Sundays are big days for pastors. That seems to be doubly true in Rwanda. But yesterday was an especially big day at the cathedral in Musanze: it was a day on which nine deacons were ordained, four deacons were made priests, and two men were installed as Canons of the Shyira Diocese. One of these was Redeemer’s own rector, Fr. Jay Greener.
For me, the day started early. The night before, I was asked to preach at St. Michael’s before the big service began. So, a little after seven Otto and I headed over to Sonrise for what turned out to be a very quick visit. Before the service ended, we were escorted back over to the cathedral so that we wouldn’t miss anything.
I had the privilege of participating in the big processional along with the other clergy from Shyira Diocese. It was a beautiful sunny day, but the combination of sun plus multiple layers of vestments made it a bit warm, shall we say. The service itself was quite an experience. It lasted from 9 am until 1:30 pm (with a reception afterwards that ran until 5!). It was primarily in Kinyarwanda. There was lots of singing and several choirs, with some dancing sprinkled in too. The ordinations filled the beginning of the service, with great honor given to each person and his/her spouse. The cathedral was so full that there were hundreds of people who couldn’t fit in and ended up on the courtyard outside, listening through speakers. What a celebration it was, and what great responsibility these new pastors were receiving!
Then it was Jay’s turn to say his vows and be made the Rev. Canon Jay Greener (canoni in Kinyarwanda). This was one of the primary reasons for our trip to Rwanda this year, to stand with Jay+ as he received this great honor for himself and for Redeemer. Many people from home have asked us, “What is a canon?” or “What’s the big deal?” If you were an Anglican in Rwanda, you wouldn’t need to ask that question. Here, canons are highly, highly respected and honored. “Canon” is a senior role among the priests. Canons have the responsibility to advise the bishop, as well as to attend and vote at synod meetings. In addition, the canon has the responsibility to speak truth to the bishop in times when that might be difficult. As my friend Pastor Agnes translated one of the songs for me yesterday, canons are called to be the eyes and ears of the church. All clergy are given special honor in Rwanda – which was part of the reason that yesterday was such a big day. To me, the reception especially symbolized the high honor afforded to the clergy: it was a feast in a place where food is expensive, a celebration marked by singing, dancing, speeches, and gift giving. But canons have a special place of honor. In Rwanda, Jay will never again be called simply “Pastor.” He is now “Canon”.
So, for Shyira Diocese to vote to make Jay+ a canon is a really big deal. It is an acknowledgement of Redeemer’s service to the diocese, particularly to Sonrise and to St. Michael’s, as well as of the service Jay+ and Redeemer have given to the Diocese. One person may have been named canon, but the honor extends to us all. As one priest said to Jay+ yesterday, “Now, you are Rwandese.” Thanks be to God!