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||1359: St Alban's, Lorevilko, East Santo, Vanuatu
Mystery Worshipper: Pax et Bonum.
The church: St Alban's, Lorevilko, East Santo, Vanuatu.
Denomination: Church of Melanesia.
The building: The church building is an ageing (almost 10 years old)
bamboo shack with a sago palm roof. They have recently expanded their vestry
area, and have attached a narthex of sorts where one can stand without getting
wet in the rain or being cooked in the sun when the church, which can barely
hold 100, is overcrowded. The altar is somewhat high, about four feet or
maybe more, and is against the wall. On the altar are three kerosene lamps
(I remember when they had seven) and a homemade tabernacle. Behind the altar
is a Southwest-American style velvet wall hanging of the Virgin and Child.
The kneeling desk and pulpit were obviously made of scrap wood, and are
decently covered in seasonal coloured cloth. On the day the church was dedicated
in 1998, a coconut tree was planted, which now has lovely flowers around
The church: The church community is made up primarily of immigrants
from the Banks Island of Mota, the first Christian island in Melanesia.
There are other islands represented in the congregation as well. The next
biggest group is Santo natives. The chief was born into a heathen family
which later became Presbyterian. Most of the other Santo people (and a family
from Pentecost Islands) were Roman Catholics, who for various reasons joined
the Anglican Church of Melanesia. One of the deacons and his wife are converts
The neighbourhood: Lorevilko is a few kilometres from Champagne Beach
and Hog Harbour on the road to Sara, now renamed the De Quiros Highway.
Every house is bamboo, every roof is thatch – for now. Surrounding the
village are bananas, kumaras, manioc and pawpaw gardens. The village is
in a rain shadow, and is very dry.
The cast: Mama Charles Aro, rector, was the celebrant, assisted by
Deacon Pedro Tamsel, who preached, and Deacon Namson Patteson, who read
The date & time: 8 October 2006, 7.45am.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
I counted about 80 or so, most of whom were children.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Never had a better welcome. I arrived in Santo on Saturday by ship, on a
crossing that began on Tuesday in Honiara. I was met at the wharf by a welcoming
party from the hostel where I was to stay, who accompanied me there and
told me where my bed was. As I was acclimating myself, three young men came
in, full of curiosity about their visitor. I told them I needed to go to
Lorevilko, and they kindly offered to drive me. "When?" "Now!"
So I threw together a change of clothes and some betel nuts, jumped into
the back of their truck, and off we went. When we arrived a couple of hours
later in Lorevilko, the children surrounded me and the chief came out to
greet me, all hugs and smiles. Then I had to cry. Really.
Was your pew comfortable?
No, probably the worst thing is the "pew." It was a thin (three
inches) slit of waste timber hammered onto a coconut post and too close
to the ones in front and behind.
How would you describe the pre-service
A bit rushed. People were continually coming and going – mothers with crying
children, clergy checking to make sure readers and servers were ready.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."
What books did the congregation use during the
The Melanesian English Prayer Book and Ol Sing Blong Niu Laef,
Buk 4 (All the New Life Songs, Book 4).
What musical instruments were played?
None at all, though occasionally they use bamboo tamtams.
Did anything distract you?
Just the pew, and the sunlight coming in through a hole in the leaf roof.
Also, I didn't like the placement of tat in odd places. For instance, there
was a superfrontal that read "Alleluia" pinned sideways to a post behind
the credence table. Have no idea why it was there. Mary and Child were partially
covered by the tabernacle, but there wasn't that much room.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
Yes. Well, in a bamboo church with a cappella singers, a bit of
happy clappy is bound to creep in, but that was all right. They sang standard
evangelical hymns, e.g. "This is my story, this is my song," in
the Bislama language. But the mass was celebrated ad orientem,
and although there were a deacon and subdeacon, there was no incense. (I
asked; they had run out.) There were three servers, all wearing white lavalavas
(wrap-around skirts) and white shirts. There were two religious present.
We received communion kneeling. All in all, I suppose you could call it
basically middle of the road, with some Anglo-Catholic, charismatic and
evangelical bits thrown into the mix.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 He's learning. Deacon Pedro has only recently been ordained and
has only six years of primary education. The diocese is sending him to a
series of six-week courses to improve his knowledge. Both deacons had been
prepared for ordination by the rector.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
How we can find God in unexpected places and times, and seem to miss him in expected times and places.
Which part of the service was like being in
The smiles of the people. They, like Peter, felt it was good to be there. Superb singing, wonderful welcome.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The parody of a pew.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Someone asked me if I had a betel nut, which I did. Great ice breaker!
How would you describe the after-service
What's coffee? We had coconuts! All the families went to their houses and
changed (the women from blue and white Mothers' Union uniforms) and came
back with plates of food – beef, pork, a flying fox fruit bat, cabbage,
pumpkin leaves, bananas (boiled green), and things like that. Everybody
joined in. We ate on mats on the floor of the nakamal, or village gathering
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 It was a joy to be there.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes indeed it did.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The joy of the people of God engaged in worship.
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