I’m pretty much used to prayer services that are held in one’s home, because I am from an observant Jewish family in the US. It does not seem that weird to me if people want to gather together and create their own worship place. I just was not expecting it to happen in my house in Apuela, Ecuador.
At first I thought that my family was hosting a Christmas party. Only members of our Church attended the party so it was not a weird conjuncture to have. My host family is Evangelical Baptist and I have already gone to Church with them. I guess every town needs to have two churches in it. Apuela has the big Catholic Church in the middle of the town square and a small Evangelical Baptist Church to the side, which is currently under construction. And yes- I do enjoy walking down the street of Apuela and recognizing members of my Church. (I have a Church!)
As people arrived to my family’s party, I speculated how the party would develop. I thought that people would chat and cluster into different groups, much like the American parties that I was used to. Nope. First we had a prayer session. These series of prayers, songs, Biblical readings and preaching were led by different members of the congregation. One person would lead a song, another would choose a passage from the Bible to read responsively and yet another would begin reciting a common prayer. The prayers mostly consisted of “Gloria Dios” (Glorious God) and then a murmuring that I either did not hear or understand (and I recognize that I might have had selective hearing to certain prayers that they had).
Not only did the Pastor attend the party but another Pastor, a Pastor-in-training, also came. They both needed to preach so I sat through two sermons. It was really great that in addition to these sermons, lay people had the opportunity to lead the congregation. Both men and women had the opportunity to decide which prayers were going to be read or sung next. The only prayer books that anybody had was the Bible (in Spanish!) but all the readings and songs truly came from the heart. Here were a bunch of people gathered to praise God. A universal feeling among faiths that I really appreciated.
Except that is it was not a Christmas Party. I only realized towards the end of the prayer session, when people got up, praised the Lord and gave a gift, that this was a birthday party. I should have remembered my host mother telling me in the beginning of the week that she would be having a birthday party. And this was her birthday party. After this realization I was relieved, surprised, and anxious. Relieved that it was only her birthday party; surprised that this was the method of celebration; and anxious as to whether I would be called on to give a Gloria Dios/Baruch Hashem (Glorious God in Hebrew) Happy Birthday speech with a present (which I did not have). This did not occur — after present giving, we ate and then the guests left. (Baruch Hashem, thankfully.)