Centenary Methodist Church in Suva, Fiji
Going to church in Fiji was a highlight of our Transpacific cruise to Australia. Fiji is a predominantly Christian country, and the first missionaries were the Methodists. We had read about the unique and lovely experience of attending church in Fiji, and so I did a bit of research. I found the Facebook page for the Centenary Methodist Church which is close to the port and contacted them. I received an immediate welcoming reply: “Bula, Donna!” with a request to know more about us. I informed the cruise critic group and a group of Christians we had met onboard the Explorer of the Seas about the invitation.
Our group of about twenty walked off the ship together and easily found our way to the church which was about a ten-minute walk. Some church members were waiting at the stairs of the church for us and greeted us warmly. They had reserved the front pews for our group.
Many of us had purchased school supplies and backpacks to offer as a gift to the church’s children, and these were placed on an altar table near the front.
We had a chance to meet several groups of parishioners before the service, and they were very hospitable.
A Lali or ceremonial slit drum) announced the beginning of the service. It functions as a church bell. At this time, the church was filled with the local parishioners and some other visitors.
Our gifts and the congregation’s offerings were formally accepted and blessed. Our fellowship group was introduced and welcomed by the pastor at the beginning of the service which was conducted in their native Fijian.
Many members shared their hymn books with us, and fortunately, the language is rather phonetic and easy to follow.
This particular Sunday was Youth Sunday, and the children mostly sat together with their teachers, and the “Youth” (who appeared to be ages 18-35) were seated in the front and did most of the singing and teaching. The young women wore white dresses, and many had traditional Fijian hairstyles. Their worship was without instruments, and their voices were lovely, like angels singing, often in four-part harmony.
The congregation is very traditional and conservative in their style of worship and dress. The women wore their finest outfits, and the men wore a dark sulu (skirts), a white dress shirt, a tie, and a suit jacket.
After the service, a curtain was drawn to allow the youth to prepare for a drama. While we could not understand the words, it was obvious the drama was about judgment day and began with the introduction of various types of characters: the humble, the arrogant, the unbeliever, and finally the man who begged crumbs that fell from the table of the rich man.
When the poor man died, he was placed on a stretcher that accidentally fell apart, but the performers improvised and just carried him out the front door. The children howled with laughter. The men returned with his coffin.
The judgment scene was quite hilarious and tragic at the same time. The Devil, dressed in blackface and clothing, beckoned those to be judged to join him. Two angels guided the judged to their destiny. Those who went to hell were sent to a smoky area of fire. The congregation, especially the children, loved the drama, and we also found it entertaining.
Visitors can attend the Sunday services at 10:00, but I am so pleased that we were anticipated and especially welcomed because of my prior contact. The entire service lasted about three hours and the Christian Fijian’s hospitality was warm and friendly.
Besides the lovely singing and sincere worship, I was impressed how reverent the Fijians are about their faith. The island is mostly Christian and has been so since about 1860 when most of the people were converted.
The military takeover relaxed some of the Sunday blue laws, but much of the city is closed on Sundays. It is only recently that some stores and the museum are open after church services and then only when a ship is in port. Most of those in Suva attend services on Sunday. Their desire to hold on to tradition is admirable.
We had lunch and walked around a few open shops (Jack’s is one of the largest) before taking a taxi (about $3 USD.) to the Suva Museum. There are many interesting displays about Fiji’s history and culture, and they don’t hide the fact that cannibalism is part of Fiji’s past. Fiji was referred to as the Cannibal Islands in the late 1700-early 1800’s with good reason. Sailors were terrified at the possibility of being shipwrecked in the area. The early missionaries left journals and stories about their eyewitness accounts. The last missionary was eaten in 1863. This practice of devouring one’s enemy had more to do with power and humiliation than anything else. What is remarkable is that Fiji as a culture seems to be traveling in a positive but opposite trajectory compared to many people from western nations who seem to be shedding their moral principles.
A Miss Fiji Beauty Contest was taking place outside of the museum. The young ladies were in their traditional dress, and a festival was also going on.
We walked back to the ship and stopped in a park to rest. There were some homeless people who target the tourists, but they were not aggressive.
The day was delightful and a unique cultural and spiritual experience, and the Fijians were hospitable and gracious.