Sunday 14 October 2012

Making a joyful noise

To church this morning, the oldest in the Cook Islands, dating from 1839, built from coral and last time we were here looking rather sad and battered. Today it was back to its presumably former glory, the handpainted frieze inside bright, the simple stained glass windows glowing in the sunshine, and best of all full of people in Sunday white and hats with flowers. We were welcomed in warmly, and treated to a stirring experience of Pacific Island singing.

I've heard it before, on Rarotonga, in Fiji and in Tahiti, and it's always the same: unaccompanied harmonising, both shrill and tuneful, at full volume. It's wonderful to hear, echoing around the church and broadcasting from the open windows that look out onto the lagoon and the coconut palms. The congregation gave it all their effort, and when the men got going, I could feel the vibrations through my hands on the pew in front. The older, stoutest ladies were belting it out, their eyes closed, no hymn books needed; while the young people were a bit more inhibited.

Most of the service was in Maori, so I didn't have to pay attention, and had the opportunity to notice an anchor hanging from the ceiling, with Ereba 6:19 written on it. I idly thought I would Google that when I got home, and then realised, d'oh, that there was a Bible on the seat next to me. The verse, in Hebrews, is "...this hope we have as an anchor of the soul..." which in a lightbulb moment explained the derivation of the common English pub name Hope and Anchor - there's one in Ross-on-Wye. So that was that explained. How fitting to have had a revelation in church. Possibly an epiphany.

There were little kids playing in the aisles, babies being amused, some chatting and laughing going on and some boredom being felt by the teenagers; but their moment came at the end, when the Girl Guide and Brownie troops, and the Boys' Brigade, got to march out of the church behind their flags and then down the road, to their own brass band music.

And now it's time to go home, sadly, and leave all this warmth and beauty, and the friendly people, and fly back to comparatively chilly Auckland. But only for 4 days, because then I'm off to North Viet Nam...

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