Kidist Mariam Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church

Information about this center is no longer updated. This data was last updated on 11 October 2009.

Phone: 404-377-2238
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Kidist Mariam (St. Mary's) Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church is dedicated to meeting the spiritual, cultural, and economic needs of the thousands of Ethiopian immigrants living in the greater Atlanta area. It is deeply involved in community service, sponsoring programs in job training, youth education, family and financial counseling, and drug and gang prevention.
The church is under the jurisdiction of the Ethiopian Holy Synod in Exile, which broke ties with the synod of bishops in Ethiopia following controversy over the election of Patriarch Paulos in 1992. The churches of the Holy Synod in Exile do not recognize Patriarch Paulos and are instead headed by Patriarch Merkorios, who is currently staying with the community of Kidist Mariam in Atlanta.

Activities and Schedule

7 A.M.: Morning Prayer
8 A.M.: Divine Liturgy, Choir Service, and Sermon
9 A.M. - 12:30 P.M.: Children's Program
1 - 2 P.M.: Youth Bible Program (ages 12 & up)
6 - 7 P.M.: Bible Study Program
5 - 7 P.M.: Bible Study & Choir Practice
The church also holds services for St. Mary's day, on the 21st of each month (using the Ethiopian calendar), as well as on major feasts to St. Michael. Marriages, baptisms, memorial services, prayers for the sick, and confession are frequently scheduled. Finally, the church airs a radio sermon in Amharic from 3:30 to 4 P.M. every Sunday at a frequency of 1100 AM.


The church was founded in 1986 by a group of Ethiopian immigrant families numbering no more than fifty faithful. The community originally met in a Presbyterian church building it rented in downtown Atlanta. In 1995 it purchased a Presbyterian church in Decatur, which it converted into its present building. The church grew more quickly than expected--it currently has almost a thousand registered members--so the parish decided to buy land on which to build a sanctuary and a community service building. As of 2004, five and a half acres have been purchased; the community hopes to begin building within the next year.

The Church and Its Liturgy

Worshippers at Kidist Mariam show great reverence as they enter the church. Some cross themselves and bow even before coming inside, and many prostrate in silent prayer before the icons in the narthex. Everyone takes off his or her shoes before entering; the shoes are either left in the narthex or carried inside and placed beside one for the duration of the service. The inside of the church is decorated in rich, red tones: a scarlet curtain stretches across the church, separating the altar from the nave, the carpet is a medium red, and burgundy curtains border the icons hanging on the left- and right-hand walls. On Sundays the pews are always full, and metal folding chairs are placed in the middle aisle to make room for more faithful. The women stand on the right, their heads covered; the men, many dressed in suits, stand on the left. All of the women and most of the men wear traditional white prayer shawls over their clothes. The liturgy is conducted both in Ge'ez, a classical Ethiopian language that few understand, and in Amharic, the official language of modern Ethiopia.
After about a two-and-a-half-hour liturgy, the people are seated (they stand for most of the liturgy), and the choir comes to the front of the church. The choir begins to sing lively hymns in Amharic, to the accompaniment of clapping. During the liturgy proper, the only instrument used is a single handbell, rung to mark especially solemn moments in the service. During the songs after the liturgy, however, the atmosphere is less reserved. Two drums beat out a deep, loud rhythm, and the women raise their voices in shrill ululation. Sometimes this portion of the service includes traditional "liturgical dances," in which the choir members (but not the congregation) perform slow, rhythmic motions to accompany the hymns. In one dance, for example, the choristers hold in one hand a wooden staff, in the other a rattle. As they shake the rattle slowly from side to side, the men and women take small steps forward, advancing toward each other. When they come together they form a circle around the two drummers, then return to their original position. During all the songs, the choir and many of the people rock gently from side to side, their palms upturned in a traditional posture of prayer. The service concludes with an Amharic sermon by the priest.