Monday, October 06, 2014

Churches Of Nuku’Alofa

Tonga is one of those places with a church on every other corner.

On my first wander around Nuku'alofa, I discovered many of them around town, and stopped to take them in. All so diverse, and yet all a form of deep Christianity that runs through the Tongan way of life with such strength. 

Reading up on my visit to Tonga, one of the most recommended things to do was to attend a church service on a Sunday. As it happened, the week I was in the country was the week of the funeral of one of the King's cousins, as my plane-mates informed me on the flight over.

A day trip arranged by my Resort, myself and a family who was also staying on the island, were taken to the Centennial Church in Nuku'Alofa. As I arrived back on the main island of Tonga from Fafa, I could hear the bells of the many churches ringing out across the small capital, signalling Mass would commence shortly.

This is the church that the royal family attends in town, and the expectation was that the King and Queen would attend. Not the most architecturally impressive church, like the one pictured above which is the Free Church of Tonga, the Centennial was open doors all the way along, and perhaps the biggest in town.

Being a week of mourning, many locals who were connected in some way wore black within their traditional Sunday best. This combination of white or black, and the grass thatched wrap, made for a beautiful sight within the congregation.

As more and more people poured into the church and filled the rows, the choir dressed in white gathered in the front and centre section. Being a few of the only foreign intruders at church, we sat to the side of the proceedings, but ensured we had a good view.

Suddenly we noticed that the Royal section was filled with both the King and his wife, ready for the Sunday service. They had arrived without ceremony, just as everyday members of the congregation.

And then the service began, and the singing filled the huge white room.

The service, of course, was all in Tongan, however the incredible singing did not have to be in any particular language to be amazing. The room of harmonising voices soared as each hymn was sung, by the whole room.

As with any Christian service I have ever attended, we followed along with the examples around us about when to stand and when to sit.

The choir of the youth of Nuku'Alofa had such beautiful singing voices, and made the service a memorable experience. One of those travel moments when you can't quite believe you have been fortunate to be included in something so local and real, and so special.

After church you could witness what the term "community" is all about, as with any church service around the world, with people catching up, chatting, and meeting with the elders within their congregation. Such a beautiful experience.

Jouljet Notes
Serious Tip: Our tour got us there early enough to watch people arriving, as well as being present for the service. Locals were friendly, and more than happy to engage with us as foreign intruders.
Cost: Church was free, but a contribution to the collection tray when it comes around is a nice way to give back for the experience
Time Spent: Sunday service was about an hour in length
Quirky Tip: People watching is the best here, watching as people within the community and extended family catch up at their weekly ritual. But also the fashion is so interesting! Watching the kids play outside during the service is also worth the distraction!

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