St Leonard, Savusavu, Fiji (Exterior)

St Leonard's, Savusavu, Fiji


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Leonard's
Location: Savusavu, Fiji
Date of visit: Sunday, 31 March 2013, 9:00am

The building

Small, concrete block construction, built in 1975. The full-height glazed doors along each side are opened during services to let in the breeze (very welcome in the humid tropics). The view through the transparent east window is through coconuts and garden to the sea at the end of the garden.

The church

The core of the small Anglican community in this district is Fijians descended from Solomon Islanders who were brought in to work the coconut plantations in the 19th century, as well as the descendants of the British plantation owners. Parishioners are scattered through outlying farms. Because the local buses run less frequently on Sundays, the youth group camp overnight in the church hall every Saturday so they can be on time for morning service. The church runs a kindergarten during the week, evidenced by a shaded sandpit beside the church.

The neighborhood

Savusavu, "the hidden paradise of Fiji", is a small, relaxed, historic town of about 6000 people. It lies on the southern coast of Vanua Levu, the second largest island of Fiji's 300 islands. The first European settlers in the district set up coconut plantations in the 1860s, but in the last 20-30 years their descendants have subdivided most of them for development as resorts and/or for sale to expatriates from America or elsewhere. Interestingly, one of the last remaining plantation owners is in fact the Anglican Church. The small but sheltered harbour hosts dozens of yachters from around the world, some of whom return as settlers. A major tourist attraction is the world class scuba diving offshore - JM Cousteau himself owns one of the local resorts.

The cast

The celebrant was the Revd Aliki Ritalau, who had come specially from a village elsewhere in Cakadrove province. The Revd Peni Silikiwali, curate, preached, and liturgist Luisa Smith led the prayers and most of the service. Members of the youth group read all the lessons.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Communion.

How full was the building?

The church seats about 60, though more can overflow onto the side verandahs. There were about 30 at the start, but by the time the Sunday school and others had joined the main congregation (for communion) it was at least 80 per cent full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes. By the time we arrived, the entrance hymn was underway, but a young lady greeted us outside. At the passing of the peace, I think we shook hands with almost everyone else in the church. And at the end of the service, before the notices, visitors were invited to go the front and introduce themselves, which Mrs T and I duly did.

Was your pew comfortable?

The pew was fit for purpose.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

We missed it, as we arrived during the opening (processional) hymn.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

After the opening procession, the liturgist said, "Welcome to you all on this Easter day. And a special welcome to all visitors."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

A small booklet: Eucharistic Liturgy: An Extract from the New Zealand Book of Common Prayer; a hymn book entitled Hymns: Praise God. The latter is published by Lotu Pasifika, and includes hymns in English, Fijian and Hindi. Several people had their own Bibles (in English or Fijian language).

What musical instruments were played?

A youth named Darryl played guitar to accompany the hymns. There was no separate choir; everyone sang in the strong and melodic Pacific Islands manner.

Did anything distract you?

Various small children moved around through the service. One was moving his legs so enthusiastically to the music that he continually kicked me, but it was only gently and a sign of his active participation in the service, so I let it pass.

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

Standard Anglican liturgy. Spoken, not chanted, but noticeably inclusive in involving many worship leaders, including almost all of the youth group in one role or other. There was neither incense nor arm waving. All readings and prayers (except for the actual eucharist) were delivered from a lectern at front and centre of the nave. The hymns were mostly in English but some were in Fijian, as was the sung Lord's Prayer. The highlight came with the gospel reading, in which one young lady read St John's account of the Resurrection while the rest of the youth group acted it out, with the tomb represented by a table with a tablecloth pulled away on one side.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

11 minutes.

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

8 – Although Father Peni was ordained only last year, his preaching is excellent: well organised, clearly spoken and to the point. He actually numbered his points ("firstly" through to "fifthly"), and gave each of them first in English and then (with more animation) in Fijian.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The Resurrection of Jesus and its significance for us today: it shows we can all have hope, even of life after death. What can we learn from the fact that it was Mary Magdalene to whom Jesus first appeared? Firstly, she had faith even before obedience. Secondly, it shows the importance that Jesus attached to the many women in the circle around him even in that patriarchal society. (Which is one reason, he said, that he is proud to be part of a church that ordains women, even in Fiji's patriarchal society.) And the fact that the stone was rolled away showed Mary Magdalene at a glance that Jesus had done something special: he had risen from the dead. Even though we don't have such an immediately visible sign, we still have to carry the message of the Resurrection.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The re-enactment of the finding of the empty tomb and the reappearance of the living Christ. And that after a week of rain, the sun shone brightly through the east window on this day of Resurrection - like Jesus, the sun had new life!

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

In the land of laid-back "Fiji time", it was surprising and embarrassing to discover that the service was already under way when we arrived only a minute or two after the listed time.

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

Since we were obviously visitors, and had been game to stand up and introduce ourselves, people were queuing up to say hello to us with a friendly smile before we even had a chance to leave our pew. One or two even said that they had recognised us from when they were visiting our "home" church elsewhere in Fiji.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

The overnight camp of the youth group includes parish lunch after Sunday service, to which we were duly invited. We declined, though, as we had another engagement.

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

8 – We felt very comfortable with both the worship style and the people of the congregation.

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


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

The re-enactment of the disciples finding the empty tomb.

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