Eucharist in the Sun

I am not sure how many people were at the Eucharist yesterday morning, but there were several hundred people in their teens and early twenties seated in the aisles and ranged around the back and sides of the congregation. We bishops sat on a pedestal at the front in our layers of red and white 17th century clothing while the Fijian sun beat down on us. The rest of the people, apart from the young people at the sides and back that is, were shaded under the several peaks of a marquee. About half an hour into the service a merciful breeze sprang up and I could see the thunderheads gathering in the sky behind us. I waited for the rain but apart from a few very unenthusiastic and half hearted grumbles of thunder it failed entirely to show. Bishop Gabriel Sharma told me later that he had prayed that the rain would stay off until after 1 pm, and it seems that, as in pretty much everything else in the planning and conduct of the service, The Lord was listening to him. It was one of the most powerful and moving services of worship I have ever attended.

The music, led by the Suva Cathedral choir, a music group and a brass band, was very polished and very energetic. The sermon preached by Sepi Haliapiapi was intelligent, well ordered, entertaining and challenging. Sepi has many of her father's gifts of leadership and organization and is fast acquiring a measure of his mana. She is very much a watch this space kind of young woman. The Eucharist was, on the face of it, a quite conventional New Zealand Prayer Book service, albeit one moving with the relaxed sense of order of Tikanga Pasifika and awash with that particularly haunting timbre of Pacific Island singing. What made it so special was that three times in the service that great throng of young people stood, filling the aisles and completely encircling the congregation, seeming to baptism us with their hope and energy and commitment. After the sermon they sang a song about light; about God's creation of light and of us responding to Jesus' call to be light to the world. During the Lord's prayer they performed an astonishingly- given the size of the group- well coordinated piece of liturgical dance. Then at they end they rose to pledge themselves to mission, in response to the call of their archbishop.

We finished, naturally, with a gargantuan morning tea; or more accurately, morning coconut. The various youth groups then performed items of amazing energy and inventiveness before farewelling us. We walked to our buses through the crowd who then walked with us and waved us off. If a 700 voice choir singing Isa lei to you can't bring on goosebumps and a lump in your throat, then nothing can.

Everything had to be anticlimax after that. The archbishops did a tag team routine reading their charge. We accepted reports, including that of the social justice commission. At the last General Synod in 2010 the report of that commission had been refused adoption, and the commissioner had pulled out all stops to make sure the experience wasn't repeated. The report was very slickly produced and supported by examples of the resources the commission has gleaned from various sources during the past year. There were also several speeches in support, including one from Tiki Raumati who spoke with all the verve and style he has developed over several decades as one of the most compelling orators in our church. So, the General Synod began and will occupy my days and nights until late on Thursday.

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