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|1565: Holy Redeemer,
Holy Redeemer, Levuka, Fiji.
Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, Diocese of
An impressive high stone building in the European style of 100
years ago, but in a tropical island setting with the Pacific
Ocean 20 metres in front and jungle clad hills rising 20 metres
behind. The church is one of the very few in the Pacific Islands
to feature stained glass windows (all of them behind the altar),
including a set of bearded evangelists up high and even a rose
The church: The congregation reflects the ethnic variety of Levuka (see below). The church is closely associated with a small primary school in the same compound.
Levuka was the first European capital of Fiji. (The capital
moved to Suva because there wasn’t enough flat land between
the sea and the hills for Levuka to expand.) Its heyday was
in the 1860s-70s, and it has the atmosphere of an old gold rush
town of that era. Before the British government asserted control,
there were about 1000 rough men and 60 pubs on the waterfront.
It is said that visiting ships found the passage through the
reef by following the trail of gin bottles. But now it’s very
peaceful and quiet, and apart from the fish cannery, most of
the buildings are still the timber ones from the 19th century.
The ethnic mix of the town reflects its history. The majority
are indigenous Fijians, but there are also part-Europeans (mostly
descended from beachcomber liaisons of a century ago), descendants
of Solomon Islanders who were blackbirded (recruited via trickery
or kidnapping) to work on plantations in the 1870s, a few Indo-Fijian
traders, and a smattering of Europeans (a term used in the Pacific
to describe anyone with a whitish skin, including Americans
The Revd Tomasi Bola, vicar, assisted by Mr Jo Idu, a lay minister.
The date & time:
Te Pouhere Sunday, 25 May 2008, 9.00am. Te Pouhere Sunday is
a celebration unique to the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New
Zealand and Polynesia, commemorating the three tikanga
(cultures) of Maori, Pakeha and Polynesia, distinct within themselves
but yet united in the fold of Anglicanism.
What was the name of the
How full was the building?
About half full by the listed starting time but three-quarters
full within the next 20 minutes.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
And how! Just before the sermon, the vicar hailed us as visitors
and invited my wife and me out to the front to introduce ourselves
to the congregation. Which we did.
Was your pew comfortable?
Standard western-type pew.
How would you describe the pre-service
Almost everything in Fiji runs on a relaxed "Fiji time"
and so we assumed that we'd be safe arriving a few minutes late
for the service. We were mistaken – it had already begun when
What were the exact opening words of the
Sorry, we missed them.
What books did the congregation
use during the service?
An Order of Holy Communion (a printed extract from
the New Zealand Prayer Book, in English) and the 1973
A Vola ni Sere, also known as Hymns in the Fijian
Language, which is published by the diocese.
What musical instruments
None. The hymns (about five of them in all) were all started
by a woman sounding a note – a very high soprano note – with
everyone expected to sing off that, in four-part harmony.
Did anything distract
A steady procession of stragglers came in late, though they
all sat near the back so as to be less distracting. A small
child, perhaps about two years old, wandered from pew to pew
grinning at some people and gently pulling the hair of others.
Just as the service concluded, a large hornet flew through one
of the open windows. Hornet stings are very painful, and any
hornet flying about must be watched carefully!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
The service was moderately ritualistic and conducted in English,
except for the readings, hymns, and part of the sermon, which
were in the Fijian language. The celebrant was traditionally
vested (his robes must have been hot in the tropical climate).
There were candles on the altar and a server who rang a small
handbell at all the right moments. There was a gospel procession
into the body of the congregation.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 The vicar moved fluently between English and Fijian,
often making a point first in one language and then again in
the other, using the same dramatic gestures, usually more vehemently
the second time.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
God will reign and wrongs will be put right, but only if we
turn to God, as St Paul urges us to do. (As the vicar repeated
this sentiment in Fijian, he vigorously twisted his body and
swung his arms.) This means not just talk, but action also.
We have to take the first step. To love God means to give, give,
give, without expecting anything back. Remember, St Paul is
watching us! (And here he pointed upward to an image of St Paul
looking down at the congregation.)
Which part of the service was like being in
As with most Fijian congregations, the singing was indeed a
pleasure to hear: full throated and in four-part unaccompanied
harmony. I’m sure God enjoyed it as much as I did. And to look
round the varied congregation was to reaffirm the universality
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
If the hornet had stung someone, we would have heard some decidedly
unchristian words! Fortunately it didn't. The Fijians may have
been used to singing in unaccompanied harmony, but I wasn't.
In fact, one small boy looked at me in wide-eyed disbelief that
anyone could sing so badly! But the worst moment of all for
me was about to come – read on!
What happened when you
hung around after the service looking lost?
There can be no mystery about the identity of the Mystery Worshipper
when you are the only European and the only stranger in a close-knit
island community. The steward found the Mystery Worshipper card
in the collection plate and, without hesitation, walked straight
up to me. "What's this all about, then?" he asked.
I was happy to explain all about the Ship of Fools being a Christian
website (yes, it is, really) featuring theological debate. By
then Father Bola had joined our discussion, and was curious
to know how he could get ideas from the Ship being that he didn't
have a computer. So we had no chance of looking lost. Instead,
there was much shaking of hands and an invitation to sign the
visitors' book. So I guess they liked having us there, Mystery
Worshipper or not.
How would you describe
the after-service coffee?
There was no tea, coffee, or even kava (a favoured local tipple).
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 Of the many churches in this town, this would be the one most likely to suit us both theologically and linguistically.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes, indeed. The affirmation of the church universal through
a lively and multicultural congregation is always uplifting.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
"St Paul is watching us!"
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