Cluster Meetings - Etakpekpe

October 2000, Benin Report - Chownings


 "Etakpekpe", or cluster meetings, continue to be a major factor in the numerical and spiritual growth of the church.  The clusters are the natural association of congregations within close proximity of each other.  "Etakpekpe", literally means "meeting of the heads."  But, that is not to say a "meeting of minds."  It is more like the American expression, "meeting of hearts."  The Greeks might have put it "a meeting of the bowls."  These cluster meetings are vital to the life of the church among the Aja.

          The Kissame/Lonkli area of Aja land have been the most consistent with their cluster meetings.  They take place every four weeks.  Over the past six months, an average of 300 hundred attended each meeting.  And, they are getting larger and more inspirational.

          With new congregations being planted each month in this area, no congregation has hosted a cluster meeting more than once.  For a congregation normally having between 25 to 50 people in their Sunday meetings, hosting more than 300 is a major task.  Despite the work, at the close of each cluster meeting a congregation invites everyone to their village in four weeks for the next cluster meeting.

          During the intervening weeks, the host congregation will have to decide where to meet, what to sit on, and what to eat and drink.  Their normal meeting place will not be large enough.  So, they will have to construct a temporary shelter.  This will take the best part of two afternoons (after first working in their fields): the first afternoon they will cut small trees and branches and carry them to the meeting site.  Then they dig holes for these poles.  The second  afternoon they cut palm frawns, and secure them on the poles for a roof.

          They will have to assess how many benches, chairs and plates the members can provide for the meeting.  Then, make arrangements to borrow or rent the rest from a school or merchant.    

          Sufficient corn will have to be donated and ground.  Vegetables and oil, for the sauce, need to be collected.  On the day of the meeting, they will prepare food for three hundred, or more, over open fires.

          The host congregation is not the only one which will be making arrangements for the cluster meeting.  Many of the congregations will prepare song or dramatic presentations.  These practice sessions are one more excellent opportunity for teaching and fellowship, particularly for the younger members.  Some congregations spend hours choreographing movements to accompany the songs.  And some have bought material and sewn special shirts or dresses.

          If the meeting is to take place at a congregation at one of the extremities of the cluster, arrangements will be made to hire a pickup truck to take them.   If they can walk to the sister congregation in less than an hour, they will most likely do that.

          The cluster meetings are "scheduled" to begin at nine o'clock, but they seldom start before eleven.  Congregational singing dominates the first forty-five minutes.  Then, three speakers share from God's word.  Each member then comes to a table to take the Lord's Supper.  This alone can take almost an hour.  The collection follows.  Finally, each congregation is invited to come to the front and sing or perform a drama.

          While we are waiting for the food to be brought, names of those who are wanting to be baptized are taken.

          Leaders are taken to a house to eat and the rest of the congregation eat under the temporary shelter.  This informal, regular meeting of leaders is an opportunity for them to encourage each other with the victories taking place in each congregation and asking for advice in the handling of problems.  And, of course, they decide where the next cluster meeting will take place.