The more God’s will is translated for me the more confused I get. On my penultimate Sunday I deliberately chose a non-English speaking service so I could escape the moral contemplation of theology and indulge in the physical pleasures of worship i.e. singing, dancing and waving your arms around. One of my largest discoveries over the year has been to learn to appreciate the importance of singing, dancing and waving your arms around with a congregation of strangers. Dancing, singing and waving your arms around has become a cathartic ritual response to the blinkered moral musings of a number of sermons. However theology, morality and scripture are far more difficult to translate than the singing, dancing and waving your arms around. So when entering the Ministere De La Parole De Foi Hackney (translates as Word of Faith Ministry) on Sandringham Road I was looking forward to getting my gospel groove on and ignoring the daily dogma. In the past at the Greek and Georgian Orthodox churches I had the opportunity (due to the language barrier) of appreciating pure ritual over religious rationalizing. My hope was that the Ministere De La Parole De Foi would provide the opportunity to get lost in the music but I had forgotten that the Ministere De La Parole De Foi was a Western church and unlike Eastern Orthodox churches (who believe in the sanctity of the Holy Scripture) it was essential I understand the Lord’s Word whatever the language.
Like most churches with lavish names in East London, Ministere De La Parole De Foi Hackney has humble surroundings. Positioned just off the Kingsland Road High Street its heavily decorated open front window stands out from the surrounding Christmas displays of Argos, Tesco and Boots. The church’s dramatic and colourful emblem is too extreme for any shop sign, peering out down the road it’s a symbol that demands attention from all, not just local shoppers. Arriving late to a packed room, the congregation stared at this lone white faced intruder and slowly made space as they realised that I had not mistaken the ministry for the pound shops further down the road but was here to join the worship. The congregation, predominantly from Cote D’Ivore and The Congo, went across various generations and classes as illustrated by their fashion. Some dressed in African traditional clothing, others wore more expensive smart suits and long regal dresses, while the younger generation where noticeably more casual in their attire wearing the latest designer labels. At first I could feel their eyes on me and a mixture of French and English whispers at my arrival before one of the many large mothers of the congregation came to question me. Warm and friendly she quickly adopted me and grew concerned that I needed a translator. I declined out of politeness but she reassured me she would find one. Appreciative of her charity I was yet to realise that one altruistic act was going to affect the entire service. After a quick hymn I sat unaware that my translator had taken to the stage and would devotedly attempt to articulate the minister’s rhetoric in the most dead pan pigeon English voice.
Unintentionally my visit had prolonged the service running time all in an attempt to save me, ironically the only person that didn’t want saving. The trick of Christianity is that you can’t be cruel to people who are so kind. No matter how much I protested to the translation I would have been perceived as an ungrateful guest in need of saving. So I stayed, sat speechless and smiling in appreciation of the service and attempted to decipher the nuances of my translator’s audio commentary.
Most of the translation was unnecessary, even with my D in GCSE French could tell that “gloreux” was glorious and “benis” was bless. The congregation also seemed more interested in singing, dancing and waving their arms around with a live drummer, keyboardist, bassist and three female singers often undermining the clergy. Even the guest minister opened his sermon in song and throughout the majority of the service most of the testifying was accompanied by a gentle humming bass and slow melodic piano playing. The fusion of music and preaching coupled with my own audio commentary caused a confusing cacophony that was intoxicating but shallow. The commentary was a constant reminder that I did not fully understand the Lord’s Word and missed a morality hidden between the French and English words. My separation was not simply spiritual but essentially social. The minister would have his devotees in rapturous laughter but my translator looked lost to explain the comedic elements of The Book of Romans in French. Culturally the gulf between me and the congregation had never felt so big ironically due to the attempt to bridge an understanding between us both. I was apprehensive to draw conclusions from the unfinished sentences spoken within the sermon yet I realised projecting a personal interpretation onto open ended dogma is an essential element of religion.
From my hazy impression I took away some worryingly so called “moral truths.” The minister claimed that “It’s a sin to do nothing,” like “not have a job,” “be single “and “not supporting ones family.” I was unaware that these mini sins were in the Bible regardless of what language it may have been written in. However I did not feel I could trust myself, let alone the church’s moral agenda as it all seemed lost in translation. Religion can be dangerous as the scriptures can lend themselves to egocentric interpretation, be it my own or the minister, or translator, or that edition of the Bible. Writing about being confused is very difficult as you attempt to articulate the unarticulable (which is not even a real word) but through the ritual of my blog I have been forced to retrospectively form opinions in an attempt to discover my own gospel. The result is never the truth but a translation that inevitably loses the nuances, complexities and reasons behind a church’s belief. My accounts are just another layer of confusion to add to the mountain of personal delusions that masquerade as theological musings but at least you know not to trust the translator. Personally I am looking forward to not thinking so much and I will finally get a chance to cut loose to sing, dance and wave my arms.