For the last year or so, my friend Ang at JOZI.REDISCOVERED and I have been working on a blog collaboration called #TheGodProject. We visit different places of worship around Johannesburg. Ang interviews a spiritual leader (or leaders) at the place of worship, and I take photos. Then we both publish posts on our blog. In this installment of the series, we visited the Holy Trinity Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in Bertrams, just up the road from Ponte City.
I’m not going to say much about the church itself or the history of Orthodox Christianity. Ang will have all that covered and you should definitely read her blog for the fascinating details. My post is all about photos. This church is, without a doubt, one of the top five coolest places that I’ve taken photos in Joburg. I’ve done my best to show you only my very favorites, but there are lots.
Before I start the slideshow, I’d like to thank my friend James, the owner of James XVI Ethiopian in Maboneng. James organized our visit to the Tewahedo Church and it was a particularly spectacular Sunday to attend services there. You’re the best, James, and so is your food.
Visiting the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church
James’ brother drove us to the church and dropped us in the parking lot, introducing us to a man named Behailo, the secretary of the church. Behailo invited us in, mentioning that there was a wedding happening today, and said we could come find him in his office whenever we were finished observing the service. Ang and I removed our shoes, covered our heads, and walked into the chapel.
Our view when we first entered the chapel. Women sit on the right side and men sit on the left.
There was indeed a wedding happening, and I noticed right away that there were a bunch of photographers set up in the front of the church. A wedding press box! I plunged through the crowd, camera around my neck, and joined the rest of the media. No one seemed to mind, even though I was the only non-Ethiopian photographer/videographer there.
One of a few videographers at the wedding. The the photographers were evenly divided between men and women.
View from the front of the church. People praying, people holding babies, kids playing on iPads…The service was long and people weren’t expected to pay attention the whole time.
The bridal party. The lady kneeling on the far right, wearing a crown, is the bride. The groom wasn’t with her until later.
Seriously, could this church be any more beautiful? I had no idea what was going on as the service is conducted in a language called Ge’ez, which I believe is similar to Amharic. But I was transfixed. Incidentally, this building used to be owned by the Rhema Church, a huge South African evangelical church, and my boxing coach George used to run a gym here.
The man with the umbrella, I would later learn, is a deacon named Marvin. Marvin is not Ethiopian. He is a colored guy from El Dorado Park — a former Rastafarian who became interested in Ethiopian religion and converted to Orthodox Christianity. Ang will have more to say about Marvin.
Another look at the bride.
The priest, doing his thing with the incense.
After the priest walked through, this man came behind him with a giant bible and everyone kissed it.
The longer I stood in the press pit, the more I noticed the children. There were tons of children around and they had free reign of the place. The kids wandered wherever they wanted, even crawling right in the pulpit behind the priest, and no one seemed to mind.
Cute kid just hanging around.
Mom and baby. There’s Ang in the back.
This kid wins the prize for best dressed. His outfit matches his mom’s — I think they were part of the bridal party.
At one point all of the kids crowded up to the front of the church, for some kind of kids-only communion. I was surrounded by a sea of cuteness.
This church official was showing the kids, very kindly and patiently, how to stand when they accept their communion.
Check the kid in the front. At this point in the service, a group of men and women were lined up in the front singing, while a few people played drums in the background. It was so beautiful and fun.
We stayed for well over an hour, but the service was still going strong and we needed to speak to Behailo. Sadly, we left before the service ended.
Scene outside the church.
Behailo in his office next to the chapel, showing us the Amharic alphabet on his phone.
We finished with Behailu, and by the time we got outside the service had ended. We watched everyone come outside and I ate some tasty Ethiopian food that was being served in the church courtyard.
The wedding car.
We had a brief, fascinating chat with Marvin, and then it was time to go.
Marvin outside the church.
Taking pictures at this church was an amazing experience. Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity seems like a lot of fun — at least it did during the two hours I spent at this church. I would love to go back someday.
Read JOZI.REDISCOVERED’s post.