Bishop confirms 2,000 people in eight days; many attend services under trees

(Photo: Reuters / Andreea Campeanu)A teacher talks to students before the start of the Christian Religious Education (CRE) lesson at a public school in Gudele on the outskirts of South Sudan's capital Juba, April 8, 2013. One in four people are literate in South Sudan.

Church attrition often common in countries of the global North is not a problem that churches in the world's newest country South Sudan are concerned about, but there are shortages of trained clergy who often perform services under trees.

Bishop Moses Deng Bol of the Wau Diocese of South Sudan says the church confirmed more than 2,000 people in the three archdeaconries of Tonj during a recent trip around the diocese.

Some of the people walked two days to take part in the Episcopal Church of Sudan confirmation services.

The bishop said the confirmations were done over eight days during a tour of his diocese that covers two out of 10 states of South Sudan and measures more than 13,000 square kilometres (5,000 square miles).

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"These are very serious Christians and most of them are adults who have became Christians for the first time in their lives," he told the Anglican Communion News Service. "So they're not just children of Christian parents."

Bishop Deng said he disagreed with some religious educators who believe in withholding confirmation so young people are kept involved in the life of the church for a longer period of time.

He equated such teaching to holding young people captive in order for them to receive grace from God.

"How do we justify this? This attitude surely has a negative impact on young people and their experience of God and church," he said. "Is this the God we want them to know? One who withholds grace until we've jumped through all the hoops that our church tells us we have to jump through?"

The bishop said that children cannot be expected to have a positive memory or experience of the Church or God later in their lives "if we keep dangling the sacrament over their heads like a carrot."

Bishop Deng said, for the newly confirmed, it was crucial for them to have "a very intensive discipleship to really understand what being a follower of Christ means in their daily lives."

However, he highlighted some of the challenges his diocese faces in ministry, evangelising and Christian teaching a situation often reported from Africa where Christianity has a high number of new followers.

"There are only 65 priests, most of whom have very little or no theological education at all," he said. "This is the reason why my priority number one is theological training for priests and evangelists."

Bishop Deng said, however, despite the large numbers, there are enough churches for the new Christians.

"We have sufficient churches [but] most of them are under-tree Churches and others built out of mud and grass thatch," he said.

The bishop said the poor state of the roads is a real challenge to access remote areas of his diocese.

"The people confirmed in various parishes did not just come from that parish alone," he told ACNS. "Many of them came from far away parishes and some of them had to walk for two days in order to come to the main parish where I was."

The Episcopal Church of Sudan covers the two countries of Sudan and South Sudan. It comprises 28 dioceses that strength many thousands of miles.

Copyright © 2013 Ecumenical News