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Bishops worship under cashew tree, help in groundbreaking

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Stephen Drachler

Missouri Bishop Robert Schnase lays the first blocks for a new church in Mozambique.
Nov. 13, 2006

By Stephen Drachler*

MAPUTO, Mozambique (UMNS) -- Worshippers at Catembe United Methodist Church know that a church is more than a building: they've never had one.

That will change in the next year or so. For years, the congregation has worshipped beneath a big cashew tree. With three United Methodist bishops participating in a service on Nov. 5, construction for a building began when the congregation laid the first pressure-formed building blocks into the ground.

Split into small groups, nearly 80 United Methodist bishops, accompanied by spouses and others from around the globe, worshipped with 16 Mozambique congregations on Nov. 5. The bishops did not preach the sermon, but took part in worship, offering greetings and prayers.

At Catembe, Missouri Bishop Robert Schnase, whose conference has had a special relationship with Mozambique since 1986, had the honor of lowering the first blocks into a trench dug by hand in the sandy soil. The congregation worships in a poor neighborhood most easily accessed by ferry and a bumpy ride over winding dirt roads less than 10 miles from downtown Maputo.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Stephen Drachler

A large banner from Lafayette Park United Methodist Church in St. Louis, Mo. hangs from a cashew tree.
A large banner from the Lafayette Park United Methodist Church in St. Louis, Mo. proclaiming the spot as "Igreja Metodista Unida Catembe," (Catembe United Methodist Church) hung from limbs of the tree. The two congregations are partners in the Missouri-Mozambique Initiative.

In St. Louis, a number of Lafayette Park members got up in the middle of the night to pray for their partners in Mozambique. At 10 a.m., the same time that Catembe United Methodist Church had worshipped in Mozambique eight hours earlier, Lafayette Park saw its presence in ministry half a world away through downloaded photographs.

Many of Catembe's worshippers live in wood and straw huts. They pump water from community wells and most homes have no electricity. Goats tied to trees and bushes graze on tall grass throughout the neighborhood.

About two dozen women cooked a celebratory feast of goat, chicken, prawns, rice, bean stew, vegetables, cassava and sadza, a bread-like staple, on fires built in long trenches.

"We are moving from worshipping under this cashew tree to laying the first stone today," said the church's pastor, the Rev. Paulo Saubino, during the opening of the worship service. "I was happy when they told me ‘let us go to the house of the Lord.'"

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Stephen Drachler

Worshippers gather under a large cashew tree, site of Catembe United Methodist Church in Mozambique.
Looking at the bishops and other visitors sitting in blue and green resin lawn chairs under the tarp, Saubino said "next time when you come, we will have a church building. You will have a difficult time getting a place to sit." He explained that every congregation in Mozambique has two budgets: one for finances and one for saving souls.

Worshippers walked from beneath the tree to a nearby field for the laying of the first construction blocks. After Schnase lowered the first blocks into the trench, the Rev. Arlindo Romão, the district superintendent, invited Bishops Max Whitfield of New Mexico and Alfred Gwinn of North Carolina to shovel cement onto them. Then other visitors and leaders of the congregation shoveled cement onto the blocks.

These blocks will serve as a cornerstone of sorts. A bible wrapped in plastic was placed between the square of blocks. Romão said the square will be beneath the church's floor as the building is built.

"This floor will be built on the book of God," he said through a translator.

*Drachler is the public information officer for the Council of Bishops.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or

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