Prayer with the dogs

Sunday morning, and it’s off to church in Losalava village.
We have previous experience of church village-style, having joined the church service at our last stop in Asanvari, but found ourselves sitting through over 2 hours of service conducted in a bislama and the local dialect, perched in excruciating pain on thin branches posing as seats. Even by their standards these seats seemed basic. I mean, when you have the ability to carve dugout canoes and construct whole buildings, how hard is it to make a flat bit of wood to sit on?…leading to the only sensible conclusion, that discomfort was clearly an essential element of prayer. And I thought our Anglican church pews at home were uncomfortable.
Given all this, the boys were incredibly well behaved having been drilled on the dangers of committing various social blunders (and Lords knows church is ripe for those, as me and my flatulent friends repeatedly discovered during our schooldays) but even so, asking this of them every Sunday seemed abit much. We had thought to skip this Sunday’s service in our new village, but it turned out that one of my newfound spearfishing friends, Ronald, was the pastor so I felt it churlish to miss his one primary performance of the week.

At church this morning I discover Ronald transformed from the soft-spoken, shy and friendly guy I met yesterday, to an energetic fire and brimstone preacher, delivering the service with an impressive energy and passion, at least from what I could follow. At one point Ronald flourishes two tropical flowers in order to reinforce his sermon’s message, one red and the other white. He asks us to choose one, and wanting to demonstrate my unwavering focus on his sermon I nod encouragingly, not expecting him to then call me out with a Mr Fred, which one would you choose? I immediately sense a trap, so reply “both”. Both is clearly not the correct answer, and I suspect encouraging nodding is not advisable behaviour either given the rest of the congregation’s stoney-faced demeanours, most of them sitting there determined to ensure all of the parson’s questions remain rhetoric. It turns out that the red flower represents hell, the white heaven, and I have unwittingly outed myself as a spiritual fence-sitter. Bugger.

I’m pleased to note the seats are at least flat pieces of wood, rather than rounded branches, and sit there in relative comfort (physical, if not social) next to the Chief. The hymns and prayers are sung with at least 2 part harmonies from the congregation, who are spread along the matted-leaf walls and enjoying the breeze provided by several open holes in the mudwalls. The holes let in breeze, along with an occasional chicken, dog and anything else that wanders past. Chickens are apparently not allowed and are quickly shooed out, but dogs tolerated. At least, the first one is. A second dog joins the service, no doubt as keen as the first one to seek forgiveness for recent spiritual misdemeanours. But a snarling encounter ensues between the two dogs, at which point one of the congregation walks out, fetches a stick, and returns to whack both bogs soundly with it, much to the amusement of all the kids in the congregation and utter disregard of the parson who barely pauses in his psalm-reading. I discover that there’s something comforting about having a dog curled at your feet during church, so I’m quietly pleased when the 1st dog re-appears, decides I’m the only one who won’t whack him and sits himself down with me. Momentarily I wonder whether I’ll be the next one to get whacked.

But no. Near the end during the announcements bit, the parson welcomes me and asks me to introduce myself. Of course the whole village knows of our presence, so my informing them that I’m from the boat is probably abit superfluous, followed up by some fancy verbal footwork providing a plausible explanation for the rest of my family’s absence. From the fence-sitter. I fear our credibility here is still tenuous at best.

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