Mystery Worshipper: AMB
Church: Malasitapu Presbyterian
Location: Freshwota, Port Vila, Vanuatu
Date of visit: Sunday, 8 February 2015, 10:00am
The church was built in 2009. It is a typical design and construction for the region: rendered brick exterior with sloping roof that drops below the walls. The walls are open along the nave, which promotes air circulation, much needed in the hot weather especially on the day I visited! The bellcote has a small bell that was used to mark the beginning of the service.
There is a large Presbyterian church community in Freshwota. The Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu is the largest Christian denominations in Vanuatu. The Freshwota community had to wait many years for their own church.
Port Vila is the capital of Vanuatu and its largest city. It is also Vanuatu's most important harbour. Freshwota is a large settlement area on the outskirts of town.
A young gentleman from the congregation, no older than 19 or 20, identified only as Geoffrey, led the service. It is common practice in the PCoV to have younger congregation members lead the service. The sermon was preached by Elder Dorothy Namel.
What was the name of the service?Sunday Morning Service
How full was the building?
The church was comfortably full. There are three rows of wooden pews, with two pews on the northern side of the church for women and one on the southern side for men.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was constantly welcomed as I stood outside the front of the church. In fact, the clerk of the presbytery came up to me and asked me to write down my name. He said they always liked to welcome visitors by name and he would be reading out my name.
Was your pew comfortable?
Typical wooden pew with kneeler (but there was no kneeling during the service). I found it quite comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
A group of church youth were singing up front for about 20 minutes before the service commenced. The style was very much "modern gospel" with lyrics like "You fill this awesome space with the most amazing grace." The congregation seemed to be enjoying the service prelude.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning to everyone" but in Bislama.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Nui Laef Buk no. 4
What musical instruments were played?
There was a keyboardist over to the side. He also manned the laptop and data projector that displayed everything on the wall behind the pulpit and clerk's desk.
Did anything distract you?
The Christmas decorations festooned around the preaching area looked completely out of place. As did the Christmas tree standing on a crazy angle in one corner.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
This was the first time I had attended a Presbyterian service so I was not sure what to expect. I would say it was a mixture of traditional Presbyterian practice with a big dose of local culture and colour. For example, at one point the whole congregation, literally, broke into spontaneous ejaculatory prayer for one of their members who is currently a missionary in Chad. I have never experienced anything like it before. The singing was wonderful the most beautiful harmonies. All the hymns were in Bislama but I could see the lyrics contained strong Presbyterian theological themes.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Elder Dorothy took to the pulpit with confidence. Although she could barely be seen behind the pulpit, she spoke with a strong voice and sounded quite motherly and comforting.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Elder Dorothy gave a rather good account of Jeremiah 17:5-10 (cursed are those who trust in mortals; blessed are those who trust in the Lord), which had been the reading for the morning's service. She identified three themes, and, with the help of a slide presentation, told the congregation that God doesn't like the sinner. We must confess our sins. We should be open to being vehicles of God's grace.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The singing, definitely the singing. I am never unmoved when I hear congregational singing in this part of the world.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The shiny white tiled interior. I kept thinking someone is going to slip over before too long. Especially since it was a wet morning and everyone walked in with very wet shoes.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
At the end of the service the elders processed toward the back of the church. They stopped at my pew and beckoned me to join them. I was then placed in a line outside the church and the congregation filed past, shaking my hand and wishing me a blessed Sunday. Quite extraordinary. I thought I could hardly walk off, so I stayed until I think I had shaken everyone's hand.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There were no refreshments on offer, but everyone was milling around the church chatting. It was a really nice Sunday atmosphere.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – I am not a Presbyterian but I might visit again when I am next in Port Vila.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, most definitely and even though I belong to a different church. I would have to say the welcome was the warmest and most genuine I have ever received in a church anywhere.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
After the clerk welcomed me in front of the congregation, he said he hoped my presence would be a blessing for congregation. How many church officials would say that of a visitor? I was deeply touched and humbled.