Zion Christian Churches Churches Liturgy Prophets Services Members

© 2023 Dr Margaret Sheppard

A fairly typical weekly service is one that was held at Episcopal on a Sunday. Not everyone arrived promptly at 9.00 a.m. when the service was due to start. Before everyone entered they removed their shoes and left them outside the rondavel church. Members were dressed in their uniforms. The service started with singing of Zion hymns, accompanied by two drums. Anyone could start a hymn although the church choir led the singing if necessary. There were some Bible readings.

As late comers arrived everyone stood up and sang a welcoming hymn. Late comers, especially those holding church offices, often started a hymn outside and then this would be taken up by the congregation inside. The entrant would bow down in respect, and move to their correct place.

The Khosa made sure that people stood in the right place - people of the same position stand together. Those with priestly orders stood by the altar (or on the platform if there was one), wives of Baruti stand together with other women holding offices, the rest of the men on one side and women on the other, the church choir, and children. The Dikhosa stood near the door and closed it when a prayer was in progress to make sure no one entered.

Before the service started properly there is usually a time for confession. At two churches this was the time when every member in turn knelt down and prayed aloud, asking forgiveness for individual sins and/or for special prayers for a particular personal problem or individual. At the other churches everyone faced in one direction or outwards towards the walls and prayed aloud simultaneously their own prayer or confessions. This would gradually subside into the Lord's Prayer, then everyone would rise to their feet and start singing. From this point hymns would be accompanied by dancing.

The Secretary would be called upon by the various Baruti to read an appropriate part of the Bible (either on a particular theme on which he wanted to preach, or for the time of the year). Each Moruti would be given a chance to expound on his particular chosen Bible reading. These sermons would be interspersed with hymn singing and dancing.

Members dance to the hymn, usually around a candle placed in the middle of the floor, they dance in a line following the lead of a senior member. In the church services I attended, men, women and children danced. As the dancing became
more spirited the dancers twirled around, hissing like snakes and might even jump up in the air. (However sometimes at
special services held to find the cause of particular problems, only the more experienced prophets danced.)

Whilst dancing, a member with prophetic powers may "get the Spirit" and then the dancing is stopped and the prophet(s) reveal any prophecy(ies). These may be for individual members, present or not present, requiring special protections, or even about non-members, for example, one Kanana Moruti at two different services in 1978 prophesied the death of the Chief's Uncle.

If members of the congregation (or even non-members) have come to ask for a special prophecy, they are given a chance. This takes place both at regular and at special services. In some churches the person requiring the prophecy is put in the middle of the dance circle, usually kneeling, and members dance around. If an absent person is being asked about, the father, relative or spouse of that person may bring some personal clothing belonging to the absent person and place it in the centre in the same way. At some churches the inquirer would just stand to the side whilst the dancing is in progress. Usually after a few hymns (as one finishes another is taken up) as the dancing becomes faster and faster, dancers make a hissing noise and whirl as they dance, the leader changes the direction from time to time, the dancing may be sustained for 20 - 30 minutes at a time, until the various prophets start to "get the Spirit". Inexperienced prophets may even fall on the ground and roll around, scream or faint. This is because they have not yet learned how to control the Spirit. The dancing is then stopped and they reveal their prophecies. Dancers may continue to walk briskly around the candle or inquirer whilst this is happening.

Episcopal Church built in the yard of the Bishop. The homemade cement bricks are made by members who are aiming to replace their traditionally built  mud and cattle dung rondavel church with a more substantial building

The church was in a rondavel. Members leave their shoes outside the door before entering

Drums accompany the singing

The Bishop and Baruti of Episcopal

Prophets dancing around a member whilst congregation sing hymns to “call” the Holy Spirit to enable them to prophesy the member

Inside Episcopal’s Church

Kanana (God is Love) Church Choir

Bethlehem Vice Bishop and a Prophet preaching from the platform

Member sitting in centre of dance circle awaiting Prophets to receive the Holy Spirit and prophesy her following the hymns and dancing

Zion Church members use Holy Water for protection and healing not traditional medicines.  At this Sunday service at Bethlehem the Vice Bishop and Priests are blessing members ‘ bottle of water to render it Holy whilst others members sing hymns and dance around them. The Holy Water is used by Zion Church members  not only as protection against ill-fortune and illness instead of traditional medicine from a Traditional Doctor but also they may hang a bottle in the rafters of their houses to protect the house and household, their property and livestock from all dangers - lightning, illness, misfortune, accidents etc.

Vice Bishop and Priests/Praying on congregation - babies and children first then women followed by men. They lay their healing and  protective trembling hands on the heads, chests and backs

Regular Services

After this part of the service, there is often a time when the Baruti, especially the Barapedi (Prayers), pray on the congregation. The Barapedi enter the dance circle and stand in the centre. The dancing and singing helps them to have power from the Spirit to pray on people. People who have asked for special prayers and prophecies are often prayed for first. They kneel in front of the Morapedi and he places his hands on them - on their heads, necks and backs. Sometimes the Spirit may make the Morapedi shake an individual quite violently back and forth and even throw him to the ground. There may be 2-3 Prayers praying on people. After the special people have been prayed for, then other people enter in small groups of two or three and kneel before the Barapedi, usually babies are first, then children, then ladies, men and ending with those members with positions. From time to time a Morapedi may enter the dance circle for some time, this was explained as being when the Spirit became weak, so they dance with the main dancers to make it stronger. When it is renewed they rejoin the other Barapedi. During this period, prophets may continue to receive prophecies. So, after the praying has finished, they reveal any prophecies.

Following this there is usually a time for offertory. A bench may be placed in the middle of the dance circle - a member starts a hymn then people start to dance around the bench. Individuals come forward and make their offerings (usually 1t - 5t). It is common for members to supply people without money with small coins to donate. When everyone has had a chance to make an offering, the amount may be counted by the Secretaries and then a thanksgiving hymn is sung.

Services are long, many I attended ended at sunset, although I had been told they should end by 2.00 p.m.

In addition to these regular services are the Special Services, some of which are held at the church and others at a member’s home. Details of these special services are outlined in other sub sections.