Mystery Worshipper: Pax et Bonum
Church: Pro-Cathedral Church of the Holy Spirit
Location: Luganville, Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu
Date of visit: Sunday, 15 October 2006, 7:00am
Originally an octagonal 70s Brady Bunch monstrosity, now transformed into a huge rectangular concrete edifice with the altar smack in the west end. (I asked and was told, "Well, God is everywhere, isn't he?") What is amazing is that the local youths and more experienced workers started from nothing and finished the whole thing in three months, working through the night, the last dab of paint going on during the processional hymn. Truly outstanding commitment.
The community is a mixed island community made up of people mainly from the Penama and Banks Groups of islands of Northern Vanuatu, though there are members from every other island and some overseas people as well.
It is in a swamp area near the Sarakata River, about a mile or so from central Luganville. The neighbourhood is residential, and surprisingly similar to where one would find an Episcopal church in the USA. All the streets are in a perfect grid, the Sarakata area having been built by the Yanks in World War II.
The Most Rev. Sir Ellison Leslie Pogo K.B.E., Archbishop of Melanesia, presided. Archbishop Pogo was assisted by the Rt Rev. Terry Brown, Bishop of Malaita, several retired bishops, and Dudley Aru, vice chancellor of the Church of Melanesia. The Rev. Canon Sam Sahu preached the sermon. But the participant of honour was the Rev. James Marvin Ligo.
What was the name of the service?Consecration and installation of the Rev. James Marvin Ligo as fifth bishop of Vanuatu
How full was the building?
Pressed down, shaken together and overflowing, with many, many more peering through the windows and jamming the doors. There were several Zacchaeuses looking down from trees, and loud hailers and speakers announcing clearly to the hordes outside what was going on.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Not really expected in such a large crowd, but there were many nods and smiles.
Was your pew comfortable?
No. But it was a bench with no back.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Hectic, not quiet. People running around, checking mikes, things like that. A couple of screeches from sound technicians. Actually, the excitement was building up as it does before a symphony concert.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
We began with a hymn. And then a group of about 30 youths in Melanesian costume came dancing in before the thurifer and boat boy, crucifer, acolytes, eight torches, priests, bishops, archbishop's chaplain with primatial cross, and the archbishop in all his glory. Plus there were lawyers in gowns and wigs, Mothers' Union members, chiefs in native costume, friars, brothers (called tasiu) of the Melanesian Brotherhood, nuns, and pastors of various churches.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A printed book made up for that one occasion. Basically texts from the Melanesian English Prayer Book with the consecration of a bishop thrown in.
What musical instruments were played?
Guitars to accompany "Let all mortal flesh keep silence" done as a gospel anthem worthy of American Black Baptists. Otherwise rattles made from seeds from a local plant and tied around the dancers' ankles and shoulders, and bamboo tam-tams (one the size of a small car as well as several lesser ones).
Did anything distract you?
The heat. Although there was a roof, the ceiling had not yet been put in.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Melanesian formal and then some. But except for very isolated places, the idea of a solemn high mass is gone from the Church of Melanesia. On big days it is customary to see dancers in authentic costumes dance for the procession, the gloria, the gospel, the offertory and recessional – and this was a big day! There were also several superb choirs who sang in various languages. The service lasted three and one-half hours but was permeated with joy. At the consecration, people held up mobile phone cameras like lighters at a concert. In the previous consecration in 2000, those phone cameras didn't even exist!
Exactly how long was the sermon?
A little over 14 minutes.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – Wonderful! Canon Sam has a joyous style of delivery, drawing off the expectancy of the congregation.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
How we are the church, united by faith and commitment, and how the bishop is to focus on ministries.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
When the dancers and drummers played on that tam-tam the size of a car and sang an offertory prayer in the local language to a really melodious local chant – I could have listened forever!
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The heat, for one. Also, I thought that the choirs, excellent as they were, completely took over all the singing. There were only two congregational hymns: "All hail the power of Jesus' name" (Yumi kam presem Jisas Kraes in the Bislama language, which everyone seemed to know), and a post-communion number called "And so Father keep," which everyone joined in also.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Somebody asked me for a cigarette.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
A formal affair with the archbishop, the other bishops, and the new bishop, along with their wives. Also present were Kalkot Mataskelekele, president of the Republic of Vanuatu, the First Lady, the prime minister, the leader of the opposition, and various MPs, high commissioners and other functionaries, big and small. I am always frightfully uncomfortable in such situations, but I sat with some very friendly dignitaries who didn't laugh when I stirred my tea with what I fear may have been the wrong spoon. The food included famous Santo beef, raw fish salad, fruits, vegetables, cooked fish, lap-lap (the national dish of Vanuatu, made from meat, pureed vegetables and coconut baked in spinach or banana leaves), nalot (breadfruit pudding), and other delicacies.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – Can't tell. They don't consecrate a bishop every week, do they? But the congregation did seem to be a group of really committed Christians.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Without a doubt.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The chanting and dancing at the offertory all to the accompaniment of the tam-tam.