Fr. Anthony Scerri. O. Carm built Sumbul parochial church in Dairi regency, North Sumatra province, Indonesia. It was the first inculturated church building in the Archdiocese of Medan. “I never expect the inculturation trend goes viral!” he said, as quoted by the official archdiocese magazine, Menjemaat.

The Carmelite priest decided that Sumbul parish church ought to be inspired with local Pakpak culture, due to current location. “At the moment, ‘Europe style’ inspiring most church building in the archdiocese,” said Fr. Scerri. “Anyhow, in my opinion, regional culture would be best for new Sumbul church.”

He argued, Second Vatican Council orders for engenders in the local Churches particular expressions stamped by culture (modalities of doctrinal formulations, liturgical symbolisms, models of holiness, canonical directives, etc.).

Few parishioners of Sumbul told Fr. Scerri, expressing restless about the inculturated church idea. According to them, its local culture culture frequently linked with cult of evil. “Fortunately, they accepted my explanation that it was nonsense for Christian. Besides, Archbishop of Medan (then) Mgr. Alfred Gonti Pius Datubara, OFMCap would bless the church,” he added.

The First Step: Seeking Pakpak Traditional House Model

Fr. Scerri invited Br. Otto Flapper – a Carmelite Brother who take care carpentry in Sidikalang, capital of Dairi, to build the imagined church building. “Both of us visited local people to ask whether they know Pakpak traditional house that still exist. And we got a number of sources,” said he. “Then, one day I visited and stayed in Suhana village. There, I found a big – but rotten and partially broken – Pakpak traditional house.”

The priest was told, nobody dare to approach or even talked about the old traditional house. Eventually, one local old man – whose house where Fr. Scerri stayed – revealed a horrible story linked with it. “Despite the scary past background, it helped Br. Otto to design blueprint of original Pakpak traditional house,” Fr. Scerri said.

According to Fr. Scerri, Pakpak indigenous house architecture very complicated due to the sloping walls, and the shape of its roof. As Br. Otto started to draw every part of the building, he asked donation from Australia. “There were 21 station churches in Sumbul. But, their collect money was not enough for the building.”

Early budget was used to buy meranti wood from Dairi forest. “They are beautiful and hard. Moreover, resistence to weather and insects,” Fr. Scerri told. “More than 43 tons of woods were used for the church building.”

“During board mounting, Br. Otto and his partners did it manually. Since they didn’t have modern tools, as we do now. I was just held breathing at the moment. Thanks for God’s bless, none of them seriously injured.”

interior gereja Paroki Sumbul (Photo: Josef Surbakti)

Meaningful Ornaments

Fr. Scerri found many meaningful ornaments both exterior and interior of Pakpak traditional house. “Carving of dragons, on left and right side of the entrance door, just for instance. Some people denied if we made the carving art by arguing it dealt with mystical ritual. Later, I questioned the real meaning of dragons symbol. They answered, in order to cast out evil spirits,” he said. “Then, they accepted my idea to replace dragons with Beato Dionysius and Beatus Redemptus. Two martyr Carmelites who died on mission in Aceh.”

“The same case happened when we intended to put on carving of lizard. I described the origin meaning as fertilty, to gain more Christians gather in Sumbul church.”

Following day, he visited Fr. Phillip OFM Cap in Pematangsiantar – who was famously known for his painting and sculpture art. Fr. Phillip accepted the challenge. “He did a masterpiece! Dionysius and Redemptus are in the form dragons. Each hold cross and prayer,” said Fr. Scerri. “I demanded Fr. Phillip to carve for Stations of Cross on 14 poles of the church. The idea came as I realized, there seven poles on the left side. And the same number on the right side.”

For few days, Fr. Scerri stucked about alter and tabernacle. “I stand firm that triangle bamboo-made alter has good meaning, instead of local beliefs for mystical ritual. I explained, triangle defines the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Besides, he addded, the triangle can be defined as Dalihan Na Tolu (three-legged furnace) – which is the philosophy of life of the Batak people. It was consisted of three general rule in Batak society (full description: “The alter contains deep significance to Batak people.”

“I intend tabernacle also match with the current design. Therefore, I visited Brother Ananias, OFMCap– a smart craftsman, at Caphucin’s carpentry in Pematangsiantar. I’m so satisfied with his work. I thought it was made of copper. The tabernacle is placed on the pedestal, and it seems one part with the church building.”

Fr. Scerri had a plan to install big cross in the church. “However, I did not daret to ask Fr. Phillip again! Then, I bought ordinary cross. Lately, I found picture of this church with a matched cross. Proficiat to my successor.”

“A Catholic family from Jakarta, once gave wooden-made Mary sculpture for Marist Missionary Sisters (SMSM). The Sisters, later, donated the sculpture for Sumbul parochial church. Despite its Bali-crafted style, the wooden-made sculpture matched with the church.”

Salah satu gambar jalin salib yang diukir di gereja Paroki Sumbul (Photo: Josef Surbakti)

Mgr. Pius Blessed the Church

Several parochial boards wonder why no benches in the Sumbul church. Fr. Scerri did on purpose, just the way local customs do in their home. “They insisted to have benches just like in the Protestant church. I do not exactly remember what happenned then. I told them, there is no need to follow other church. Besides, I said, they can have benches in the church just after I passed away. They might get it so serious that there is no benches in Sumbul church untill now. Perhaps they are waiting for my death!”

“Some priests in Medan concern the project as wacky idea. Indeed, the building would cost a lot of money. However, Br. Otto, Fr. Phillip, and Capuchin Brothers work carefully for the building. And later, we have it cheaper. The priests were amazed about that.”

According to Fr. Scerri, the Sumbul parish church is the only one existed Pakpak traditional building. “The building was planned in 1973, and it was finished in 1976. For three years of planning, we had meetings with Pakpak public figures, seeking donation and purchasing materials,” he said. “Archdioces Medan Bishop, Mgr. Pius then blessed the church building.”

Sumbul parish staged a three-day party to celebrate the blessing event. “Mgr. Pius stayed for three days. And once, at eleven in the noon, he came to church for expressing gratitude to God. He whispered to me: “I can feel it. That Holy Spirit is in the church.” “Amen!” I replied.”

Several years later, Fr. Leo Joosten, OFMCap visited Sumbul parish. The Capuchin Priest asked Fr. Scerri, whether he still kept the church building pictures. “I said: Yes, I still have them. At the moment, he was parocus of Pangururan Parish,” he said. “Fr. Leo told me his plan to build Batak-tradition-style parochial church in Pangururan. He did the same as he built Karo-tradition-style church building in Brastagi. I was also informed, there is Simalungun-tradition-style church.”

“I never expect the inculturation trend goes viral!” said Fr. Scerri.

“I’m so glad about the experience to build the Sumbul parish church. Some Pakpak people told me that they are proud to have the church too. I just hope the church inspiring more people to pray for the glory of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. The divine Dalihan na Tolu.” (Rev. Fr. Anthony Scerri, O.Carm)

Pastor Anthony Scerri, O. Carm hingga kini masih gemar memakai batik.

//// the bahasa Indonesia version was published in Medan archdioces official magazine, MENJEMAAT. This article is personal translation. Feel free to send any suggestion via e-mail to: