A place to worship and to rejoice
Ethiopian Christians now have church of their own in metro
By LAURA FRASER Staff Reporter
Mon, Aug 1 – 4:54 AM
Dancing barefoot, with teeth gleaming between stretched, smiling lips, the women fill the church with cries of unabashed joy. Drummers accompany the ululation, harmonizing with the sound of a dozen children clapping along, partly in time.
After years of seeking shelter for their spiritual community, the tiny congregation of St. Gebriel Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church has found a home and, in that, cause for celebration.The pile of shoes at the front door of the Hammonds Plains-area church grew from 8 a.m., when communion, song, and worship began. Socks and skin sank into the sanctuary’s red carpet where the congregation had set up about two dozen plastic or well-worn upholstered chairs, their bare feet an homage to the Old Testament story of God telling Moses to remove his footwear before entering a holy place.
Each person in each chair has his or her own story. But collectively, they represent the narrative of many immigrants who came to Canada hoping for a new life still grounded in the faith and culture of their homeland, said deacon Les Zewdie.
“Most immigrants (from Ethiopia) when they come . . . they are shocked and they don’t stay in Nova Scotia because (there) is no Ethiopian Orthodox Church or community (and) then they just run to big cities to see their culture,” the deacon said.
“So one of the things we (asked ourselves) is how are we (going) to help immigrants to stay. So one of the things is what you see today. When they see this (place), they are spiritually happy.”
Sixteen years ago, Zewdie came to Nova Scotia from Ethiopia’s capital city of Addis Ababa. His network of Ethiopian friends here grew as he connected with those who shared his faith and his words.
English is the second language for most of those who call themselves part of this congregation of about 30 parishioners. Zewdie and a bishop led the sermon and songs in Amharic, the language most commonly spoken in the eastern African country and something Zewdie said parents in the church want their children to be able to speak and understand.
Edgewood-Oxford United Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church of St. Mena, both in Halifax, used to give them a place to come together. But sharing space meant that the Ethiopian congregation had to limit their time for worship, which can easily run from 8 to 11 a.m.
The congregation was too small to afford to build a church of their own, so Zewdie approached the Nova Scotia diocese of the Anglican Church to see if they had any vacant buildings.
“We heard from them that they really longed for a home to call their home,” said Rev. Tammy Hodge.
So she and the congregation at St. Nicholas Anglican Church in Upper Tantallon donated their former place of worship.
The church sits just off Hammonds Plains Road near Lucasville Road and had been empty for nearly 10 years. Initially, Hodge said, she didn’t think the building could be brought up to code. But through fundraising and sweat equity, the Ethiopian community began renovating the tiny building last September.
The Ethiopian church in Aksum claims to have the actual Tabot, which is meant to be the tablet of stone on which the Ten Commandments were inscribed, despite much controversy over its location. Each Ethiopian Orthodox Church, however, has a replica of the Tabot as a means of consecrating its status.
The Tabot’s appearance Sunday caused some women to drop to their knees and lower their heads in supplication. Outside, cars slowed down along the Hammonds Plains Road to watch the musical and colourful procession snake around the church and then back inside for more drumming, bugling, singing and dancing.
The celebration continued in the kitchen downstairs and outside where families gathered to eat traditional Ethiopian food and come together. Children crawled from lap to lap, kissing cheeks of different women and different men, seemingly at home with all.
“We are happy,” said longtime parishioner Enana Birru. “We are happy. We are open early, we go out late. We can any time use this.”
Tiblet Kidanu helped translate for Birru, 56, adding some comments of her own.
“We didn’t have the pleasure (before) to mingle, to eat, because we had to leave the building,” Kidanu said. “This gives us the liberty to stay as long as we would like, to have fellowship together, to break bread.
“We want the kids to be proud of their heritage so they can grow within the church that their parents and grandparents grew.”
Article posted in Ethnic/Religious/Racial solidarity