LIFESTYLE

Here's Why Some Churches Wear Uniforms -- And How To Tell Them Apart

Church uniforms are a sacred part of religious identity in South Africa and across the continent.

07/04/2017 20:35 SAST | Updated 10/04/2017 09:47 SAST
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Moria: A worshipper is overcome during the Easter weekend service.

It's probably one of the most poignant Sunday scenes in South Africa: church-goers from various denominations that have a uniform proudly donning the colours of their particular group and making their way with others to their place of worship.

In several churches across Southern Africa, members are recognisably identified by their uniforms. In South Africa, these are most notably Zionist churches, Apostolic churches, Pentecostal churches, as well as African sects of traditional churches such as the United Methodist Church.

A uniform carries identity and dignity, Bishop Marvellous Mhloyi of Revival United Church of Christ, Zimbabwe, told the Sunday Mail in August 2015.

"Having a uniform in church camouflages differences between Christians. You find that in some churches that do not have uniforms, some members can wear very expensive clothes while their less privileged counterparts can be washing and wearing the same clothes again and again. This can discourage the less privileged members. Uniforms therefore, covers these differences and equates them,"Bishop Marvellous Mhloyi

Here are some churches in South Africa whose uniforms you might recognise.

Zionist Churches

Zionist churches are a group of Christian denominations that were the first independent African churches -- started by Africans and not by colonial missionaries.

Zion Christian Church (ZCC)

The ZCC is the largest and fastest growing of the African independent churches and its membership is estimated at between two million to six million in more than 4,000 parishes. The ZCC's headquarters is in Zion City, Moria, in Limpopo, where more than a million people from the country make an annual pilgrimage to over the Easter weekend.

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Members of the Zion Christian Church (ZCC) gather for a mass prayer meeting at Lucas Moripe Stadium in Atteridgeville, South Africa. The members marked the 100th anniversary of the 1913 Land Act.

At last year's Easter Sunday Moria service, leaders including Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema, several members of the Limpopo legislature and business people were spotted.

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Thousands of Zion Christian Church devotees celebrate South Africa's successful bid to host the 2010 World Cup at the FNB stadium.

ZCC's members have different sets of uniforms according to age, gender and occasion. John Moloi, a member of George Goch ZCC church in Johannesburg, says his church meets three times a week, on Wednesdays, Saturdays and on Sundays.

For church services on Sundays, men of all ages wear green suits, but elder women in the church wear green and yellow uniforms, and young women and girls wear blue uniforms. The women's choir uniform is also blue. The women's uniforms for both young and old are matched with green head wraps. For dancing occasions, which take place during the week, men and women wear khaki. The men's military-style khaki gear is matched with green police-style hats and white boots. According to Moloi, members of the uniform groups stick together: on Sundays, each uniform group has its designated seating space, and men and women have separate meetings during the week. All members wear the star badge in and outside of church.

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Nearly 2 million members of the Zion Christian Church make an annual pilgrimage to the remote rural church headquarters for a celebration of Easter. During the gathering, the church practices faith healing, dancing and purification rites.

The men of the church do a dance called mokhukhu.

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Christian Church members performing a mkhukhu dance during their church service in Moria.

Apostolic Churches

The Apostolic church, also known as the Apostle Unity, is the South African branch of the United Apostolic Church, of which there are many sects that have different uniforms. Most apostolic sect members wear white garments.

United African Apostolic Church (UACC)

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The UACC's headquarters is situated in Ha-Mavhunga -- a village in Limpopo. It is a Pentecostal church that has developed from Pentecostal missionary origins. UAAC members are prohibited from wearing their uniform in public, unless when attending fellow members' funerals or related events. Like the ZCC, the UACC also have several different uniforms that are designated according to age and gender. But the UACC also have uniforms indicating hierarchy of senior members who carry authority in the church body: pastors (called vhafunzi) pastors, evangelists (called vhaivangeli), branch presidents (called vhaingameli) and others. According to the UAAC's website, all garments are tailor-made. Specialised garments, caps, belts and outfits for senior members are only made at the church's head quarters.

Gauteng Christian Catholic Apostolic Church (GCCAC)

Similar though not identical to the UACC's uniforms, the GCCAC's colours are also white and blue.

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Women from the Gauteng Christian Catholic Apostolic Church take part in service which incorporates singing and prayers for the ailing of Nelson Mandela on 6 July 2013.

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A woman bends over from the ladies' section of the Gauteng Christian Catholic Apostolic Church In Zion as they take part in a service which incorporated prayers and singing for ailing Nelson Mandela on July 6, 2013 in Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa.

Methodist Churches

The Methodist Church of Southern Africa

Methodist Church Of Southern Africa

Most African Methodist churches have similar uniforms, where men wear ordinary clothing with a red sash with white edging over one shoulder and women wear a red blouse with black skirt, stockings, and a white hat. According to an article in the Sunday Mail, colour is hugely symbolic for Methodist sects.

"The red signifies the sin that we were in before the blood of Jesus cleansed us to become white, that is what the white colour stands for" Reverend Elliot Mashonganyika told the publication.

Ahead of Easter 2017, The Huffington Post South Africa is delving into what faith and spirituality means to South Africans right now. Against the backdrop of a renewed wave of thought around decolonisation, a new generation are rediscovering their traditional beliefs, while some are reconciling with Christianity. On another note, we tell South Africa's real good news story: our remarkable and peaceful religious diversity. In a world fractured along religious extremism, we have a large Christian population with significant Muslim and Jewish communities, who often come together peacefully and with purpose, as has been evinced at the memorials for departed struggle stalwart, Ahmed Kathrada. Read the rest of the special report here, or choose from our selection below:

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