Mystery Worshipper: Amb3182
Church: Holy Cross Cathedral
Location: Honiara, Solomon Islands
Date of visit: Sunday, 6 September 2009, 8:30am
Holy Cross Cathedral is a 1970s contemporary style building shaped somewhat like a tent. The design incorporates various adjustments for the local climate and conditions. For example, there are no side walls; instead, there are shutters that can be opened and closed as the weather permits. The interior features treacle-coloured local palm wood and is open and airy.
Missionaries began visiting the Solomons in the mid-19th century and flourished during the years that the islands were a British protectorate. Today, about one-third the population is Anglican (Church of Melanesia), with Roman Catholics a distant second, and the pentecostal South Seas Evangelical Church, the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, the United Church (a merger of Presbyterian and Methodist missionary parents), and other groups bringing up the rear. The Archdiocese of Honiara stretches over five provinces; there are two other dioceses as well. At the mass I attended, there were worshippers from the different regions and provinces of the Solomon Islands all joining together.
The Solomon Islands is an archipelago consisting of about one thousand small islands in the Pacific Ocean east of Papua New Guinea. Honiara, the capital city, is on the island of Guadalcanal, the site of a number of World War II battles that marked the turning point in American vs Japanese dominance over the region. Honiara is something of a hub, with ferry boats departing from the harbour to the various Solomon provinces. The cathedral sits on a hill above the harbour and has a commanding view of Guadalcanal Beach.
The Revd Herman Tiqe, parish administrator, was the celebrant. There were eight altar servers in white albs with different coloured embroidered ponchos: red for candle bearers, blue for book bearers and green for general servers.
What was the name of the service?Sunday Mass.
How full was the building?
The cathedral was totally packed. Children (or pikanini as they are known in Pijin) were sitting on the floor, and as is customary in the Pacific there were many more people mingling about outside.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. A gentleman greeted me with "Good morning" as I walked in. He then guided me to the first pew right in front of the altar. I am not sure if it was reserved for visitors, but I ended up being the only person sitting in that pew.
Was your pew comfortable?
Wooden slatted benches with backs, neither comfortable nor uncomfortable. But there was no upholstery on the kneeler.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Reverential. There were a few people moving around the sanctuary making preparations for mass.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, dear brothers and sisters, and welcome to our celebration."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
There were no books except for the lectionary and the altar missal. The congregation sang without hymn books.
What musical instruments were played?
Electric organ, accompanying a choir of students from the Bishop Lavalle College in Honiara.
Did anything distract you?
A woman outside the church (but fully visible through the open structure) kept walking backward and forward.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was meant to be a mass in English but the priest kept slipping into Pijin. The worship was standard Catholic modern with an emphasis on the community gathered in prayer.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – I followed only bits of the priest's Pijin. Every now and again the congregation would break into laughter, so I can only assume he was something of a wit.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The gospel reading for the day was Mark 7:31-37 (Jesus heals a deaf man with a speech impediment). God is full of compassion for the physically challenged.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The singing. Melanesian singing is a joy to listen to, and the congregation, led by the choir, sang very well. It must be said that in the case of one hymn, the excellence of the singing made up for the banality of the composition by a well-known Canadian composer.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Having to walk the entire length of the nave when the church was packed and sit in front of the congregation in a pew to myself.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Toward the end of mass, the wedding banns were announced. Then, after the dismissal and blessing, everyone left. I thought I looked pretty obvious standing there all by myself, but no one came up to speak to me and so I left too.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Nothing was provided after the service.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I probably won't return to Honiara for a while. But when I do, I will make a point of returning to the cathedral for mass.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. It was a pleasure to join with a congregation and worship in their style and culture.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Reading the wedding banns at the end of the mass. I have never heard wedding banns read in a Catholic church.