As a former member of the MMA (Mumbai Mizo Association) for the past 7 years, I spent a lot of Sundays and other important occasions at the Mizo service held at All Saints Church, Malabar Hill. Our Mizo service was conducted by the BMCF, the Bombay Mizo Christian Fellowship, which is a part of the MMA.
Now that I am no longer a part of the MMA or BMCF, I just want to say I am forever grateful to them for reaching out to me when I was a lonely introvert living by myself, and making me feel right at home among strangers, who later became my closest friends.
After relocating to Pune last year, I am now a part of the PMCF, the Pune Mizo Christian Fellowship. And recently, I was finally able to take a break from my hectic work and managed to attend the Good Friday and Easter Sunday services conducted by the PMCF.
Although I still did go to office on Good Friday because of an important meeting, I rushed back home right after the meeting to change, and my friend Sanga picked me up for the Mizo service which was at 4 PM.
It was my first time at the Mizo service, which was held at St. Andrew's Hindustani Covenant Church, near Race course. Great service and great sermon. After the Church service, my friends dropped me back home.
Easter was a great day as well, and though I couldn't wear a suit because of the heat, I did manage to wear a vest at least. I was introduced to some of the PMCF and PMWA (Pune Mizo Welfare Association) leaders, and they all told me the same thing - "Hoping to see you at church more regularly" :) It's not that I'm lazy or anything, it's just that my work schedule is so hectic that sometimes I even work on Sundays, and even if I don't, it's the only day I can take a break so I like to spend the whole day on bed watching TV sitcoms or football reruns.
But yeah, Good Friday and Easter are the two days I never miss when it comes to attending church. It's also one of the few times I try not to look like the sloppy nerdy mid-life crisis bachelor that I am.
Back in Mumbai, the BMCF used to organize our Mizo service at All Saints Church, Malabar Hills. But recently, they had relocated to St. Stephen's Church at Bandra, which was bittersweet news to me because all those years I was living in Bandra, I had to go all the way to freaking Malabar Hills for Church, and the moment I moved to Pune, the Church location was changed to Bandra just 5 minutes away from my old apartment! Arrrrgh :)
Had I been still living in Mumbai, I think the BMCF might even appoint me as our Mizo service chowkidar :D :P
Anyway, here are some of the differences I observed between the BMCF and the PMCF services. Do note that my observation about the PMCF service is based on only two occasions - Good Friday and Easter, so it may not be a very complete comparison. Kindly do inform me of any wrong observations.
Here are the differences -
- First and foremost, there were a lot more congregation members attending the PMCF service than at any BMCF services I had been to, due to the obvious reason that there are more Mizos here in Pune than in Mumbai.
- Ushers at the PMCF were females and they wore those cute usher sashes to distinguish themselves from the rest of the congregation. They were also responsible for collecting the offerings, whereas at the BMCF, there was no dress code for the usher, who was usually a male, and there was a separate list of designated women who collected the offerings.
- The PMCF St. Andrew's Church is much bigger than the BMCF All Saint's Church (though I haven't been to the recent St. Stephen's Church).
- A big difference that hit me the moment I stepped inside the Church compound was the fact that we Mizos were the only North-eastern group at St. Andrew's Church. Back in Mumbai, right before our Mizo service at All Saints Church was the Zomi service. And so we used to pass each other every Sunday and greet each other as we entered the Church for our service while they had just completed theirs.
- Congregation members at the PMCF were dressed much more casual than the BMCF. Most of the men at St. Andrew's wore simple collared tee-shirts and jeans or cotton pants. Back in Mumbai, Good Friday and Easter services were the two times I always used to wear a full three-piece suit, so did many other BMCF members. However, it was impossible to wear a suit in Pune last weekend because it was scorching hot! I sweated a lot wearing just my formal shirt and a tie. Hence it made complete sense to dress casually here in Pune.
- Though it was not compulsory, men sat at the left side and women on the right side here at the PMCF service, whereas at the BMCF service, men sat on the right side and women on the left. Again, it wasn't compulsory at the BMCF either and families or group of friends could sit together on either side if they wanted.
- There was also ample amount of leg space between the seats at Pune's St. Andrew's Church (the reason will be explained later). Back at All Saints Church, there were times when I ended up sitting in one of those seats with no legroom - I had to sit slightly sideways because my knees were touching the seat in front of me (which never used to bother my friend TBCa who would sit next to me and swing his legs up and down and still not touch the seat in front of us).
