The picture is one of chaos and disorder:

People are dressed in wild robes: orange Peter Pan collars, neon blues and golds and yellows. People reach into bras and pockets and purses and take out notes and envelopes and throw them in the moving dancing collection baskets. A crescendo is reached after we have given money, and people are writhing and shouting in the heat. Words are flowing from their lips like porridge, in no language I know, but in a clear coherent pitch. Each person has her or his own tongue

The contrast offered is one between this garish mix of colour and energy and the more sedate, introspective one he is more used to from the Catholic Church:

The Catholic church I know is all about having to kneel and stand when everybody else kneels and stands, and crossing and singing with eyebrows up to show earnestness before God, and open-mouth dignity to receive the bread.

In my experience, being a non-dancing member of a (Nigerian) Pentecostal church can be painfully odd at times. There have been days, often first (thanksgiving) Sundays of the month, where the thought of having to face yet another gruelling marathon  of excited dancing, loud music and the incessant admonition to those of who stand ram-rod straight to ‘dance for the glor of God’ has left me petrified to the extent that I have justed stayed at home. This after many many years of rolling in those circles. I suppose people coming into contact with it for the first time are excused whatever shocks they get then.

One thought on “On Pentecostalism…

  1. I'll still opt for the pentecostal, it seem to me as though it's the easiest way to express sincere emotions; cry, laugh, jump, scream, dance and shout and not just follow the norms even when you feel different. Nothing against the orthodox way of doing things though, Some Sundays, I'm really just a catholic.


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