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2218: Christ the King, Nauru, Micronesia
Christ the King, Nauru (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Amb3182.
The church: Christ the King, Nauru, Micronesia.
Denomination: Roman Catholic, Diocese of Tarawa and Nauru, in the Archdiocese of Suva. The church is staffed by priests from the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, Pacific Union. The Catholic Church established the Vicariate Apostolic of Gilbert Islands (now Kiribati) in 1897. The first Catholic missionary, Father Alois Kayser MSC, arrived in 1914 and became known as an assiduous recorder of Nauruan culture and language. He was deported by the Japanese, along with most of the Nauruan population, to Chuuk, where he died in 1944.
The building: Christ the King is of the simple "hall" type of church that is common in the South Pacific. Built in the 1920s, it is brick-built with white stucco and has a squat tower. The interior is very plain with no decoration aside from a set of stations of the cross. The tabernacle veil consisted of the Nauruan flag!
The church: This is the only Roman Catholic church in Nauru. The congregation is made up of locals, permanent residents (mostly Filipinos) and the occasional visitors (us). To date there have been no successful Nauruan vocations to the priesthood, and the church is currently served by a priest from Kiribati and a deacon from the Marshall Islands.
The neighbourhood: Nauru is the smallest island republic in the world (approximately eight square miles) and the most sparsely populated state after the Vatican. Despite its remote location in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, it has been colonised by a series of nations including the German Second Reich; a League of Nations trusteeship consisting of Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom; and finally Japan during the Second World War. English is an official language, and the Australian dollar the official currency. The church is located right above the coral reef that surrounds the island. Is thought that the name Nauru derives from a native word meaning "I go to the beach."
The cast: The Revd Tatieru Eweenteang, MSC, parish priest.
The date & time: Sunday, 8 May 2011, 10.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Sunday Mass.

How full was the building?
Completely full. I sat in the sixth pew from the front behind the choir. Church attendance is the one most important events (if not the most important) of the week in Nauru. Just about everything comes to a complete standstill on Sundays. Very few shops are open and the airport is closed. Churchgoers wear their best clothes: women often wear something white and the men wear colourful island shirts.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No, but my presence was noted, judging by the number of people staring at me as I walked in.

Was your pew comfortable?
Standard timber pew – narrow seat and no padded kneelers.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Children and adults are all there together and there are lots of children at church (the birth rate in Nauru is quite high) so the atmosphere is both festive and devout.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father, and the Son, and Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books were provided and the congregation sang by heart.

What musical instruments were played?
No instruments were played, but in Pacific churches the voices are so beautiful that a guitar or organ only detracts.

Did anything distract you?
Yes, but not in a negative or annoying way. The tabernacle stand is built of concrete Besser blocks (a common building material in Nauru) and the fourth block from the floor was turned 90 degrees so that the resulting aperture in the concrete block could house the sanctuary lamp. I thought this was rather clever.

Christ the King, Naurui (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was quite similar to other masses I have attended in the Pacific Islands. I would call it standard Catholic Pacific if such a thing exists. There were altar girls, which suggests a certain liberal view about the liturgy. I would say it was relatively low-key but then it is so hot in Nauru it is too tiring to get worked up about anything. The mass was said in English and the hymns were all in English. The children were very quiet during the main part of the service but were very vocal during the singing.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
11 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Father Eweenteang's English was very good and he spoke with a loud and clear voice, which went slightly up and down as he talked.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
This particular Sunday was Mothers Day, so he talked about the importance of mothers and the need to respect them and value their contribution to society. He encouraged the mothers in the congregation to enjoy and celebrate the day, but told them to stay sober!

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Aside from the usual in a Catholic mass (i.e., the celebration itself) there was a beautiful moment when a group of young men (teenagers to young adults) stood before the altar and sang a hymn of praise to the Virgin Mary for their mothers. It was very moving.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The body odour of the men in the choir in front of us was a bit hard to take, but fortunately there was a fan above so a little breeze was a welcome relief.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We followed the Mystery Worshipper injunction to stand at the back and look lost, but none of the locals came anywhere near us. I went off to find the priest to make a donation to the church. After I had done that and was walking back up the nave, I spotted a gentleman whom I recognised as His Excellency the Honourable Mr Bruce Cowled, Australian High Commissioner to Nauru. His Excellency greeted me and we chatted briefly.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was nothing on offer and within a few minutes everyone had gone.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – I will certainly come again during my next visit to Nauru.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, because it reminded me of the universality of the Catholic Church and the efforts of the early missionaries who established the Catholic Church in this part of the world.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The Nauruan flag veiling the tabernacle. This was the first time I have ever seen a national flag used in this manner.
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