- Regarding comfort, yeah it was much more comfortable at Mumbai's All Saints Church, with cushy netted seats, whereas at St. Andrew's, the pew was just a wooden plank, so my ass started hurting after some time. But perhaps that was why I didn't see anybody falling off to sleep, whereas back at the BMCF, many people including TBCa would start snoring the moment the sermon started.
- Again, because of the heat, many of the PMCF members sitting inside the Church carried water bottles and you could see them drinking occasionally during the service. In Mumbai I don't think I can recollect anybody who had carried a water bottle inside the Church. And yes, I too drank from Sanga's bottle during the sermon, and boy was it refreshing!
- At the BMCF, when the Church service started and the secretary made important announcements, he always asked those who were coming to the particular Mizo service for the first time (or after a long time) to kindly stand up so other members could get to know them. At the PMCF, at least in the two services I had been to, this didn't happen. Only those who had recently registered as PMCF members were asked to stand up when their names were called out (which was a huge relief for me because being an introvert, I definitely didn't want to stand up).
- Sacrament - Back in Mumbai, even though the BMCF conducted all Mizo services, whenever there was a Holy Eucharist, the mass was conducted by the pastor of All Saint's Church, Pastor Victor Johnson. So the service was in English. Here at the PMCF service, Mizo pastors themselves conducted the service. Apparently, under the PMCF, there are three Synod pastors, two ECM pastors and 1 LIKBK pastor, and any of them could be appointed to conduct the next communion service. The PMCF Good Friday communion service I attended was conducted by the ECM pastors.
- Another big difference was the way the communion was conducted. Back at the BMCF service, we had to walk up to the altar and kneel down, and the pastor then distributed the bread and wine to us. Once we were done, we got up and the next batch took our place. All of us drank from the same chalice too, one after the other, so there were some concerns about hygiene too. Pu David always used to make sure he was the first person to drink from the cup, and people used to joke, "Pu Davida kiss hnu vek kan ni". Here at the PMCF, the pastor and his helpers came to our seats individually and distributed the bread and wine one by one. That's why there was a lot of legroom space between the pews, so that they could come inside to distribute the communion.
- The communion wine at the BMCF service was real wine. The communion wine at the PMCF service was just grape juice. I miss BMCF :P
- PMCF used a projector during the service, displaying the song being sung on a large screen above, hence avoiding the need to use a "lyrics-prompter" while the song was being sung. I found this innovative method very efficient.
- During a group prayer session, back at the BMCF, the person who prayed the longest, ended the prayer loudly so that the rest of the congregation could hear him/her and respond with an "Amen". At the PMCF, after sometime when the group prayer was starting to die down, the speaker (or prayer leader) ended the group prayer by praying over the mike.
- After Church, back at the BMCF service, the congregation would get up and leave one by one from the back and walk outside straight to the refreshment counter. At the PMCF, the same thing happened, but once we were outside, two separate queues were formed, one for the men and the other for the women, both leading to two different refreshment counters.
- Back in Mumbai, tea was always served as a beverage. In Pune, it was juice. As somebody who doesn't drink tea, I immediately fell in love with this part of the day :) Plus it was very refreshing to drink chilled juice in that sultry and hot weather.
- Once people were done with the refreshments, office bearers of the BMCF would go back inside the church if they had a committee to attend. In Pune, they had "standing committees" where office bearers of the PMCF stood in a circle right there at the refreshment lawn itself and discussed whatever was on the meeting's agenda.
So those were the few differences I noticed between the PMCF and BMCF. All in all, I had an amazing time and it was a great experience being with my own community in such large numbers. I truly hope people understand the value and importance of sticking together. This is a message I would like to pass on to my dear brothers and sisters in Mumbai. As I was a member of the MMA for the past 7 years, I still feel very attached to the group, and I'll continue to pray that no such divisions or misunderstandings creep in among its members. United we grow, divided we fall.
As I looked around the church complex and studied the happy Pune Mizo community, I couldn't help but laugh at the similarities among the people. I found a version of our BMCF u Maruata among the PMCF members, you know, a tlangval senior whom everybody seemed to know and deeply respect. I found a version of Pu David, a version of Pu Malsawma, a version of Pa Zaia, a version of James, a version of Babie Saizikpuii, Fela, Charlie, Ben, TBCa, Maliani, Kuri and so on. And finding such similarities kinda made me feel right at home.
Perhaps the only version I couldn't find was that of my dear friend B.Ramhluna, you know, a successful bachelor who came to church in a car filled with women :D Because I noticed a lot of PMCF members had their own vehicles. Most of the women too came in their own scootys, hence making it unnecessary to be picked up or dropped.
Yeah I know, it's hard to end a post without taking potshots at my friends :D
So until we meet again, cheers. God bless the MMA and the PMWA.