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© 2023 Dr Margaret Sheppard

Easter Services

Zion Churches hold special Easter services for Good Friday and Easter Sunday but they may last the whole Easter week-end especially if this is  the occasion for the annual church conference and they are hosting other branches for the occasion. These  services differ from the regular services as all the Bible readings and preaching focuses on the Easter story -on Good Friday on the Betrayal and Crucifixion, and on Easter Sunday on the Resurrection.

I attended two of these, one in 1978 at Episcopal and the other in 1979 at Africa. They were basically similar in format. The service differs from regular services in that all the readings and preaching refer to the Last Supper, the Betrayal and the Crucifixion.

The one at Episcopal was held during the day, commencing at about 9.00 a.m. The one at Africa was held during the night of Good Friday, starting at about 11.00 p.m. and continuing until sunrise on the Saturday. At the Africa service new uniforms and promotions were given. (This part of the service was similar to those described in the sections “UNIFORM”  and “UNIFORMS 2”)

When I arrived at Episcopal they were already singing hymns. Then the Bishop read from St. Matthew 27. He preached on the reading, saying that in St. Matthew we read that between 6.00 p.m. and 9.00 p.m., on the first Good Friday, there was darkness. Then Jesus shouted out "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" When some people had heard Christ shouting out they thought he was calling for the prophet Elias (Matthew 27, v. 46-50) and they waited to see if Elias was coming to save Him. Christ repeated his words and they thought he wanted to drink so they brought him vinegar. Then after the events of verses 51-53, a centurion had said "Truly, this man was the Son of God." The Bishop continued that, when we hear the words of that part of the Bible, we should think about that and feel the pains of how Christ died for
us on the Cross. We should stand up for Christ and not make ourselves into a Judas.

When Judas, the betrayer, heard about this he had tried to return the 30 pieces of silver but they had been refused. Nor should people be like Peter, the one who denied Christ three times before the cock had crowed. When Simon Peter had heard the cock he remembered Christ had prophesied this and he had fallen on his knees.

After about three more hymns, another Moruti, temporarily on leave from the South African mines at Carltonville, preached. After greeting everyone (starting from the Bishop to the Dikhosa and all the congregation), he asked people to remember that when Christ was taken to the Garden of Gethsemene, the Bible told us Christ had said that no one would keep watch with Him, they had all fallen asleep and then he had gone to a hill to pray alone. He had prophesied his death before it had happened.

Another hymn followed and then the Moruti continued, saying that when he read Paul's books in the Bible, he learnt that it was good to share when you are together. He next welcomed me and asked people to sing properly. He announced that he was just waiting to leave for Carltonville but, before he left, he would like to know what a woman, who had had Spirit, had “seen”. He then asked the congregation to pray for his safety in the mines as a bad accident had killed people two days before he had come, including two people from Botswana,and one from Mozambique. These men were still buried under the rocks. He asked for prayers to prevent such situations, and that he might be protected.

More hymns followed, one of which was not in Setswana, before the service closed; "God save our Nation"; "Jerusalem, Ha11eujah, Amen"; and "Amen, Amen".

Easter Sunday Service

I attended this special service at Episcopal in 1978. In this church Easter is one of the three times a year when, as the Bishop had told me, Baptism is held Baptisms also being performed at Christmas and Ascension.

This was an all night service leading up to Baptism in a dam at sunrise. It started at about 10.00 p.m. on the Saturday night, though I arrived at about 2.45 a.m. as I particularly wished to attend the Baptism and was not yet at this stage of my fieldwork accustomed to staying awake all night.

When we arrived, there was a curious incident that should be noted. A man was hammering on the door - he was drunk and had been stabbed when thieves had chased him and attacked him at a Bar at the other end of the village. When he was admitted to the church he tried, in gratitude to present the Bishop with some money which the thieves had tried to steal from him. The Bishop refused it, but asked the congregation that if they had God in their hearts they should help the man. He (the Bishop) appealed to the congregation to help him, even if it involved danger to them to take him to the Secondary School where he was the visitor of a teacher. The Bishop said that because the Devil has his followers and helpers, like beer, the man had left his friends and gone to drink on his own, that is why he was now in the hands of enemies. But members should sacrifice themselves and guide him home safely.(As I was also from the secondary school I was asked to be one of the party.) If those who helped him were beaten on the way they would be just like Christ.

