Organs blare, tambourines jangle and voices rise in song. The sounds of charismatic evangelical Christian churches are common in Ghana’s towns and cities, where religion plays an important role in public life.
The music usually sounds on Sunday mornings, but many churches hold services several times a week.
Some say it’s too much. In suburbs of the capital Accra, neighbors and local lawmakers say raucous, all-night church services have become too noisy to tolerate.
Sam Atukwei Quaye, municipal chief executive in the Ga West district, said it’s a matter of balancing religious interest with civic responsibility.
"People will want to shout and they will want to make noise and make joy, loudly, thinking that they are praising their God – and, in so doing, trample upon other peoples’ right to live in a serene environment," Quaye said.
Neighbors take legal action
Over the past year, the authorities in Ga West have gone to court to seek fines or sanctions against 10 to 15 churches because of their noise levels, Quaye said. Many other churches in the district have received warnings or reached out-of-court settlements.
At the Jewels of God Church in the town of Pokuase, church secretary Vincent Otchere said complaints from irate neighbors have forced members to tone down the music and preaching at their all-night prayer services. Those services use music to enhance prayer – and to keep congregants from falling asleep in the wee hours.
Otchere has met with one of the neighbors to address complaints and explain the church’s position.
"Actually, we were able to solve things out," he said.
A 2012 survey ranked Ghana as among the world’s most religious countries. All but a small minority either attends a church or mosque or practices some other traditional religion.
Emmanuel Kumi attends an evangelical church. While churches must be allowed to operate, he said, pastors must know their limits.
Church members should "manage their noise to be able to make the people happy around them," Kumi said.
District officials aim to have dialogue instead of prosecution, Quaye said.
With at least hundreds of churches spread across the sprawling city, they have their work cut out for them.