Ya'at'eeh. Last week I had the privilege of attending the World Christian Gathering on Indigenous Peoples. This conference is held every 2-3 years in the land of the indigenous tribe or group that is hosting the gathering. This year we were in New Zealand as the guests of the Maori people. On Sunday, the first day of the conference, we gathered on a Marae, a traditional political and communal gathering and meeting place, and were officially welcomed by the king of the Maori. Our entire conference had a respectful procession into the outdoor court where the king was seated. After we were all in place, some of the Maori women greeted us with a song and then one of the Maori elders stood up and gave a speech welcoming us and honoring God, as well as the Maori elders, families and generations that had come before. Then another song was sung. Next, one of our leaders stood up and gave a speech thanking the Maori for receiving us and bringing greetings from our peoples and our lands. That speech was also followed by one of the songs of the tribes represented in our conference. Then another Maori leader stood up and gave another speech followed by another song. This volley of speeches and songs continued for a couple of hours and eventually concluded with our group laying out a gift for the king and his people. After our gift was accepted we lined up and were personally greeted and welcomed by the king and other Maori leaders and elders and then were ushered into a large hall and served a wonderful meal.
At each of the previous gatherings that I have attended, the WCGIP has followed a similar protocol with the leaders and elders of those lands (Hawaii, Sweden and Israel). This year I not only had the opportunity to observe and be welcomed through this process, but I also had the privilege to participate and give one of the speeches to the Maori king and his people.
This event did not include a time of worship and it all took place even before we had registered for the conference and had properly greeted each other. But the more I experience and reflect on this type of protocol, the more I understand how this is a part and even some of the foundation of our worship.
This protocol is a very clear reminder to me of who I am in these foreign lands. A guest. And having that mentality with the people of the lands where I have come to worship, is a wonderful reminder of who I am before our creator. His creation.
(This article was first published by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship)