On a chilly Sunday, September 30th, worshipers gathered outside of Amanuel Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church, located on 20 Old Indian Road in West Orange, NJ to commemorate Meskel. Meskel is observed in honor of the finding of The True Cross on which Christ was crucified. It is a joyous occasion filled with dancing and the lighting of a massive bonfire known in the Ethiopian tradition as “Damera.”
If it wasn’t for the chilly weather, one would almost feel as if they were at a Meskel celebration in Ethiopia. Deacon Hizdias led the congregation in worship while playing the drums in jubilation. His energy lifted the crowd and moved them both instrumentally and spiritually. While the celebration continued, the bonfire was lit as the people of the church went around it reciting hymns. Even after the fire from the Damera was extinguished, the celebration continued.
Amanuel Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church opened its doors to the community this past February and is home to Kess Mengistu. Kess Mengistu is very involved with the people of the church so much that if you perhaps see him giving a tour of the grounds to new-comers, you shouldn’t be surprised.
Kess Mengistu spoke of the mission of The Amanuel Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Churchas “To serve its people for whatever reason they may need the church to.” Maybe this is why it is easy for anyone to find themselves home at Amanuel, no matter what background. The people of Amanuel are very warm and welcoming and it has the settings of a family structure. During service, the scriptures are displayed on projection and are translated into Amharic, Geez and English for everyone to follow.
For anyone who visits Emanuel, it is clear to see that the church holds a very special place in the hearts of its members. Tibebe Desta of South Orange has been attending Amanuel every Sunday, ever since he left his native land of Ethiopia in August. For Mr. Desta, the prayers and the teachings at Amanuell keep him coming week after week. Seleshi Yesuf, from Piscataway also cited the teachings as his most favorable part of attending service.
So what do the children like the most about Amanuel? Here is what some had to say. Yodit Hailemeskel, 12, of South Orange Middle School said “you become close with the people and your family through prayers and the kids are respectful.” Michael Damte, 12, of Roosevelt Middle School said “the church teaches us about our culture and we don’t have to travel very far.” Abel Tefera, also 12, of South Orange Middle School likes “the people the most and that I get to see my friends and family.”
Whether it is the convenience in location, the tight-knit community, or the teachings offered during Sunday Mass, Amanuel Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church is clearly emerging and making its way of prominence within the Ethiopian community.