Sunday, March 2, 2008

A Very Unique Religious Experience

Wellington Wesley Methodist Church

Won:t you join me at the table?

Preparing for the "morning tea"

As we did in Mexico last year, we figured it would be a good idea to attend a local church. You can see what the locals are doing and often meet people you would not otherwise contact. Just around the corner from our apartment is the Wesley Wellington Methodist Church. This is different from any Methodist church we have ever attended. What makes it so unique is that four different congregations worship at the church, and on the first Sunday of the month they all worship together, sharing the four religious leaders in the service, and celebrating Holy Communion. On the other Sundays of the month they have separate services at different times, but in the same church building.

The four congregations are English, Samoan, Tongan, and Fijian. The ministry team is headed by a District Superintendent, the Rev. Dr. Lynne Frith. When you attend any new church there is always the worry about sitting somewhere that will upset some regular. We selected a reasonably placed spot about 10 rows from the front. It looked OK. On our right in the first 10 or 12 rows were ladies and men dressed in all white and wearing delightful white floppy summer hats. Now this may tip you off that things won’t be as usual.

The church filled with a lot of late arrivals and we realized we were sitting on the edge (and maybe in the usual seats) of the Tongan choir. Another row up and we could have stood and sung the anthem with them. We had a couple behind us who started speaking with us (we are the quintessential looking Americans) and advised us the group in white was the Samoan congregation (and the Samoan choir). I can assure you that I nearly had to sit on Mary Ann to keep her from going over to take photos of those wonderfully dressed Samoa ladies.

Behind us and to our left was the Fiji congregation, and of course, their choir. The white congregation was seemingly spread out all over the sanctuary, so we were apparently safe in our seating selection. The service had parts split up between all the congregations. All of the bulletin, prayers, songs and readings were in English, but when a section was led by one of the Pacific Island congregation leaders, he presented it in their native language. The choirs sang between various sections of the service. Some of the songs were written also in their native language in the bulletin, and we had the opportunity to practice our singing and our pronunciation of those languages. By the way, the other congregations other than Samoan also were dressed in their native costumes. What a colorful and unique opportunity for Mary Ann and I to share their service.

As in all churches all the attendees were invited for morning tea after the service (hosted by the Fijians this month). We were going to skip this as we were headed for another community event after church. However, John and Therese , the couple sitting behind us, said we ought to attend as this is not just tea, but FOOD. In the church hall as we entered there were about 50 feet of double tables in the middle that was jam packed with food provided by the Fijian ladies. There were about three or four rows of chairs circled around the tables. All those attending, and from the crowd I think everyone who was in church came to the “morning tea”, proceeded in and sat down. When the tables were set, the Fijian Pastor said the blessing and then the congregational leaders went out into the crowd and invited those who were obvious guests to come to the table first. The Superintendent came over and invited us to start. The tables were loaded with sandwiches, cookies, cakes, fruit, and surely enough to feed an army. I suspect they required the Fijian boys (very large growing boys!) go last as they made it look like the locusts had been feeding.

What a great experience. To learn more about this inner city multi-racial congregation look at their website: When reviewing the website be sure to click on “About Our Parish”, and each of the Fijian, Samoan and Tongan sections on the left side.

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