St Augustine of Canterbury, Nueva Vizcaya, Philippines

St Augustine of Canterbury, Nueva Vizcaya, Philippines


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Augustine of Canterbury
Location: Nueva Vizcaya, Philippines
Date of visit: Sunday, 26 July 2015, 2:00pm

The building

If you think of your old fashioned tin roof scout hut, then you have it right! Forget stained glass, they don't even have plain glass.

The church

Wow, what a fantastic and amazing community! Based in the north of the Philippines, in an area that really is not affluent, where most people live day-to-day lives, Christianity is not only alive but thriving!

The neighborhood

Nueva Vizcaya (Spanish for New Biscay) is a province on the island of Luzon, the northernmost large island in the Philippine archipelago. It is amazingly beautiful countryside, with stunning mountains in a rural area, but with extreme poverty. You will see carts being pulled by oxen. (But see below, what we will remember in seven days' time.) The church is built on the side of a hill.

The cast

The Most Revd Frederick Luis M. Belmonte, Archbishop of the Anglican Church in the Philippines (Traditional), together with three assisting priests, three acolytes, and a robed choir of 30.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Communion and Marriage Service.

How full was the building?

The wedding took place in a hall near the church and was attended by the whole church. Apart from the local Filipinos, there were guests at this wedding from all over the world.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Youngsters from the choir extended a very warm welcome in English.

Was your pew comfortable?

Plastic chairs covered in cloth – cool, clean and reasonably comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

The choir were robing and getting ready. The acolytes were lighting the candles and taking instructions from one of the priests. Lovely music was playing on a CD. A sense of reverence and calm.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Dearly beloved: we are gathered here in the sight of God ..." My jaw almost dropped! Here we are literally on the other side of the world, and I am witnessing a Prayer Book marriage service!

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Book of Common Prayer and Hymns Ancient and Modern. They use the 1928 Prayer Book.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ music, and the most amazing choir that I have heard in a very long time. Twenty juniors plus adults, four part harmony and descants, fully robed in traditional gowns. One of the smartest looking choirs, and amazing vocals.

Did anything distract you?

The heat! It was 34° Celsius (93° Fahrenheit) outside. How the bride and groom felt, let alone the archbishop (who was in full vestiture) I can only imagine!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Holy, conducted with reverence, but so very friendly. An amazing joy to see how good Prayer Book worship can be. The acolytes and crucifier processed the Bible, and there were bells and smells.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

7 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

9 – An excellent address by the archbishop on the secrets of a good marriage. Nicely done. It flowed well and was heartfelt and relevant. He transitioned effortlessly from Tagalog to English and back again, which must have been difficult.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Love and forgiveness, and the secrets of a happy marriage.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The choir's version of Psalm 23, with descant. Simply heavenly! I found out afterward that they copy their music by hand!

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

We often dream about being in paradise, and whilst this was as close as I have found, the heat in this country was just like being in the depths of hell. I do hope heaven is air conditioned.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

As soon as the service was finished, we were introduced to everyone by having to run through the middle of an arch of choristers on the way out.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

I know it was hot, but I must have drunk half a litre of squash afterward, which went straight down and never touched the sides!

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

10 – We so often hear about the Church being in decline. Yet here, on the other side of the world, despite the immense poverty, the Church is growing in a traditional way. This community has an amazing musical talent. They perform traditional Prayer Book services with reverence. They are filled with the Holy Spirit. They do, however, take some ultra-conservative stances.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

We bounced all the way back to the UK with joy.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

After the service we were watching a farmer plough a local field with a traditional plough drawn by an ox, much like in the time of Jesus. I commented that the lines he ploughed were so very straight. I wandered over to the farmer with a cool drink, and was amazed to see, attached to the plough handle – an iPhone 4! He was using GPS to get his lines straight. What an amazing land!

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