St Alban's, Lorevilko, East Santo, Vanuatu

St Alban's, Lorevilko, East Santo, Vanuatu


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Mystery Worshipper: Pax et Bonum
Church: St Alban's
Location: Lorevilko, East Santo, Vanuatu
Date of visit: Sunday, 8 October 2006, 7:45am

The building

The church building is an aging (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 it.

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 who 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 to Anglicanism.

The neighborhood

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 gospel.

What was the name of the service?

Sunday 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 atmosphere?

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 service?

"Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

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 what?

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?

14 minutes.

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 about?

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 heaven?

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 coffee?

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 house.

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

10 – It was a joy to be there.

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

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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