A large concrete-block structure, visibly built in two stages. The older eastern end, completed in 1952, is higher and has an interior gallery and upper story windows. Offices block the light and breeze on either side of the "choir." Tapa cloths and banners in similar Pacific style are draped on the columns as decoration. The western end, completed in 1974, is styled more as a hall and used as such during the week. It has a row of wide doors on either side, all of which open to let the breeze through, which is very necessary in the tropical humidity.
The congregation is one of the most multi-cultural in Suva. It includes not only iTaukei (indigenous Fijians), but also Indo-Fijians, resident "Europeans" (meaning anyone of Caucasian appearance), Fijians of Solomoni descent (whose ancestors were taken in the 1860s from the Solomon Islands to work on colonial plantations), university students from the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, plus a smattering of other Pacific islanders. For this special occasion, not only did people of all these types come from other parts of Fiji, but also substantial contingents from Tonga and New Zealand, including no fewer than eight visiting bishops and two archbishops.
The Republic of the Fiji Islands comprises an archipelago of more than 332 islands, of which 110 are permanently inhabited, and more than 500 islets. Suva, on the island of Viti Levu, is Fiji's capital. It is a beautiful city, blending the modern with colonial architecture. Holy Trinity is on the edge of Suva's downtown area, and is just across the road from the main strip of night clubs and bars.
The Most Revd William Brown Turei, Archbishop and Primate of the Province of Tikanga Maori, presided at the installation and celebrated the eucharist that followed. He was assisted by the Most Revd David Moxon, Archbishop and Primate of the Province of Tikanga Pakeha. The preacher was Sepi Hala'api'api, diocesan youth coordinator. The Very Revd Fereimi Cama, dean, gave the opening remarks.
What was the name of the service?The Installation of the Rt Revd Dr Winston Halapua as the sixth Bishop of the Diocese of Polynesia, and recognition as an archbishop of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia.
How full was the building?
Full to overflowing. Even with extra tiered seating installed on scaffolding and with the normally unused upper gallery full, there were hundreds on the verandahs on either side of the main nave. The informal lunch afterward catered for 1700.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. My wife was known to the usher as someone who had been associated with the centenary of the diocese in 2009, so we were shown specially to some seats just behind the area reserved for family.
Was your pew comfortable?
A standard Anglican pew, on which we sat for nearly three hours without our backs complaining. So I guess they weren't too uncomfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The church was half full when we got there one hour before the start, and 95 per cent full 45 minutes before the start. This is very unusual in the Pacific but the start had been advertised as "English time, not Fiji time." There was a buzz of conversation as people greeted relatives and friends among the many visitors and vice-versa. We had a rehearsal of a new hymn, and then the choir sang a few hymns to get people in a service mood.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
After the opening procession, the dean said: "On behalf of the diocese and the cathedral, I'd like to welcome you all to this service." He then extended special greetings to various people, starting with the archbishops.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
There was a specially printed order of service, which included the full text of the liturgy, hymns and readings. Although most of the service was in English, the hymns were in several different languages (English, Fijian, Hindi, Tongan and Samoan, to name a few!), so there would have been very few present who knew all the words without the printed order to help. In addition, some words of the liturgy were printed in English but said in Maori.
What musical instruments were played?
An electronic organ opened each hymn, but after the opening the organ was inaudible beneath the full-blooded and harmonious singing by the large choir and congregation. The Fiji choir was augmented for the occasion by a contingent of Tongans from New Zealand, all under the direction of the Revd Tomu Asioli, choirmaster. Just after the moment of installation, three conch shells were played bugle-like from the gallery in rhythm with the lali (slit drum) from the verandah.
Did anything distract you?
I was amazed by a baby in the arms of his mother in the pew in front of us, who managed to sleep through the very loud pre-service and opening hymns, but later woke and cried a few times, not least when he tugged at his own hair. I kept trying to count how many bishops were assembled for the occasion, and to identify the various notables, but they moved and got obscured, which made it hard. There were photographers and TV cameramen moving around as well.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
No service led by two archbishops in full regalia could be called informal, but it was without the full high-church trimmings of incense, etc. The service included a variety of styles and languages, especially the hymns as noted above. The Lord's Prayer was said in Fijian, accompanied by 300 youths in white raiment performing actions to match. They filled the aisle and the upstairs gallery. At one point there was a Tongan procession, to the sound of a single young cantor, who sang beautifully without either accompaniment or microphone. Between the actual installation and the eucharist, there were speeches of greeting and presentation of gifts from various bishops and others representing both the people of the diocese and other dioceses, the new bishop's family, and representatives from parishes he had previously served. Given that there were at least a dozen bishops present, it was notable that the sermon was preached by a young laywoman. This choice (presumably by Bishop Halapua himself) may carry a message about the future direction of the diocese.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Sepi Hala'api'api spoke confidently and was not overawed by the occasion or by the hierarchy all around her.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
She pictured the new bishop as the captain steering the waka (canoe) in the direction set by Jesus as the compass, with the elders having the experience to know when to cast the net to pull in the fish (souls) and the youth having the strength and vigour to perform this work. She noted that the youth representatives at the electoral synod had asked for the election of someone with a list of virtues so comprehensive that only Jesus Christ could have them all. But Bishop Halapua still scored well against these criteria. In the epistle (Colossians 3:1-11), St Paul emphasised that despite our diversity in cultures, gender and age, we are all one in Christ. This has to be central to our life and work in the multicultural, multiracial diocese of Polynesia. The gospel story of the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21) pointed to the dangers of the modern "I-world" (in which I want an I-pod) that is creeping even into Polynesia. We need to make following Jesus more central to life than this sin of greed.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
At first glance, Archbishop Brown Turei looked like a reincarnation of the late Bishop Jabez Bryce (the previous bishop of Polynesia), whose funeral I had attended earlier this year; this made me wonder if we really were in heaven! Some of the more moving parts of the service itself were: the sound of the conches from high in the gallery; the luminous pride of the new bishop's wife when she came forward to receive a gift on their behalf; and Handel's Hallelujah Chorus in Tongan, which came as an encore after the bishops had processed out.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The sound system squealed quite a few times during the service most commonly after one non-working travelling microphone was replaced by another. Also, the person sitting next to me talked non-stop for the hour leading up the service. (No, I don't mean my wife!) Wriggling through the crowd to get back from one of the communion stations was a bit tricky too, though this was understandable in the circumstances.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
In such a good-spirited throng, it would have been difficult not to get drawn into conversation with others, be they residents or visitors. Among others I spoke with was a student from England, who was in Fiji doing a sociology project on the role of religion in Pacific society she had certainly come to the right place at the right time!
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee phooey! There was whole Pacific feast on offer, not to mention tea, soft drink and kava. But the queue was long, and in my state of health I needed a rest, so passed it by. However, a friend who did stay on told me later that the lunch and party lasted till at least 5.00 (when he left), and featured, among other spontaneous entertainment, folk singing by the visiting archbishop of Melanesia.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – Today's special service may not provide a good guide to what a regular service might be like. I certainly would not want to have a regular morning service that runs for nearly three hours!
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
My word, yes. Not least because it demonstrated the inclusivity, brotherhood and lively youth of the church.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The sound of the conch.