When I think back to how Christmas/New Year used to be spent for us who have been passionate about the Christian church. Once upon a time, as soon as the flurry of Christmas Day was over, we would pack up and go to a church camp, sometimes called Summer School, sometimes at a school campus but more often near a beach such as Ocean Grove. This was decades ago when youth and young adults were immersed in a different culture, where church-going was the norm for many of us, where youth clubs flourished, where Sunday schools had hundreds of children of various ages. The summer schools went over the New Year with a Methodist Covenant Service part of the ritual before the turning of the year. We were passionate about being religious and also of telling the world the good news. This was the early 60s. Today there are no summer schools, very few youth camps, Sunday schools (at least in the Uniting Church) have small numbers. Young adults go elsewhere for the New Year celebration.
Okay, enough with nostalgia.
This morning our minister told us a story about the time he went to a Pacific Island with a work camp just after Christmas. About fifteen of them from Geelong. A three hour church service welcomed them to the main town on the island. They were told to get up at 5 a.m. the next morning for church. Three hours, then breakfast after 8 a.m. This went on for a week, so in the heat and humidity of tropical summer they still managed to do some ‘work’ at the boys’ college and girls’ college in repairs and building.
Anyway, the story went on. Midway through the first service suddenly everyone (5000 of them – except for the papalagis who didn’t know what was happening) bent their faces into the pew in front and started talking – all at once. The visitors were puzzled. Then suddenly Whack, whack, poke, whack! A large gentleman with a stick was hitting them on the back. Pray! He demanded they follow the others. Okay, they did so. After about ten minutes there was some instruction up the front and the place quietened down a bit. Then whack, whack, poke, whack, etc. again on the backs of the papalagis. What have they done wrong this time? Stop praying! Oh, that’s it, they realized.
I guess the point of the story was just to show how different cultures celebrate the New Year in, and how church worship is taken very seriously in some places, rather than a mere one hour a week.
Okay, where was this? You have surely guessed that it was in Tonga in the town of Nukualofa and at the big Methodist Church there.
Anyway there are still some youth camps - and youth exchanges to Pacific Islands occasionally in the Uniting Church of Australia and also with Catholic youth as in this picture where a group from Port Macquarie visited Tonga earlier this year. Way to go!