In many churches, the presentation of the offering is a solemn affair. Often ushers march two by two, carrying plates of money to the altar before bowing in prayer.
Today at St. Barnabas Cathedral in Honiara, the offering was a surprising explosion of colour and noise. We Canadians were completely amazed. I stood with my camera in the midst of the frenzy, heart racing, madly snapping pictures.
The procession went like this: close to forty young people danced up (then down) the aisle while the choir belted out a praise song.
First came the teenaged boys in beaded vests and grass skirts, leaping wildly with traditional knives. Two young women followed with candles and flowers in a small canoe. Then came several rows of youth in white cassocks, holding baskets filled with Solomon dollars.
Until the baskets appeared I had almost forgotten about the money part. The offering was obviously so much more. These young people were offering their bodies, their time and talent, and the beauty of their Melanesian culture. It was a powerful image of a living sacrifice.
It turns out this was just a taste of our entertainment for the day. After the two-and-a-half hour service (attended by about 1,000 people) several local youth groups offered dance presentations. They turned up the stereo and swayed with big smiles. The grass skirts came back. We heard pan pipers from Malaita.
I was wondering what parts of Melanesian culture we would see today and how it would blend with our known Anglican formats. There was much more that we saw, like the inlaid shell carvings in the sanctuary, or the unique high harmonies on our favourite hymns.
But our team agreed that the offering was the stand-out moment. As Archbishop Hiltz said during one of his addresses to the crowd, “I’ve never in all my life seen anything like it. It was so beautiful, and it was all so reverent.”