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Sudanese in Utah celebrate Resurrection during Easter services

SALT LAKE CITY — Contemporary Sudanese music blared from speakers in the sanctuary of the All Saints Episcopal Church Sunday, as live singers welcomed visitors and regular congregants to Easter services.

Outside the sanctuary, a sign read: "Prior to the service you are invited to the sanctuary for prayer and quiet reflection."

The congregation of around 70 to 80 people expanded to more than twice its size during Sunday's service as members of 10 different tribes of the Sudanese community gathered.

Members of the congregation spoke Dinka, Arabic and Ethiopian, but the service was conducted in English. Despite their differences, Bishop Scott Hayashi reminded those in in the congregation that they all speak a unifying language.

"We're one people — a new people whose language is the language of life. It is the language of God."

Congregants stepped from side to side and clapped their hands during the musical numbers interspersed throughout the service of the Holy Communion. Dozens of children surrounded the podium area during one song and sang the words "Jesus loves me" along with members of the congregation.

Some members closed their eyes, belief etched on their faces, as they raised one or both hands in the air and sang, "He's alive forever. He's alive. Jesus is alive forever."

Among attendees were the "Lost Boys and Girls of Sudan" who escaped war and came as refugees to the United States. When the Sudanese came to the All Saints Episcopal Church in 2001, they were embraced by the congregation. Because they worshiped as Anglicans in Sudan, and because Episcopalians are also part of the Anglican Communion ministries, there was little change in their doctrine.

Rev. Michael Mayor, rector of the church, oversees the congregation. He is working with Sudanese lay Pastor Gabriel Garang Atem while he finishes the requirements to be ordained to the priesthood. Mayor saw the Easter celebration as a time of joy for those participating.

Bishop Hayashi, the 11th Episcopal bishop of Utah, visited the congregation Sunday. He called the Easter celebration a day of joy, especially for the Sudanese who had lost loved ones in their civil war. Because the Sudanese have seen so much conflict, they speak as if they know God, and see every new day as a gift.

"For them what is so important is the Resurrection is so central to the promise of a new life," Hayashi said. "Those they have lost are safe in the hands of God."

For Emma Lado, Easter is a time for the Sudanese to come together. Lado, a member of the Christ for the Nations congregation in Salt Lake, said back in Sudan, they would take the celebration out in the streets, singing and waving branches. Regardless of the location, she said, Easter is a time for Christians to be grateful for the crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus, she said.

"You wanna be that kind of person that thanks God all the time," she said.

The Holy Communion service was followed by a Sudanese meal.


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