Dressed in a red robe and a gold-trimmed bishop's miter, the clergyman pours whiskey into his cupped hand and anoints the forehead of the man sitting before him. "You are hereby invested as a minister," he says. He hands the remaining whiskey to the new minister, who downs it. "Hallelujah!" shout congregation members, who erupt in singing and dancing, swigging from bottles of beer. Welcome to Gabola Church, which celebrates the drinking of alcohol. The South African church was started eight months ago and has found an enthusiastic following. "We are a church for those who have been rejected by other churches because they drink alcohol," Gabola's founder and self-declared pope, Tsietsi Makiti, tells the AP. "We drink for deliverance. We are drinking for the Holy Ghost to come into us."
Gabola, which means "drinking" in Tswana, isn't a member of the mainstream South African Council of Churches nor affiliated with other denominations. Some are outraged. "Gabola has nothing to do with the word of God," says the head of the South African Union Council of Independent Churches. "It is blasphemous." He says his group wants authorities to close Gabola for breaking municipal regulations that say churches shouldn't be located near bars. That conflicts with Gabola's aim, which is "to convert bars [and] taverns … into churches [and] … convert the tavern-owners into pastors," per Makiti. He adds he encourages people to drink responsibly and says alcohol will only be sold to people who are 20, two years older than South Africa's legal drinking age. "Nothing is as happy in the world as people who drink," says one congregant. "There is no fighting, no arguing. We have nothing but love."