Recently Peceli and I were in Tonga and spent a Sunday there. The strict rule that no-one works in offices, farms, shops, airports on a Sunday meant that a plane carrying ‘Auntie’ from Fiji that had been delayed from Saturday because perhaps – the pilot couldn’t find Tongatapu island below because of the rainy weather – couldn’t even go on the Sunday so Fiji Airways had to put up passengers in the Hexagon, plus their food for nearly two days. Okay, Sunday in Tonga is the Sabbath, a closed down day – except for church and fine food.
Our plan to attend Centenary Church in the morning was put off because I was feeling unwell but we decided to go to the 6 p.m. English Wesleyan church service later. Meanwhile the kitchen was abuzz with so much cooking. Then visitors kept popping in with dishes and pots of extra food, and I presume visa versa. After midday guests arrived – colleagues of our daughter-in-law and their daughters – with more food including a cooked three month old piglet! The table was groaning with delicacies and we enjoyed the huge dinner, particularly the crackle and roasted pork, though I did say – loudly – isa, the poor little pig. The day before we had been driving in the countryside and had seen dozens of such little piglets running around near a beach where pigs go fishing and root for mussels.
I was thinking of the elderly Australian man (maybe an architect) with an electric wheelchair who lived almost opposite us in a tiny weatherboard two-roomed house without garden. Did anyone think of giving him some delicacies on Sundays? I was told – Yes – the neighbours in the house shrouded by banana trees always sent something over to him.
The English church service at 6 p.m. was held in a large meeting room of the Wesleyan church offices near Centenary Church. About twenty people – Australians, Kiwis, local , a Fiji Indian family who originally had come from Taveuni. This was a fairly informal service , people dressed casually, and several people took part. Prayers were intimate and naming people. Their membership shifts as people come and go such as expats on short visits. The leader was an older bearded man from Tasmania - a retired minister or teacher I wondered. Okay, he was a Principal of a High School, and was in Tonga to do some task with the Uniting Church – to do with the Wesleyan schools. But he did tell me he was also writing a thesis on education and culture. His reading and sermon was based on the lectionary two weeks earlier. He had plenty of anecdotes and a cheerful manner. His children’s spot was based on Mariner’s adventures and a cave in Tonga, about trust and taking risks. They were friendly people and it was good to be part of worship on a Sunday in Tonga, though we didn't hear the glorious acapella singing of two thousand Tongan voices.
We were amazed by the numerous churches in Tonga, how neat and beautiful they are so I've put a few photos here to show the variations.
It was good to experience a Sunday where people do not go shopping, or play sport or rush around so Tonga’s strict protocol for Sunday does seem rather a good idea. And you don’t have to cook for Monday and Tuesday because there are plenty of leftovers from the Sunday feast!