When.we returned to the church about one hour later, people who had requested prophecies were being prophesied. Apparently while the Zionists were dancing around those to be prophesied, several prophets  had '”seen" that on that night it would be dangerous for them to go to Baptism. For example one prophet said that the water was not safe for them to go on that night to Baptism as some people might even be taken by the Water Snake. Although they had tried to pray for the water, it was not safe on that occasion. The water where they were was controlled  by a Chief i.e. the Water Snake - that eats people in the water andif they go when they have  “seen” it, it would be dangerous, there would be one person who would not return. This is interesting because, as will be seen in a fuller description of Baptism, Zionists strongly believe in the Water Snake.

The Easter Service finished at sunrise after we had been reminded that this was the day on which Christ rose again from the dead - a day of great joy for all Christians.

Following this service and as the result of one of the prophecies on the bewitched clothes of the pregnant wife of one of the Baruti), the congregation was divided into two. Those in one half of the church were sent immediately after the service to hold a Ditapelo Service  - to dance and pray at the home of the family concerned, the remainder going home.

Later I attended the Botsetsi Service for this family - details of this service are in the section Botsetsi.

Holy Communion Service

One of the features of Zion Churches is the practice of celebrating Holy Communion at night. This is because the Last Supper on which this service is based, took place at night. Communion is usually only taken 2 or 3 times a year on special occasions.

During my fieldwork I attended a service where Holy Communion was celebrated at B.U.C.Z. This formed part of the annual B.U.C.Z. Church Conference and the Kanye B.U.C.Z. branch acted as host to the other Botswana branches. This took place during Independence in 1978.

Besides celebrating Holy Communion new uniforms, denoting promotions, were presented but this, which preceded Holy Communion, was led by different Baruti. This part of the service commenced by a Khosa being called to light the candles on the altar/table at the front. Then a Secretary (from the Gaborone congregation) was called to read from the Bible - she read Numbers 8 v. 1-7 while the candles were being lit.

The service was formally handed over to another Moruti who told everyone to place in a pile their prophecy poles, cords, capes and cloaks that had been specially prophesied. These were collected in the centre of the room. In fact people took off everything that was red, the only red thing should be Christ's blood - the wine. While this was being done hymns were sung, but there was no dancing. The congregation were reminded that when they ate the body of Christ, they should experience Christ's agony - they should lay down all those things that gave them power. Three benches were placed facing the altar.

Communion is treated very seriously, in fact only a few people actually took it. Those who fear they are not fully confessed should not celebrate it, nor those who are menstruating, or have recently had intercourse (i.e. those who have "maoto a molelo" (ritually hot».

The Communion service also includes Foot.Washing which precedes the bread and wine. For this the Bishop (representing Christ) took off all his Bishop's robes, while John 13 v. 4-5 were read. Dressed only in the standard church uniform he washed the feet of three of the leading Baruti (who represented three of Christ's disciples) with a bowl of water brought by a Khosa. Then he took a towel wrapped around his waist, and dried the feet. All his actions matched the reading from John 13 v 3-7. Then he handed the towel to another Moruti (representing Peter) who proceeded to wash the feet of all those celebrating communion.

While this was being done for each person, the Secretary read from John 13 v 3-7 repeatedly (the appropriate part for each action). When it was her turn to be washed another Secretary took over the reading. Men were washed first, then women.

After this)Communion was distributed in the same way. The Bishop started by giving it out to the same three Baruti, first giving them wafers and then wine from a glass wrapped in a blue plastic bag. While he did this the Secretary read from Mark 14, v 22-24, the reading matching the actions. Then these three Baruti took over to distribute communion to the remaining celebrants, men first and then women, to the accompaniment of the appropriate part of the reading from Mark.

When this was completed a very ecstatic hymn was sung accompanied by dancing around the prophecy poles and clothes, and when this ended  members took back their property.

Good Friday night time service at Africa

Unlike at Episcopal, this service was held overnight and lasted until sunrise of the Saturday morning.

Khosa “guards^ the door, Secretary reads appropriate part of Bible on instructions from Bishop

Prophet revealing prophecy to woman


Young Prophet singing hymns

Moruti  instructs congregation to sing and dance properly

Congregation singing, drumming and dancing the hymns to enable Prophets