18 November 2019

Hopping to the Hosho

From the Vice-Presidential Cupboard: No.2


I’m not a great dancer. But I do love dancing – so long as it’s the ‘it really doesn’t matter too much what you do’ kind of dancing. Or, as an alternative, I’m prepared to take part in a ceilidh or a barn-dance where there are rules, though it’s also fun when things go wrong. What I’m not fond of is dances which are too tightly structured, and need to follow specific patterns in order to ‘work’. I once tried to waltz. I realized that it probably wouldn’t be wise to try a second-time…or to try a tango, or a quick-step, or any of those other dances that before Strictly Come Dancing I wouldn’t even have known the names of until a few years back.

What about dancing in worship? I have to admit it doesn’t come easily. I wonder why that is. For when I was on a Vice-Presidential trip with All We Can to Zimbabwe in the Summer, I was invited up along with Barbara as President, as were all the ‘guests’ at morning worship, to lead – yes, lead! – the dancing, to noisy Shona hymns. Though we weren’t sure what was being sung, we were swept up by the movement, as the only possible response to the rhythm and beat of the song was to dance. Many of the women who joined us – of all ages (and many older than we might have expected) – clearly had their own style, and danced in formation. I was handed a hosho – a loud shaker – by the all-male group leading the singing, and encouraged not just to dance, but to play the hosho too. I did – to my own surprise. It was, of course, great fun. It was also more possible than might have been the case in most UK churches because everyone was dancing or swaying, singing or humming. There was no embarrassment (why would there be?); there were no inhibitions (let them go!). There were large numbers of people, so you could easily get lost in the congregation, or in the growing crowd of dancers at the front of the church who were expressing their joy with physical exuberance. And I was one of them.

When I say ‘at the front of the church’ I mean ‘one end of a large red marquee’, which had its sides rolled up to let the air through. An hour or two into worship it got pretty hot and sweaty in there. The church – Glen View Methodist Church in Harare – needs a new building, and Barbara and I had been privileged to take part in the ground-breaking service outside the marquee before morning worship that day, each of us in turn being invited to swing the pick-axe into the hard ground. The congregation spilled out beyond the tent for the short service, at which a local politician was present. This was a significant community event.

So why don’t I dance back in the UK? It is, of course, easier to ‘let go’ when you’re in a distant place, the culture is different, people you know aren’t watching you, and, crucially of all, everyone’s dancing anyway. Would it be better, though, if more of us danced in worship in the UK? Pentecostal and charismatic Christians might say: but we dance already! Some Methodists – not only the Zimbabwean, Ghanaian, Nigerian or Caribbean Methodists living in Britain – might say ‘we do too!’ But let’s face it; British Methodism in general is hardly likely to become a dancing movement any time soon.

Here, though, is the challenge. If we don’t dance, and are not likely to dance, then how – in different ways – do we celebrate our sheer joy, exuberantly, in our faith? How do we acknowledge that our faith is an embodied faith? Much as we can, and must, say that our faith is a spiritual matter, our spirits are always embodied (even beyond death – in some form – if we are to believe the Apostle Paul). So we are to take care of our bodies, whatever bodies we are, knowing that some bodies have worked better than others, some are much frailer than they were, and that all have foibles and quirks – even the bodies of the ‘fighting fit’ (of any age). So, even recognising that for some of us ‘I can’t dance...’ doesn’t just mean ‘I’m not very good at dancing’ but ‘no, because of how my body is, I really can’t dance’, there is still the challenge to recognise how God speaks to us through our bodies. It is worth asking ourselves how we are to celebrate and enjoy our embodiment, whatever kinds of bodies we are. The Word became flesh, after all, and all of our flesh is frail. But who’d have guessed that such thoughts might come to mind simply because I was given a hosho in Harare?

Clive Marsh, Vice-President

This article first appeared in the Methodist Recorder on 4 October 2019

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